New Ireland Tourism Chief Visits NYC

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NEW YORK -- As luck would have it, the new chairman of the Irish Tourist Board made his first trip to the Big Apple in time for the annual celebration honoring Ireland's patron saint.

At a press briefing here, Mark Mortell made a point of thanking St. Patrick for helping boost Ireland's tourism industry.

Appointed to his post by the minister of tourism late last year, Mortell came to the board with a tourism background. He had been chairman of the Overseas Tourism Marketing Initiative, an independent management group that promotes Irish tourism in the U.S., Germany, France and Great Britain.

Mortell, 36, is head of marketing at Bank of Ireland's Lifetime Assurance -- his "day job" -- as well as chairman of the tourist board. He previously worked for Guinness and the Mars Corp.

According to Mortell, tourism accounts for about 8% of Ireland's gross national product; employs 10% of the population, and brings in $3.2 billion in revenue.

Ireland welcomed almost 750,000 U.S. visitors last year, a number that Mortell wants to double. A total of 4.8 million people visited the country in 1997, and Mortell said he hopes to see that number increase to 6 million by 1999.

In order to reach that goal, Mortell said he plans to focus on three main tourism issues: regionality, seasonality and quality.

First, he would like to "spread tourism around" the country instead of focusing on any one region. For example, he wants to attract more visitors to the northwestern part of the country. Spreading the wealth might mean a combination of educating visitors on different areas as well as improving and infrastructure, he noted.

His second goal, he said, is one expressed by many European countries: Get more people to visit during the off season. "No one comes to Ireland for the weather and we need to highlight the reasons to come off season," he said. The tourist board will promote year-round sports and activities, such as equestrian programs, garden tours, golf and angling, he said.

In addition, the tourist board needs to stay on top of tourism product standards and make sure they are kept at a high level, he said.

The Irish Tourist Board still is working closely with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to present the country as "one island and ignore political boundaries," Mortell stressed.

The All-Ireland tourism campaign, launched in late 1996, stumbled when the Irish Tourist Board decided to forgo a specially designed joint logo -- of two arms joined in a circle -- in favor of its traditional logo, the shamrock.

Mortell said the change was made when a new government came into power in 1997. The Irish Tourist Board eventually compromised by putting the new logo underneath its shamrock, however, it is very small, he noted.

The Irish government had said the new marketing logo did not represent Ireland as well as the shamrock -- a belief that was disproved by research, said Mortell.

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