Much has been written about the demise of the so-called Celtic Tiger - the economic boom in Ireland that spiked in the late 1990s only to fall off a cliff a decade later. But you’d never know anything was amiss from the destination’s recent robust visitor numbers.
In fact, the newest data shows a boom in arrivals from the U.S. in 2015, an increase twice as strong as predicted, according to Niall Gibbons, chief executive officer of Tourism Ireland.
“There were 1.5 million visitors from the U.S. in 2015, which is an increase of about 14%,” he said, crediting a number of factors for the increase.
Key among them is strong governmental support, allowing the Ireland and Northern Ireland tourist boards to invest in marketing and new product, Gibbons said.
“We’ve seen a range of innovations like the Wild Atlantic Way around the west coast of Ireland, the development of Titanic Belfast, and Dublin’s Cliff Path Loop, which has been refurbished for $10 million along the on the northern coast.”
Ireland’s Ancient East, which offers a range of experiences outside of Dublin dating from the Neolithic era to present day, is the newest innovation, and the east coast’s answer to the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500-kilometer scenic route from Donegal to Kinsale, according to Gibbons.
The Ancient East trail was inaugurated in 2015 but is continuing to be developed, he said.
An increase in air access also played a role in strong visitor numbers.
“This year alone in 2016, we will see an almost 17% increase in air capacity, adding up to 47,000 seats a week available from 12 gateways. Aer Lingus is launching service to Dublin from Newark, Hartford and L.A., and Delta is expanding frequency and capacity on all routes,” he said.
The strength of the dollar vs. the euro also played a role in boosting visitors, making travel to Ireland - and Europe in general - a 30% better value than it was several years ago.
On a smaller scale, Gibbons credited “Game of Thrones” (GOT), which films many scenes in locations in Northern Ireland, for the uptick in visitors.
“We developed a relationship with HBO, which allows us to use their logo in our marketing, and our GOT tours plug us into a huge audience,” he said.
Similarly, the new “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” movie was partly filmed in Ireland, and discover Ireland produced a two-minute film on YouTube showcasing the locations.
Finally, Gibbons credits the increasingly important food scene in Ireland for attracting the attention of visitors.
“We’ve seen a culinary renaissance in the last 20 years, starting small in towns like Kinsale, and focusing on fresh, home-grown ingredients,” he said, adding that plans are underway to launch a year of food and drink in Northern Ireland in the near future.