How Ireland’s plan for growing tourism responsibly can help you sell the destination to new and repeat travelers.
Ask nearly any tourism official if they’d like their destination to receive more international visitors and the answer will likely be a resounding yes. But in many cases, a destination’s growth plan can fail to take into account the long-term effects an aggressive arrivals boost can have—and with issues like overcrowding top of mind within the tourism industry today, it’s important for advisors to consider issues of sustainability and conscious travel as they make recommendations to their clients.
Fortunately, there are destinations where the plan for tourism growth is being carefully considered to focus on sustainable and responsible strategies—and Ireland is a top example of these principles in action.
“It’s not enough to target growth at all costs,” explains Alison Metcalfe, Tourism Ireland’s Executive Vice President, North America & Australia. “It has to be based on sustainability principles. We want to showcase the less well known—but equally important—parts of Ireland, as well as unique and authentic experiences.”
In order to avoid the perils of overtourism, Ireland officials are promoting a wider array of destinations around the island, and during broader time frames that go beyond the usual peak travel seasons. This diversified approach also spreads the economic and social benefits among a wider number of destinations within the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Strategies like these have benefits for advisors, too: With more off-the-beaten-path destinations in the public eye, agents have new ways to sell repeat travel to clients who have already seen the best-known attractions of a particular country, as well as to market destinations to clients seeking a more unique travel experience even on their first visit. In addition, knowing they can visit with fewer crowds or with less negative impact on local communities and environments is an increasingly important selling point as the traveling public becomes more concerned about such issues.
“We want tourism to create a positive economic impact, but also a social and environmental impact,” Metcalfe says. “That’s why we want to encourage people to get off the beaten track and see different parts of the country.”
Selling a New Side of Ireland
Advisors looking to translate a sustainable travel strategy into increased sales can look to Ireland for a blueprint on how to encourage new and repeat visits for their clients.
One important part of a sustainable strategy is persuading travelers to visit during less-congested months. To this end, Tourism Ireland is promoting a variety of activities and events that advisors can watch for, and then pass along to their clients to encourage off-season travel.
While Metcalfe notes the longstanding appeal of “signature events” like St. Patrick’s Day, she explains that new events and festivals can also be enticing, such as the Halloween-related Puca Festival, a multi-day celebration with music, food and entertainment, and “Taste the Island” a three-month showcase of authentic food and drink experiences around the island of Ireland, taking place throughout September, October and November. “We’re looking at those opportunities to spread our success and extend the seasons,” she says.
Another approach advisors can adopt is using travelers’ passions to sell trips that include less-visited destinations and attractions with ties to their personal interests. In Ireland, for instance, advisors can base travel around six “passion points”—compelling factors that can help motivate travelers to visit Ireland—that Tourism Ireland has been promoting. These include Built Heritage (including attractions like castles and city architecture), Living Culture (heritage, literature, festivals and events), Views and Landscapes (naturally beautiful regions), Food and Drink (culinary experiences), Soft Adventure (ranging from cycling to sea kayaking) and Screen Tourism (tying in with the island’s popularity as a setting for television and movies).
Highlighting the allure of these diverse categories is crucial for both the country and advisors to reach new travelers and attract repeat visitors, according to Metcalfe. “The focus on passion points is opening up smaller, more authentic experiences that are off the beaten track, as well as delivering regional growth.”
In order to spread the word about Ireland’s diverse offerings, Metcalfe points to technology and data as becoming increasingly important for reaching potential travelers with more personalized messages to strengthen intent to visit.
“The goal is to connect and engage with potential consumers, based on their interests and behaviors,” Metcalfe says.
Metcalfe notes that social media is an important tool for achieving this goal. “With social media, we’re seeing a huge amount of content sharing, especially in relation to food, outdoor activities and golf, for which Ireland already has a world-class reputation,” she says. With so much organic sharing going on, advisors can share their clients’ posts to help illustrate the breath of the Ireland experience with potential travelers.
These channels of communication can also help to attract younger clients, according to Metcalfe, who says that social media sharing allows the traveling public to get an up-to-date, multifaceted view of what Ireland has to offer. “Ireland is a modern destination, offering travelers a juxtaposition of the old and the new,” she explains. “We have moved away from just highlighting some of the well-know, iconic attractions and experiences that many American travelers might be familiar with. It’s all about getting under the skin of the destination, the storytelling and exploring the many unique local experiences. it’s important to bring those stories to life.”
Emphasizing some of Ireland’s biggest draws is another key strategy for advisors looking to sell the island to a variety of niche travelers. Cuisine, for example, is crucial in attracting many younger travelers and the growing number of food-focused vacationers—and it’s an increasingly big reason why people visit, according to Metcalfe. “We’ve got great ingredients and some great chefs who’ve been trailblazers over the last 10 or 15 years in leading a culinary renaissance,” she says. “It’s the one element of a trip that sometimes surprises people, who before they travel may have mediocre expectations about the food, but when they go, they’re blown away by the quality.”
Luxury travel is another major market for advisors to focus on when selling Ireland, as the destination has a broad range of appeals for upscale clients. According to Louise Finnegan, Tourism Ireland’s head of business partnerships, “the superb luxury tourism offerings around the island of Ireland,” range from “our boutique hotels, castles and luxury resorts to our rich culture and heritage, not forgetting our world-class golf and our superb culinary scene, including Taste the Island,” an island-wide celebration of food and drink.
In addition to Ireland’s existing upscale appeal, the destination continues to step up its efforts to attract a broader array of luxury travelers. “We’ve been expanding our luxury targeting in the last three or four years,” Metcalfe says, citing Tourism Ireland’s partnerships with luxury retail travel organizations like Signature, Virtuoso and Travel Leaders, which have been helpful in educating travel advisors about the benefits of selling Ireland.
And there’s more to come. “We’re looking at new initiatives in the next couple of years, including the luxury weddings and honeymoons market,” says Metcalfe. “We believe there’s an opportunity to present Ireland as an attractive destination to gain a greater share of the U.S. luxury weddings business. You’ll be seeing us more at luxury travel events.”
Even as technological tools and new strategies help Tourism Ireland refine its approach to building tourism in a sustainable way—and give advisors new ways to sell Ireland to a growing number of clients—Metcalfe says it’s important not to lose sight of Ireland’s most appealing and timeless qualities, including the human element. “People are important in any destination, but in Ireland they make a big difference in the experience that visitors have,” she says. “They’re the glue that brings together the experience in Ireland.”