Ireland hopes to regain the one million UK visitors it has lost during the economic downturn by 2015, starting with a major promotional campaign for The Gathering in 2013.
The Gathering – Ireland’s biggest ever tourism initiative – will encourage as many of the 70 million people globally who claim to have Irish roots to visit next year.
The weekend saw the start of the push in the UK coinciding with St Patrick’s day and the England Ireland Six Nations rugby international played at Twickenham.
Speaking to Travel Weekly on Friday during a visit to the UK Leo Varadkar, Irish minister for tourism, said UK visitor numbers had dropped by about one million from the peak in 2007-08.
Then, the country would welcome around four million Brits a year, but a combination of the downturn hitting UK outbound travel and the perception that Ireland was expensive has hit numbers.
However, Varadkar said with the Irish economy now back on track it now has some of the cheapest hotels in western Europe and prices have come down across the economy.
He also blamed the impact of APD and the cost of fuel having an impact on air links between Ireland and mainland UK.
“There is still a perception that Ireland is a high cost destination,” he said. “It’s a difficult one to address because we are never going to be a cheap destination but we pride ourselves on value.
“We accept that the change in circumstances will take some time to filter through. It’s about word of mouth.”
The current Jump Into Ireland campaign running on national television will later this year make way for The Gathering campaign which the Irish government has ring-fenced €15 million for.
It hopes to build on what Irish tourism officials said are growing visitor numbers from continental Europe, particularly France and Germany, and the US.
“Our target for UK visitors is to get back to peak numbers by 2015. But we think next year will be a record year for tourists coming from France Germany and the US.
“France was up 17% last year and Germany up 10% and advance bookings are already encouraging.”
Varadkar encouraged the UK trade to get behind The Gathering by promoting the numerous events that will be happening in the country in 2013.
“We will be publishing a calendar of events next month and I think there are opportunities for tour operators and travel agents to organise groups to come to those,” he said.
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