Drive about three hours north of Dublin and you’ll find Northern Ireland’s most popular destination, the Giant’s Causeway. This includes a canyon wall that slopes into a set of uniquely, hexagon-shaped rock formations. Scientists point to a possible volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago, but the Irish have a different story.
“Was this region built by a giant or the result of nature?” joked John Higgins, operations manager with the National Trust, Europe’s largest conservation charity. The organization is celebrating 125 years protecting the Irish coastlines, woodlands, gardens, and historic buildings.
“Ireland is known for its legends and we certainly love to tell a good story. We also love to welcome travellers and offer a host of attractions that make Northern Ireland worth the visit,” said Higgins, who joined Tourism Ireland for a media luncheon at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia in Vancouver, BC on Monday.
The tourism organization, which is responsible for overseas marketing, hosts annual events in Canada to share what’s new on the island and thank its partners and supporters. This week it’s hitting up Western Canada with a few of its partners, including visits to Langley, BC, as well as Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta.
“We’d like to extend a big thank you to our media partners and travel agents,” Dana Welch, the Canadian manager of Tourism Ireland, told PAX. “We want them to know we are available for ideas and support.”
Welch recommended agents join its Facebook group, which she said is continually updated with new travel deals and recommendations.
Every three years, Tourism Ireland reviews and updates its strategic plan and one thing is clear: “The Canadian market remains extremely important to us. We’ve seen incredible growth from Canadian travellers over the last five or six years, driven in large part by an increase in air capacity,” said Alison Metcalfe, head of North American and Australia/New Zealand for Tourism Ireland, during a presentation at the Vancouver luncheon. “We want to continue this growth.”
According to a recent audit, Ireland welcomed 11.2 million visitors last year, with a growing portion from North America, thanks to direct or affordable flights from nearly every air carrier in Canada.
“In fact, when we look specifically at the west as a whole, about 22 per cent of this growth comes from BC and about 14 per cent is from Alberta. So, these markets are increasingly important and when we look to 2020 and beyond, we’re planning to build on this success,” added Metcalfe.
The goal is to reach 12 million visitors globally by 2022. To do so, the tourism organization has launched a campaign with three initiatives. “Two of these pillars include encouraging exploration with greater regional travel throughout Ireland and extending the travel season,” said Welch.
The popular travel months are April or May to October, but Tourism Ireland aims to change that.
“We have events throughout the year but are focusing more attention on the off-season. For example, we’re kicking it off with a St. Patrick’s Day festival in March, which we’re promoting as ‘green is the new black,’ Welch said. “We’re also promoting a Púca festival at the end of October.”
Halloween's origins date back to Ireland and the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter.
“We also aim to tell a bigger story and highlight the less well-known areas in Ireland,” said Metcalfe, alluding to another one of the three initiatives. “We want to ensure that every town and village on the island benefits from visitors. At the same time, we know Canadian travellers enjoy getting off the beaten track, so it fits well.”
For Higgins, who’s responsible for the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, this means adding a twist to the local tours. “We were asked to offer a new, unique experience so we teamed up with the oldest, working distillery in the world: Bushmills Irish Whiskey,” he explained. “For this experience, a licensed distiller will meet visitors at the Causeway for whiskey samples and tastings. We call it Whiskey on the Rocks.”
A few of Tourism Ireland’s other partners include:
- CIE Tours (cietours.com/en-ca/tours/ireland) – customized vacations at all-inclusive prices
- Dublin Bay Cruises (dublinbaycruises.com)– explore Ireland offshore and beyond the city centre
- Ireland's Blue Book (irelands-blue-book.ie) – a collection of unique Irish Country House Hotels, Manor Houses, castles and restaurants.
- Irish National Stud & Gardens (irishnationalstud.ie) – a thoroughbred horse-breeding facility with guided tours of the stallions and gardens
- Secret Ireland (secret-ireland.com) – a guide to Ireland’s lost history and hidden gems
“We know how important it is to inspire people to travel,” said Metcalfe. “We hope to connect with travellers’ interests, pique their emotions and meet their passions.”
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