The land of “one hundred thousand welcomes” – the definition of the Gaelic term “céad míle fáilte,” a greeting used in Ireland – had fewer people to welcome in 2020 and parts of 2021 when Irish tourism slowed during the COVID-19 shutdown.
But Ireland has now reopened to the world, dropping the last of its remaining coronavirus restrictions in March, so you can bet that businesses are stoked to once again receive international visitors and roll out the green carpet.
“People are so eager to welcome people back,” Sandra Moffatt, manager for Canada at Tourism Ireland told PAX last Monday (May 9) at the Toronto stop of a sales mission that saw 15 tourism enterprises from Ireland, and three Canadian partners, meet with travel advisors and media in The Six and then later on in Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria.
The Toronto media event, held at the historic Fairmont Royal York hotel, greeted guests with live Irish music – courtesy of a musical duo playing the guitar and fiddle – before diving into lunch, at which point each supplier in attendance shared background information about their respective company.
“We have the whole island of Ireland here,” Moffatt said, listing off various regions in The Emerald Isle, such as Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, to Belfast in Northern Ireland.
The mission represented a key strategy in Ireland’s recovery efforts and a valuable opportunity for the tourism board to highlight new and existing offerings to media and the travel trade.
Press the green button
After all, it’s a good time to talk – Ireland is open to international visitors and there are currently no COVID-19 restrictions complicating the country’s entry process.
The easing of Canada’s pre-arrival testing requirement on April 1 – which “really opened the flood gates for everybody,” Moffatt said – has also given Canadians a renewed sense of confidence in seeing the world once again.
Tourism Ireland’s current pitch to Canadians (and Canadian travel advisors) is to “Press the Green Button,” a global campaign that launched in September 2021.
It’s a concept with a clear “book now” message, urging people to commit to travel by pressing a green button – green being the colour of “go” and the colour universally associated with Ireland.
“We just want people to go and travel,” Moffatt said, noting how Ireland is “the gateway to Europe” and how it’s only a six-hour flight from Toronto.
Speaking of lift, Ireland has done well in restoring its connectivity – Moffatt noted how 96 per cent of 2019’s air access has been restored to Ireland from Canada thanks to non-stop routes offered by Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air Transat and WestJet.
There are currently five direct gateways – including year-round service from Toronto, as well as flights out of Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Halifax.
Welcome to Westeros
And returning tourists may notice a slightly upgraded Ireland.
“The Irish tourism industry has been incredibly resilient,” Moffatt said. “I can’t name a property or attraction that hasn’t done something over the last two years to make the most of their time when things were closed.”
The buzz, these days, is the new Game of Thrones Studio Tour located at one of the show’s filming locations at Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge (midway between Belfast and Dublin).
The tour promises an epic and immersive experience that brings Westeros to life, integrating fully-dressed sets – including the Iron Throne – costumes, and original props and weaponry from the Game of Thrones world.
The attraction opened earlier this year, and “it’s a really, really big deal,” Moffatt stressed.
Adventure, luxury, ancestry, food
Last week showcased different Irish itineraries, from adventurous activities to luxury options to history and ancestry trips (4.5 million Canadians claim Irish ancestry, Moffatt noted, “so that’s a really big hook for us) to visits that revolve around “craic,” culture, culinary and craft.
“We’re seeing a lot of multi-generational travel,” Moffatt said, touching on the latest trends. “Slow travel is also big for us. It’s really easy to get around Ireland, east to west, so we’re seeing people take their time, taking longer stays and, [for instance], going for the whole summer.”
Joining the lunch in Toronto last week was Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, Dr. Eamonn McKee, alongside a guest list of interesting Irish suppliers.
There was Aine McLoughlin of Aran Island Ferries, a fleet of luxury vessels that sail year-round from Rossaveel and from the Galway Docks to Inis Mór and the Cliffs of Moher, and Eimear Lafferty of Titanic Belfast, a famous attraction that tells the story of Titanic, from her conception, through her construction, to her maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.
There was Siobhan Byrne Learat of Adams and Butler, a provider of luxurious, tailor-made journeys, Michelle Maguire of Ireland’s Blue Book, a romantic collection of Irish country house hotels, manor houses, castles and restaurants, Marie Chawke of Dromoland Castle, a 16th century castle that, today, operates as a five-star hotel, and Alison Deegan of Original Irish Hotels, a collection of unique Irish stays, covering country houses, castles, manors and spa and wellness-focused accommodations.
There was Karen O’Connor of B&B Ireland, a collection of some 700 independently-owned Bed and Breakfast homes, Isabelle Pennec of Ireland’s heritage-focused Office of Public Works (OPW), Eamonn McEneaney of Waterford Treasures, a museum for historical artifacts associated with the city of Waterford, and David Cleary of EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum.
There was also Cormac O Donnchu and Georgine Caraher of Experience Gaelic Games, which introduces visitors to indigenous Irish sports and pastimes, Gerry Ginty of Powerscourt Distillery from Enniskerry and Claire O'Kane of Mussenden Sea Salt, which markets the unique salt harvested from the coastline where the Atlantic connects with the Irish Sea.
Tourism Ireland also offers lots of support for travel advisor advisors, including:
- The Ireland Specialist Program
- IrelandsContentPool.com: Content Library – 45K+ video and images free to use
- Ireland Insiders Facebook Group – Exclusive to travel agents
- Sign up for monthly e-zine updates including itineraries, events, FAMs and more.
“There are so many new and exciting things happening in Ireland,” Moffatt said. “People often say that Ireland is on their list of destinations to go to.”
“What we want to do is get it to the top of their list.”