Friday,  January 27, 2023  10:35 pm

Ireland passes 10M visitor milestone; welcomed 200K Canadians in 2017

Ireland passes 10M visitor milestone; welcomed 200K Canadians in 2017
Alison Metcalfe, head of North America & Australia/New Zealand, Tourism Ireland; Minister of Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin, TD; Dana Welch, marketing manager, Tourism Ireland.
Christine Hogg

Christine Hogg is the Associate Digital Editor at PAX Global Media. Prior to joining PAX, she obtained her Honours BA in Journalism from the University of Toronto. Upon graduating, she went on to write for several travel publications while travelling the world. Her longest trip was a three-week stint in Europe, and the shortest was a 16-hour adventure in Iceland. Get in touch:

Canadians and the Irish have a special relationship that goes back hundreds of years.

In the last Canadian census report, roughly five million Canadians claimed Irish ancestry, and as Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Brendan Griffin, TD, told PAX during his recent stop in Toronto, if you’re a Canadian in Ireland enjoying a pint in a small pub, within a matter of minutes, it’s not uncommon for the Irish to want to know where you’re from, and possibly even buy you another round.


It's a connection that transcends both emotionally and literally between the two countries. From 1866 to 1965, the communications that were transmitted between the Transatlantic Cable from Heart’s Content, Newfoundland to Southwest Ireland linked the new world and the old world. Major world events, like the outbreak of the First World War and the sinking of the Titanic, were all communicated instantly because of this linkage, and it’s why there’s currently a joint bid between Canada and Ireland to make the Transatlantic Cable a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site.

That sense of “coming home” and retracing one’s roots are an incredibly large factor in the recent tourism boom Ireland has seen, reporting record visitor statistics that surpassed the 10-million mark in 2017, with Canadian arrivals representing 4.2 per cent of the market.

“We had over 200,000 Canadians come to Ireland last year, and that’s a double-digit increase for us, which is great, because in Ireland, we actually have just over 200,000 people working in the tourism industry, so the number of people coming from Canada is almost on par with our tourism industry, which is incredible,” Griffin said. “It’s something we’re looking to continue to grow in the future, and that direct air access is critical. We have a number of routes coming and we’ve been very fortunate so that we now have Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Transat, ASL, and WestJet all flying direct between Canada and Ireland.”


This year, airlift to Ireland continue to expand, with Air Canada introducing new routes from Toronto to Shannon, and Montreal to Dublin. On average, Canadians tend to stay the longest, the average being 10 nights, and spend more than the average demographic.

Prior to coming into office as a new government in 2011, Ireland’s predecessors had a tax placed on airlines flying in and out of Ireland, resulting in highly uncompetitive tourism numbers for the island. But, with new officials elected, the tax has been scrapped, and business continues to boom in 2018.

“We’re now engaging with airlines and Tourism Ireland is working with Ireland in terms of marketing, helping to sustain routes, which is mutually beneficial,” Griffin emphasized. “When an airline flies into our country, they’re not just helping themselves; they’re helping us hugely as well, and therefore we feel that we have a responsibility to work with them to ensure that those routes are successful. There’s a direct correlation between the increase in connectivity that we’ve seen since 2011 and the huge increase in growth for tourism visitor numbers. The nature of holiday-making is changing, and so the more routes that you have and the more options you have, the better chance you have of getting people in.”

Growing, but not overflowing

As a small nation, Ireland welcomes the increase in international tourism. But, as any small island country knows, the onset of climate change and the nature of how landscapes are changing at a rapid rate, especially on the coastal lines, means that tourism can also be overwhelming, if it’s not handled effectively.

“Our growth is strong, but it’s steady, so we’re not seeing any ridiculous peaks or falls, and one of our key overall strategies as a country is to move away from all the boom and bust cycles, and to have steady growth around three to four per cent max,” Griffin said.

“Regionality and seasonality is a key element to try and get to as many pockets in Ireland throughout the year, as opposed to getting everybody into the capital in June, July, and August,” Griffin explained. “We’ve developed a number of experiences such as the Wild Atlantic Way, which is a two-and-a-half-thousand-kilometre route from the very northern tip of Ireland at Malin Head, right down to County Cork, and it’s a very rugged and wild coast, hence the name, and it’s full of history, heritage, great entertainment, food, and outstanding scenery. It’s captured the imagination of people worldwide and its success is far greater than what we imagined back in 2011.”


The Wild Atlantic Way was yet another initiative put forth by Ireland’s new government, and since its inauguration, has brought an immense value and spread tourism dollars into smaller communities to parts of Ireland that previously were not benefiting from international visitor spend. “It’s a huge success because it’s exposing people to an authentic Ireland; one that’s off the beaten track, and at roughly six years old, we’ve only seen the beginning of it so we’re really trying to develop this avenue of experiences the whole way through,” Griffin said.

Part of the challenge of promoting tourism across a small island destination such as Ireland, is ensuring that the sheer volume of tourism is spread out all year round, so as not to overwhelm the natural landscape or local economy. “If we’re trying to keep communities alive, and keep young people there with sustainable employment, then we need employment to be all year now, not just a few weeks in the summer,” Griffin said. “I feel like it’s experiences like this [the Wild Atlantic Way] that are a look into the future for getting to that point.”

Product offerings for the culturally curious traveller

Ireland has incredible landscapes, but it’s small enough that you can get from one point to another in roughly a few hours. It’s one of the reasons it makes such a great destination for experiential travellers, or as Alison Metcalfe, head of North America & Australia/New Zealand, Tourism Ireland, points out, culturally-curious travellers, especially those who have cultural ties to Ireland.

“Those whose heritage spans several generations back have a heightened sense of interest in the history, heritage, and scenery, and just learning something particularly, especially if they’ve been to Europe before,” Metcalfe said. “These kinds of travellers tend to be a bit of a more mature market, the 55+ boomers, not to say that we’re not attracting young travellers, but that’s the focus of Tourism Ireland’s marketing campaign.”

“In the eastern side of the country, we have the Ancient East experience, which is bringing Ireland’s heritage and culture to life, along a trail that would bring people to all of the significant locations in Ireland,” Griffin added.

Other product offerings include the Dublin experience, which is exclusively contained to Dublin’s food and pub scene, as well as the Causeway Coast out in Northern Ireland, which is home to one of the country’s most famous tourist attractions, the Giant’s Causeway.


Retracing Roots

With the sheer volume of Canadians who come over to Ireland to stand in the footprints of their ancestors, Tourism Ireland is promoting EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, a new visitor attraction that charters the stories of 10 million journeys and the roots of 70 million people. The attraction is highly interactive and uses state-of-the-art technology to deliver incredible visual stories with a high level of interactivity.

“We have huge emigration records from Ireland to Canada going right back to the 1500’s, and if you go over to Newfoundland, you hear people speaking with Irish accents all the time,” Griffin said. “With technology advancing, the more research people can do at home, the better. You don’t come to Ireland to stay in the libraries; the more we can do for people, and say, take care of the heavy-lifting, the more they can enjoy meeting the people and get that emotional connection, and I think there’s a massive opportunity for Ireland and Canada here, and I think we’ve only just seen the very start of it.”

Griffin continued: “When we get Canadian people to Ireland, we know that they’re a really good tourist to have, because they spend more, they stay a long time, and as our research shows us, they go back [home] with a really positive impression, and tell more people to come. The general feeling is always the same—they [Canadians] love the fun and the pub scene, the banter, the sense of humor, and this all has a snowball effect for Ireland.”

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