Ireland woos the Gulf

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, speaks at a recently concluded trade event in Abu Dhabi

In 2016, the combined Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland welcomed the most visitors ever – 10.3 million. Building on that, the island of Ireland notched its strongest first half (January to June 2017) – up 4.2 pc on 2016 with 4.5 million visitors – with visitors from GCC countries helping towards that record number.

TTN spoke to Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland for an insight into what makes Ireland an instant success with tourists from
the region.

“Great Britain’s our biggest market in terms of volume due to the proximity, but guests from mainland Europe are the biggest spenders because they stay longer. Our second biggest market is the United States. An interesting thing to note is that 70 per cent of the people who are visiting us have no ancestral connection to Ireland. Then, we have our developing markets – and this part of the world is becoming increasingly important to us. Although the numbers are small, only about 70,000 from the Gulf countries, this is an increase of 28 per cent over the last three years. We have four daily flights between Ireland and the Gulf, two with Emirates and two with Etihad, which is about 8,000 seats a week, and the load factor is already positive.

“We are hoping that in a year’s time we will be able to make visa free arrival for UAE Nationals a reality. Out of the 70,000 visitors, UAE accounts for 45,000 arrivals, and Saudi Arabia about 20,000 – which is quite high because there is no direct access from the country to Ireland,” says Gibbons. Tourism Ireland expects an increase of at least 5 to 10 per cent on 70,000 GCC arrivals for this year.

Game of Thrones continues to be a big pull to Ireland, with majority of the popular hit series being shot in the country and now the latest installation of the Star Wars movies, to be in cinemas end of the year, adds another fan base that is perhaps more multi-generational than Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones glorifies North Island territory, while the Star Wars: The Last Jedi was shot on the west coast of the country.

Gibbons explains that a good itinerary for the GCC would be to fly straight into the capital Dublin, spend a couple of days to soak it in, visit Trinity College and Chester Beatty Library, which has an impressive Islamic collection, curated over the last two centuries. The proud Dubliner says that the city has many ambient restaurants and cafes to enjoy before heading to Belfast to see the shipyard where the infamous RMS Titanic was built.

If you go to Northern Ireland, you have to see the Giant’s Causeway. You could head to the Wild Atlantic Way in the west, and enjoy beautiful vistas. Ireland’s Ancient East is a 500-mile journey that captures 5,000 years of history is great if you are history buff. There are Neolithic tools, medieval villages and mysterious national monuments.

"If you want to come for a short city break, three to four days is enough, but if you come with seven or eight days, you will get a deeper feel of the countryside as well.”

Driving is easy, as roads are congestion free, adds Gibbons.