This it will do in a series of strategies outlined in a new report, “North America: Land Of Opportunity,” which was unveiled during a recent visit to New York by the Irish Minister for the Arts, Sport and Tourism John O’Donoghue.
The bottom line in the report is that Tourism Ireland, which now markets the entire island of Ireland as a single destination, wants to significantly raise the number of North American tourist boots on the ground in Ireland between now and 2013.
The starting figure is 890,000. That’s the number of North Americans who visited Ireland in 2005, 70 percent of them being on vacation.
Speaking at the launch of the report at a reception in the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, O’Donoghue said that preliminary results for this year pointed to a double-digit increase over that 2005 tally.
That would mean over 900,000 visitors this year.
Tourism Ireland, however, is intent on raising the bar higher to a million and upwards.
In the preface to the report, Tourism Ireland chief executive, Paul O’Toole, writes that the targeted numbers are ambitious.
Tourism Ireland was aiming to increase its share of the trans-Atlantic market by attracting close to 1.1 million visitors by 2009 and between 1.3 and 1.6 million by 2013.
If the targets are reached, the Irish tourism industry and the island’s combined economies stand to benefit enormously.
“North American visitors to Ireland stay longer and spend more per head than other nationalities. They spend approximately 60 percent more than the average, accounting for one in every five euro spent by visitors to the country,” Minister O’Donoghue said at the launch of the report.
The level of interest in visiting Ireland has never been higher, said the minister.
More than half — the precise figure is 56 percent — of U.S. people traveling overseas had indicated that they are extremely, or very much likely, to visit or re-visit Ireland.
“And nearly half of those who expressed strong interest in visiting Ireland say they are likely to make the trip in the next five years,” O’Donoghue said.
Interesting trends unearthed by the report’s researchers show a shift in the traditional pattern of U.S. travel to Ireland, and also in the ethnic backgrounds of American visitors to Ireland.
Growth is now concentrated in southern and western states while more traditional regions such as New England, the Mid Atlantic States and the Midwest have shown both absolute and proportional declines in the numbers of people heading for the 32 counties.
“The research has shown that the profile and provenance of the visitor is changing. Almost one-in-six of our best prospects live in California, for example, and only just over one-third claim Irish ancestry,” O’Donoghue said.
O’Donoghue did not play down the challenges ahead for Irish tourism.
“Changing consumer and increasingly fragmented segmentation of the market, the increase in communication channels and the declining effectiveness of traditional media, and a constantly expanding distribution network, demands a change in response,” he said.
At the same time, traditional lures had to be maintained and expanded.
The review of the North American market indicated a need to improve the warmth of Ireland’s welcome, tackle value for money issues and ensure that the packaging and presentation of the holiday offering was better in tune with the needs of a more sophisticated target audience.
“The research suggests that our best prospects for growth lie with frequent travelers to Europe who are better-educated, better-off urban and suburban dwellers interested in the ‘finer things’ of life,” O’Donoghue said.
The report, which carries the somewhat grammatically challenged subtitle, “An action plan for growing tourism from the United States & Canada to the island of Ireland,” stresses that increased air travel capacity will be needed if Ireland is to fully realize its potential in the U.S. market.
The anticipated “Open Skies” air travel agreement between the U.S. and EU “would undoubtedly benefit Ireland,” the report concluded.