herald

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Finding myself a minority on a plane home from the US, I thought 'Yes! Ireland is finally doin g something right'

NO offence to the Central Statistics Office, but they don't often come out with data that puts a smile on the face, a fist in the air and a spring in the step. But the latest CSO bulletin on Irish tourism is an exception. A big exception. A big, POSITIVE exception.

It suggests that even though the rest of the economy is in a puddle of misery, the tourism industry is showing the way to recovery and doing something right.

The CSO says the number of trips made to Ireland in the second quarter of this year was up by almost 250,000 compared with the same period last year.



sensible

A quarter of a million people more than last year chose Ireland for their holidays.

Sensible people from continental Europe provided the biggest increase, with visitor numbers to Ireland up 24pc. But Ireland's biggest tourism market, Britain, grew by 8.5pc.

Flying back into Dublin yesterday, after several weeks of working in America, I was startled to find myself in a tiny minority on an Aer Lingus flight.

The overwhelming majority of passengers were Americans of all ages. On their way to Ireland for their vacation, they exemplified the trend identified in the CSO figures of spring and summer, which show numbers coming from North America to be up by a whopping 17pc.

Talking to some of them in the departure lounge in JFK, I was struck by the difference between these visitors and the kind of visitors this country expected, just a few years ago.



cycling

The old pattern was of tourists in their 60s and older, coming as part of a package tour, clutching carry-ons branded with the logo of a tour operator specialising in plane-and-coach visits by Irish-Americans.

But the people I met were travelling in much smaller groups or on their own, were of multi-ethnic background, and had booked their own holiday to reflect their own interests, which included cycling, hill-walking, history and food.

As far as America is concerned, right now, Ireland is all about golf and fun. Sports stations are awash in Tourism Ireland advertising and marketing, including clever reality-TV-style competitions to win vacations in this country.

Extra money divvied up by the Government has been well spent in striking while the (golf) iron is hot.

But a wealth of other factors are in play.

Sure, Ireland is bitter and twisted about what has been done to our economy, the future of our children and the dire present being experienced by huge chunks of the population.

But we didn't riot in the streets and send footage, world-wide, of buildings burning and young people looting.

We have begun to get a grip on pricing so visitors come here with a reasonable expectation of getting value for their money.

The word has also gone out that this country is dealing with its indebtedness problem.



welcome

And then there are the odd, you-couldn't-buy-it plugs in the oddest places.

Riding high on the New York Times bestseller list for several months is Jaycee Lee Dugard's account of how she was kidnapped at 11 and incarcerated for two decades by a sex predator and his wife, bearing the man two children in her imprisoned teens.

The book includes a list of 10 things she was determined to do, if she was ever freed. "Visit Ireland" is one of them.

She'll be welcome.

As welcome as the visitors currently biking, hiking and coaching around this country -- who will encounter more Irish people on the beaches and in the mountains than they would have, just a few years back, because, again according to the CSO, markedly more Irish people are staying at home and discovering just how much this country has to offer and how much more affordable it is than it used to be.

It looks like we're doing the right thing, it's paying off, and that it just might point us to a wider recovery.

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