Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons is a man on a mission. After seeing travel from North America spike by an unprecedented 13.4 percent last year he wants to continue that extraordinary growth this year.
The Irish traffic he knows was due in large part to the success of The Gathering and also the improved access to Ireland. He says Ireland welcomed over one million US visitors, who spent $1bn, the first time they have surpassed the million mark in visitors.
"We aim to build on this success in 2014. We will continue to implement our strategy targeting new audiences with strong potential for growth through a very extensive program of promotions," he said.
Among those is another big American football game, the Croke Park classic between Penn State and University of Central Florida, to be played in September. Fond memories of the Notre Dame/Navy game that brought 35,000 Irish Americans to Ireland led to a new focus on deliverable events.
“Americans like to plan and have a schedule” he said during an interview in Tourism Ireland’s New York office. “We can see a major American football game every year if this one works."
He has also not ruled out an NFL game for Dublin, two are currently played annually in London, and Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman and former Ambassador Dan Rooney was close to bringing one when he was in Dublin. Gibbons also wants to improve access even more over the next few years and is eyeing Texas as the next departure point to Ireland. “We think there is great interest in the Southwest,” he said. With great new access from California and Toronto this year and Shannon flights resumed from Chicago, Ireland has suddenly become fashionable again. But Gibbons knows that the tourism folks cannot rest on their laurels. "It’s all about the power of the message and the idea, we have to work constantly to improve those.
"As an example Gibbons played the leading role in bringing Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield to Ireland where his daughter is studying which was a huge success. Hadfield had charmed the world with his version of David Bowie’s Space Odyssey from the space shuttle. He had also charmed Irish people by speaking in Gaelic from space. He is now a tourism ambassador for Ireland. It is those kind of moves that make tourism policy such an exciting arena, but there are many pitfalls to. Gibbons allows himself a moment of contentment,
“So far we can say it’s going pretty well though,” he says when talking of tourism policy since he took over. With those kind of American numbers it is indeed.