It's been famously derided by Gabriel Byrne as The Shakedown, but it appears the year long Irish tourist initiative The Gathering has been an unqualified success and the business community has taken notice.
This week the financial news service Bloomberg is reporting that Ireland's biggest industry - tourism - is bouncing back on the strength of a wave of visitors.
In Donegal, Bloomberg reports, hotelier Arlene Dennis is happy. Bookings are reportedly up at her nine-room beachfront Carnaween House in County Donegal. Visits to Ireland rose 5 percent in the first half of the year Bloomberg reported, with the increase driven by North Americans arriving for the Gathering, a year-long series of events to attract tourists.
'We couldn’t be any busier,' said Dennis, adding she had cut prices by about 10 percent to spur trade. 'It’s at least partly to do with the Gathering.'
'The Gathering seems to be proving a bit more than just a gimmick,' Eoin Fahy, an economist at Kleinwort Benson Investors in Dublin told Bloomberg. 'It’s easy to wonder about whether it’ll have much long lasting benefit, but it’s a positive now when the economy needs momentum.'
Tourism is Ireland’s biggest industry, accounting for about 2.7 percent of gross domestic product and about 11 percent of jobs, according to the Irish Hotels Federation. In recent years the global financial crisis badly hit the sector, with visitor numbers plunging 23 percent between 2008 and 2010.
Tourism to Ireland is the one unqualified success story in a nation still struggling with the worst recession on record. Irish prime Minister Enda Kenny's Fine Gael and Labour coalition government needs tourist dollars to help kick start the debt-laden economy and point it back toward growth. Currently retail sales are falling and exports are struggling, with the economy slipping back into recession.
To combat the slump Kenny's government developed the Gathering, a year-long series of events designed to attract Irish-Americans and others within the global Irish diaspora to visit the country.
The aim is to attract an extra 325,000 visitors to Ireland this year, with the focus mainly on those living in North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Americans in particular are reportedly heeding the call. North Americans visitors rose 15 percent in the first half of the year from the year earlier.
'The Gathering has been the cream on the cake,' said Paul Carty, managing director at the Guinness Storehouse, a popular tourist attraction at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. 'It has reminded people that we are here. We are having a record year.'
The increase in North American visitors may also be linked to the nine percent strengthening in the dollar against the euro over the past two years, but the Gathering is also playing a significant role Irish hoteliers say.
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