The clear impact of the Gathering Ireland 2013 was outlined by Minister Leo Varadkar, Minister Michael Ring and Gathering Project Director Jim Miley at a special briefing at the Global Irish Economic Forum.
Outlining the success of The Gathering, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar said “Plans for the Gathering were first announced at this Forum two years ago, when it identified Ireland as a unique destination for visitors. So it’s appropriate that we use this 2013 Forum to assess the Gathering to date and see what comes next.
“We set a target of 325,000 visitors and we are well on the way to meeting that with 291,000 visitors at the end of August. Air capacity from the US has jumped by more than 20% this year, with 270,000 extra seats on new and existing routes. But The Gathering was never just about visitor numbers and revenues. It is also about jobs, community pride and strengthening links with the diaspora.
“All over the country, communities, families, organization and public bodies answered the call of the Gathering organizing wonderful events, festivals, conferences, concerts and reunions.
The Gathering helped to strengthen existing links with Irish communities abroad and create new connections. Employment in tourist related sectors rose by 9,600 in the year to June.
“The Gathering won’t be easy to replicate. It was a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Next year we’ll have a better idea of just how the Gathering performed in 2013, but at this stage a five or seven year cycle seems the most likely option. So what comes next? In 2014 we’ll be putting Irish scenery back centre stage and developing the Wild Atlantic Way to showcase the fantastic Atlantic coast. This coastal driving route will be fully waymarked by next spring.
“Highlights for next year include the big college football game between Penn State – with the largest alumni association in the US – and the University of Central Florida in Croke Park.
Three stages of the Giro d’Italia will take place in Ireland, running from Belfast to Dublin. And following on from the centenary of the 1913 Lockout, we will hold a series of events for the decade of commemorations. Tourism Ireland will continue to work with the diaspora networks and will include this global family as part of its future promotional work overseas.”
Business and organizations both at home and abroad also seized the Gathering initiative and some 110 bespoke business gatherings were organized. 52 of the conferences, assemblies and events were new events resulting in an additional 9,000 delegates travelling to Ireland.
“The Gathering’s partnerships with business like the IPB Insurance Community Fund and Alltech will be used as a template for future links between business and communities,” Minister Varadkar concluded.
The Gathering set out to mobilize the creation of gatherings across the country. In this regard it has confounded some cynics, according to Minister of State Michael Ring who said: “from the outset the intention was that The Gathering should be a genuine People’s Project. Five thousand Gatherings have been held across the country, and a quarter of these are community initiatives.
“Gatherings large and small celebrated clan ties, music, sport, culture and more. In July of this year an IPSOS/MRBI poll commissioned by The Gathering showed that 73% of those polled said organizing a Gathering had inspired people to work together to the benefit of the community. Eighty per cent of those polled stated that hosting a Gathering was a source of civic pride. More than anything else The Gathering illustrated the extraordinary social capital that exists in our country – the Gathering offered a means by which this sense of civic pride and community solidarity could find expression.
“This is the time to say thanks to the 100,000 local volunteers who are organizing events, running festivals or just helping out. Each Gathering made a vital contribution to the local community. The Gathering network also provided extensive training to more than 2,500 people, and still has a role to play. The Gathering didn’t create this social capital, but it did encourage it, support it and channel it to great effect.
“Many of the events spawned or revived for the Gathering will return next year. A number of Gathering events and festivals have already been identified as having potential to run again next year, possibly with support from Fáilte Ireland, local authorities or LEADER companies.
We expect hundreds of these events to run on an annual basis, while the networks and databases created through The Gathering will also remain as a valuable asset to Irish tourism.
“There are still loads to do in the Gathering with 500 events between now and the end of the year. We’ll finish The Gathering with a spectacular four-day New Year’s Eve festival in Dublin called ‘NYE Dublin 2014 – The Ultimate Gathering.’”