The Irish Minister of State for Tourism and Sports Brendan Griffin was in New York last week for the launch of Tourism Ireland's new 2019 global advertising campaign.

Fill Your Heart With Ireland is Tourism Ireland's new advertising message to the world, and on Tuesday, January 29 at a ceremony attended by travel writers and media professionals, Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons and Executive Vice President for North America Alison Metcalfe launched the new campaign to a packed house at the Hearst Tower.

Speaking to the Irish Voice at the Irish Consulate before the official launch, Griffin's message was dynamic.

“The message is Ireland is very much open for business in terms of being a top destination to visit in 2019,” he said.

“We've had extremely positive success from our North American market over the last number of years and we want to grow that even further. It's never been easier to get to Ireland is one of the key messages we want to share.”

Twenty-four gateways to Ireland are in full-time operation this year from the U.S. and Canada, he added.

“Back in 2011 there were seven, so we've really grown in air access. And we're so close too. For example, I dropped my children off to school in Ireland this morning and I was in New York in the afternoon,” said Griffin, a native of Kerry.

“For East Coast visitors it's just such a short hop, but even for West Coast visitors, it's not an overly long journey to get to Ireland. It's a very good time to visit now too because it's affordable and competitive and there's a growing diversity of experiences that you can have there.”

The Irish tourism industry has been busy diversifying the types of experience one can have on a visit to Ireland now, he said.

“There's Ireland’s ancient past experience, which includes everything from the Boyne Valley and Newgrange, which is older than the pyramids of Egypt, to all of our brilliant castles and all of our stately homes and medieval cities, and then on the western seaboard you have the Wild Atlantic Way with its brilliant scenery,” the minister said.

Read more: Irish experts reveal the top experiences in Ireland’s Ancient East

But it's the Irish people themselves who are part of the country's unique appeal, he added.

“I think the opportunity to establish connections is something that really appeals to visitors because what they get is an authentic experience.  They meet people who are friendly, who are welcoming, who are very happy to chat and to establish a connection,” he said.

“And that friendliness is something that is not everywhere. And we know from our research that's something that stands out from our visitors to Ireland.”

The Irish government has made a commitment to double Ireland diplomatic footprint around the world over the next five years. Does that commitment dovetail with its tourism goals?

“The effort to increase our global footprint is one of our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's initiatives. I think it's something that will work well for tourism, but it will also work well across government in terms of foreign direct investment and in terms of Ireland's place in the world and what we can do,” Griffin replied.

“And it epitomizes the outward-looking Ireland that we have today, that sees our role as being very much an island at the center of the world.

“We are the country that links Europe and North America geographically but also culturally and in so many other ways as well. After Brexit, we will be the only English speaking country in the European Union, which is something that is, maybe it hasn't been fully appreciated yet.”

The new 2019 Tourism Ireland campaign is consciously highlighting areas of Ireland that have been overlooked in the past.

“What we want to do is we want to extend the overall footfall into every community in the country because we think there's something to offer everywhere on the island,” says Griffin.

“What we want to do is to give communities in counties like Donegal the opportunities of counties that are more traditionally associated with tourism like Kerry, where young people can grow up and can expect to stay in their communities and live thereby engaging in the tourism industry, or other industries, and have sustainable lives as they reach their goals, perhaps starting a family, if that's what they so choose.

“So many generations in the past didn't have that opportunity in so many parts of the country, and so from my point of view as the minister with special responsibility for tourism, this is one of my key focuses. The point has been to try to do what we can to develop these less traditional areas to give these new opportunities to people, to pass on to their children and grandchildren into the future.”

Speaking at the launch in New York, Metcalfe said, "In 2018, we welcomed a record 2 million North American visitors to the island of Ireland. Looking to the year ahead, we are confident that our strategy combined with more airline seats than ever before from the US and a strong dollar, as well as the strength and competitiveness of the vacation experience right around the island of Ireland, will deliver further growth. We look forward to welcoming more of our great friends from the United States this year and in the years to come.”

Read more: New figures show 2.4 million North Americans visited Ireland in 2018