Tourism Ireland have launched a major new effort to ensure Ireland is high on American vacation lists in 2009, and announced details of their aggressive U.S. tourism promotion marketing campaign. The launch was held at the St. Regis Hotel in New York on Wednesday, January 21. Joe Byrne, executive vice president of Tourism Ireland in the U.S. and Canada told the Irish Voice, "We have a full program this year to highlight the great airfares, the great tour packages that are available and the superb range of offers that are coming from the industry in Ireland." The organization envisions that U.S. visitors to Ireland will contribute more than $1 billion to the Irish economy in 2009. Describing the new campaign as "edgy and controversial," Byrne said a decision had been made some time ago not to play safe with this particular crusade. "We want to find a different, a distinctive and a uniquely Irish way of getting the message across, and the new campaign that we have launched is distinctly Irish," added Byrne. After months of research Tourism Ireland came up with the catchphrase "Ireland, the Island of Unique Character and Characters." This twin message will dominate the marketing campaign for 2009 and the years ahead. Fifty "characters," or Irish people with the welcoming charm Tourism Ireland feels visitors want to experience when they touch down in Ireland, will feature in ad campaigns throughout the U.S. Tourism Ireland Chief Executive Paul O'Toole made the trip from Dublin for the event. Addressing guests at the launch, he emphasized the great importance of the U.S. market to Irish tourism. "The U.S. is a key market for the tourism sector in Ireland, and we are absolutely committed to maintaining our very robust marketing investment in this country," O'Toole said. "In the past, during difficult times, Tourism Ireland continued its strong marketing presence in the U.S., and when an upturn in the market came about we were well positioned to reap the rewards." O'Toole told a room full of travel industry people and the media that Tourism Ireland is aware that "times are tough," but he promised that the Irish government agency "will be aggressive on how we move forward." Confident that tourism to Ireland from the U.S. will continue, O'Toole said that although budget constraints exist, Tourism Ireland "will invest in the greatest way possible." Tourism Ireland will also, through various mediums, translate the message that Ireland is a great value destination. "Apart from making them dream about coming to Ireland, the other big part of what we are doing is showing the affordability of Irish vacations. That may be a surprise in this day and age, but in fact Irish vacations are far more affordable than most people think," Byrne told the Irish Voice. On affordability, Tourism Ireland will highlight two driving factors - the dollar's considerable strength against the euro and the pound in recent months, and airlines' reduced fares. The heart of the Tourism Ireland's campaign will be its people. "We are going to go back to basics with this one. The genuine Irish failte and welcome holds through for Ireland. Our people who deliver that experience to our American customers and those around the world are invaluable," said O'Toole. Although planning to eventually reach the 50 states in the U.S., at present Tourism Ireland's campaign will focus on 15 cities across the country, while specializing on the eight cities that have direct air access to Ireland, including New York, San Francisco and Chicago. The campaign will mainly concentrate on selling Ireland to consumers of Irish heritage. "There are no secrets. It is a tough economy and we just have to have faith with the marketplace here and believe that our message will cut through the clutter," Byrne said. "We are going to spend a lot of effort, a lot of money and a lot of imagination on getting that message across." Carrying on from last year's campaign, the west of Ireland - from Kerry to Donegal - will continue to receive a significant push in 2009. Added to that, a three-year Scots-Irish campaign will be introduced to potential visitors urging them to visit Northern Ireland. Print, television and Internet ads will run in the coming weeks and months ahead selling Ireland as a dream vacation destination. "We want people to see that they are depriving themselves if they don't travel to Ireland," Byrne said. Not allowing the spiraling economy to dampen the Irish spirit, Tourism Ireland executives are determined to put their best face on events. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going," said Byrne.