Homegrown Holidays

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

Aoife Rooney looks at how the Irish tourism industry has re-orientated itself to promoting the staycation.

Ireland has always been a popular holiday destination for overseas visitors, with the country boasting friendly residents, breathtaking scenery, and a relatively accessible location from a global perspective. For over a year there have been essentially no international tourists entering the country, with the industry attempting to survive solely on what Irish residents contributed through at-home holidays. The rise of the ‘staycation’ is a trend among Irish holidaymakers that was a well-established industry long before international restrictions put a halt to foreign travel over the past year. Irish residents choosing to holiday within the country is not a novel concept, especially seeing as there is no shortage of destinations throughout the country for them to tour, the mass marketing and advertising campaigns surrounding this specific type of holiday has only been seen in the past ten years. While there is a specified target market of the population who do choose the holiday within the country, the hasty and unexpected decision to make unnecessary travel unsustainable for tourists meant that last summer saw an unanticipated spike in those choosing to holiday within the Republic of Ireland. While this is a welcomed interest in Irish tourism, the industry, like so many others, is currently suffering the severe consequences of Covid-19 related restrictions.

Fáilte Ireland is the organisation responsible for the marketing and development of tourism options to potential international visitors. They have had to shift their business model to cater to the fact that the country has not welcomed foreign tourists on the expected scale for over twelve months. Their sister company, Tourism Ireland, has launched a social media campaign entitled #FillYourHeartWithIreland, the aim of which is to keep Ireland at the forefront in the minds of potential tourists, with the organisation confident that “North America will provide the greatest opportunities in 2021.” Currently, all of the organisation’s usual promotional activity is on hold, but they are steadfast in keeping “Ireland ‘top of mind’ with prospective international visitors – until the time is right for them to visit.” The choice has been made to restart whatever form of marketing Tourism Ireland can produce and distribute, with the hope that it will encourage international cohorts to choose Ireland as their holiday destination. Tourism Ireland cited that research indicates the importance of maintaining this awareness of destinations long before travel is realistic. They explain that people are planning for the potential break in restrictions that would facilitate a holiday and “consumers are considering now where they will travel to on their first post-pandemic trip.”

The choice has been made to promote the country at this time because doing so “will ensure that we are in the best possible place to immediately start converting business for Irish tourism operators when the time is right.” This is being noted as an important factor in the road to the “successful recovery for Irish tourism.” It is recorded that only 4 million international tourists visited Ireland in 2020, down from 11.2 million in 2019, accounting for a contribution of €5.8 million to the economy. Fáilte Ireland noted that they were on track to surpass 2019 figures, based on travel in the first three months of 2020 alone.

Within the state, Irish residents were able to avail of all the country has to offer to tourists, with just under 30% of residents enjoying a holiday in Ireland. Although, the influx of this type of holidaymaker did mean that businesses who survive off the tourism industry have had to adapt to the changed needs of their visitors. Neil Faulkner from Sligo Tourism noted that the “main difference between domestic tourists and international is a shorter stay.”

Despite the welcomed increase of domestic tourism, it has been an aspect of the industry that has been marketed for many years. Discover Ireland, a subsidiary of Fáilte Ireland, has been developing and promoting the Irish holiday in a way that encourages residents to explore other parts of the country they may be unfamiliar with. They have several popular campaigns covering various sections of the country in a way that makes it easy to plan a holiday in these destinations. For example, Discover Ireland are responsible for the development of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands programmes. The Wild Atlantic Way, which extends from “the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal to Kinsale in Cork”, has proven to be a very successful project since its launch, promoting travel along the West coast of the country and taking the hassle out of finding accommodation and activities, their website covering all bases.

As of 2019, the tourism industry was responsible for approximately 325,000 jobs. With tourism being one of the most negatively affected industries over the past year, this is undoubtedly much lower now, but any contribution Irish tourists can make to the industry is valuable, especially given that many of the businesses within the industry are considered small businesses, such as restaurants, B&Bs and pubs.
Along with a shift in marketing and promotion amongst tourism companies, there was also a notable trend in the activities and amenities that were pushed for Irish tourists last summer, and will likely be continued into this summer season. Beauty spots and outdoor activities will continue to be focal points of marketing campaigns, partly down to the fact that so many indoor amenities were closed due to restrictions, but also because there always is a significant emphasis put on what the Irish landscape has to offer. This sentiment aligns with the digital marketing campaign that was developed by Sligo Tourism, their strategy “focused on the outdoors, out-door activities for families and great escapers (young people with good disposable incomes looking for adventure).”

While tourism has been set aside by many as a pressing issue, it cannot be understated the contribution the sector makes not only to GDP on a national scale, but to the thousands of small businesses who usually attribute most of their revenue to seasonal tourists.