with Alison Metcalfe

Open Jaw

Where were you born? In the UK.  

How long have you been in the business? Over 25 years, starting after university as a global management trainee with Visit Britain. I also have worked for them in Canada and Portugal, and opened up the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in Toronto. I’ve been in New York since the end of 2007.

How many people work for you? In all we have 20 in North America, and I now have five in Australia and New Zealand.

What’s the best part of the job? Promoting the island of Ireland and having the opportunity to travel. And the variety! Dealing with stakeholders from small businesses in Ireland to international airlines, and delivering economic benefit in terms of employment. Plus getting people inspired to visit the destination.  

What did you want to be as a kid? A nurse. But I realized very early on that it wasn’t something I’d be very good at – I’m not sure I would have had the right bedside manner!

What was your first ever job? I worked for three months at a Safeway supermarket to earn money for a school trip to Italy.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? Reaching the top of Huayna Picchu [the mountain that rises over Machu Picchu] as thick fog rolled in and having to climb down.

Any guilty pleasures? (laughs) Chocolate.

What’s on your iPad? A mix of music with a lot of my favourites of the 80s, plus magazines such as Vanity Fair and the Economist. And Irish newspapers.

What do people not know about you? I’m a keen squash player and I love to garden.

What was the last thing you bought (apart from something to eat)? Two pairs of shoes. In New York at FSNY. I love it.

When were you happiest? I’m happy now!

What would you tell your 20 year old self? “Make the most of every day. There’s always an upside to most situations.”

What skill or talent do you admire in someone? The ability to bring consensus and find solutions.

What’s at the top of your bucket list? India and New Zealand.

Ever had a brush with fame? I have, many including Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Matthew Broderick and Sara Jessica Parker.

What keeps you awake at night? Not a lot.

How do you spend your frequent flyer points? Travelling – as opposed to getting stuff and merchandise. But I have to say I have a good number banked, as I don’t have as much time to spend them right now!

What is your greatest extravagance? Probably shoes. How much did the most expensive pair cost? $500 – but that’s Canadian dollars and that wouldn’t be the norm! I like to buy them on sale. My mother taught me well: wait for the sale and then go in for the kill.

How do you stay fit when you travel? I go for a run, usually 10 km.

If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be? Not change exactly, but continue to improve the professionalism of the industry. Expanding ongoing commitment to training as you find in other industry sectors.

If you could sit next to anyone on a long-haul flight, who would it be? Richard Branson. I think he’d be pretty entertaining.

Do you have a favourite charity? Canadian Cancer Society.

What will be the biggest challenge for the industry in the next 12 months? Equipping ourselves to deal with uncertain factors. There’s a lot of potential from a geopolitical perspective, and preparedness for any crisis that may occur is important.  

What do you hope to be doing in 10 years? Travelling, with a little more free time!  


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