Ireland’s The Toast Of The Town

With Martha Chapman

Alison Metcalfe with Dana Welch, Manager Canada for Tourism Ireland

Royal Irish Tours’ Ian Duffy

Tony Keane of The Irish Tourism Group

It wasn’t only Irish eyes that were smiling last week as a team of 15 suppliers from Ireland joined Canadian colleagues to bring good news from the Emerald Isle to the Canadian market. “We’re glad to celebrate a little Irish weather with you,” Alison Metcalfe, EVP USA & Canada at Tourism Ireland told the 120 agents on an unseasonably sultry and damp evening.

Metcalfe, who spent 14 years in Canada as Director, Canada of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and then Vice President Marketing, Canada for Tourism Ireland, went on to share that the island had welcomed some 10.5 million visitors last year (including 220,000 Canadians) – not bad for a country with a population of just six million.

“A vacation in Ireland is a lot of fun – or as we say, craic,” she added, using the Irish word which translates to ‘great fun in the company of great people.’

Our hosts continued to explain the appeal of Ireland including its 300 golf courses, countless festivals, delicious food and deep history. Oh, and its knitters.

One of the partners present was Tony Keane of The Irish Tourism Group. Specializing in FIT, self-drive, chauffeur-driven and customized tours, Irish Tourism has found a niche which has become a surprising hit for them: knitting groups.

Starting from one on-spec tour a couple of years ago to six departures this year (and 14 slated for 2018), the tours for fanatical knitters include workshops and the chance to meet some of the country’s most renowned knitters.

Other special interest niches include “screen tourism” (remember Northern Ireland is where Game of Thrones is filmed), faith-based tourism and genealogy – five million Canadians boast some Irish heritage, and not just on St. Patrick’s Day. And clients in search of stunning accommodation won’t go wrong with suppliers such as Manor House Hotels that feature 27 swoon-worthy castles, manor houses and estates. Move over Downton Abbey!

As always, robust lift always helps and there are now year-round flights with Rouge and Aer Lingus, along with seasonal service from Transat, WestJet and ASL. “Because we’re closer than mainland Europe, Ireland is now perceived as a great place for a cool weekend,” Metcalfe told me.

Who is the typical Canadian client going to Ireland? While over half are from Ontario, in general it’s the culturally curious, repeat visitors, and those 45-plus – though the screen tourism is tuning in younger travellers.

And of course, the knitters!

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