200,000 Welcomes: Canada’s Growing Love Affair With Ireland

with Bruce Parkinson

Dana Welch, Manager, Canada Tourism Ireland poses with Alison Metcalfe, EVP USA & Canada, Tourism Ireland.

Group of Irish tourism partners gathered for a 3-city Ontario road show.

What's an Ireland event without a little Irish whiskey.

The Emerald Isle’s latest marketing slogan is ‘Jump into Ireland,’ but many Canadians have already made the leap, with visitor numbers up an astonishing 56% in just three years.

2015 saw 190,000 Canadians cross the pond to the Republic of Ireland – up 20% from 2014. This year Canadian visitors should top 200,000, as more flights and frequencies make room for more growth.

“It seems that everybody wants to be green. And for Canadians, it’s easier than ever,” says Dana Welch, Manager, Canada for Tourism Ireland.

Easier than ever thanks to a whole lot more lift than there was in the past. But what’s more amazing is how well that capacity – much of it year-round -- has been absorbed, in what was previously seen as a seasonal market.

The role of Tourism Ireland is to create the demand to keep all those airline seats full and they’ve been doing just that, including hosting a recent Toronto event that saw media and travel industry people meeting with a visiting group of Irish hoteliers, inbound operators and other travel partners. They were here for a three-city road show designed to stimulate group business.

The Irish rovers were led by a familiar face to Canadian travel industry members, Alison Metcalfe, EVP USA & Canada for Tourism Ireland. Metcalfe ran the group’s Canadian office for years before heading south of the border to New York.

“Our biggest constraint was always air access,” Metcalfe told Open Jaw. “We were seen as a very seasonal destination. Now we’re really starting to realize our potential.”

It’s been three years since Tourism Ireland conducted a review of the Canadian market, finding strong interest among ‘culturally-curious’ travellers. Ireland is a perfect fit for that important segment, offering a warm welcome, 5,000 years of fascinating human history, beautiful scenery and a very busy year-round cultural scene encompassing cuisine, music, art, literature, dance and more.

“We wanted those planes to stay with us, so we’ve been working very hard to make Ireland stand out in new and different ways,” Metcalfe says.

There’s even more lift this year, with WestJet beginning its seasonal service 6 weeks earlier than last year and Air Canada rouge launching seasonal YVR/DUB service in addition to year-round flights from YYZ. EI is flying year-round too, while TS offers seasonal flights from YUL, YQB, YYC and YYZ, and Dublin-based ASL Airlines flies seasonally from YHZ to DUB and on to CDG.

Highlights for 2016 include Northern Ireland’s ‘Year of Food & Drink’ and new ‘branded experiences’ including “On Dublin’s Doorstep,’ which shines a spotlight on areas within easy reach of Europe’s easternmost city and ‘Ireland’s Ancient East,’ which helps visitors explore human history on the island, including ghostly tombs that predate Egypt’s Pyramids.

Tourism Ireland’s Dana Welch says there’s still lots of attention on ‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ – a 2,500 km coastal touring route – and plenty of interest in exploring the parts of Ireland where TV sensation ‘Game of Thrones’ is shot. “We’re continually investing in the product on the ground,” says Metcalfe. “We’re never complacent. We’re always trying to move the game on.”

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