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Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 15 : 00 PM [IST]

Tourism Ireland: Paving India’s way to the Emerald Isle

With a 19 per cent increase in Indian visitor numbers to Ireland last year, Tourism Ireland expects the joint visa initiative between Ireland and the UK to further boost tourism. Rashmi Pradhan presents the growth of the tourism board in India
jim_paul.jpgThe beautiful journey started in early 2004, when hotel and destination marketing company, Beautiful Planet came on board as the India representative of Tourism Ireland. Accepting the challenge to promote and create awareness about a destination that was hardly heard of in the Indian market, Beena Menon and Huzan Fraser, Directors of Beautiful Planet, left no stone unturned to promote the island of Ireland among Indian travellers. Ireland was presented with the ‘Best Emerging Destination’ award by Lonely Planet - India last year. “After a long and great relationship with Tourism Ireland, it is heartening and rewarding to see that people are now aware of Ireland. It was a big challenge then, but now when I see the difference, it feels satisfying and fulfilling,” shared Fraser.

huzan_fraser.jpgbeena_menon.jpgIn the beginning, there were three barriers to promoting Ireland in India. They were visa, Bollywood and connectivity. Gradually, all these were addressed; firstly, the Short-stay Visa Waiver Programme and now a step ahead with the British-Irish Visa Scheme.

Fraser stated, “We didn’t have any Bollywood movie, but ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ marked the beginning of this. Further, the tax incentives that will be announced next year will help boost Bollywood Tourism. Airline connectivity has also changed to a great extent. Emirates, Etihad Airways and Turkish Airlines have started direct flights from their respective hubs. In fact, Emirates and Etihad Airways have started double-daily flights.”

Strategy
Ireland is an interesting destination. It is like talking about two countries on one island—Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. The capital of Northern Ireland is Belfast and the currency is the British Pound Sterling, whereas the capital of Republic of Ireland is Dublin and the official currency is Euro. It was quiet a big challenge for the representative company to create awareness of and the desire to travel to a new destination like Ireland.

“Ten years ago, people were clueless about Ireland. In fact, even the travel trade was so ignorant that they confused Ireland with Iceland. The basic knowledge like where Ireland is located (it was considered as part of Europe) was absent. A few hundreds of well-travelled and well-researched Indians visited Ireland. Even today, though people know of Ireland, there is no thorough knowledge of the destination,” Fraser said.

tourism_ireland.jpgThe Tourism Ireland team in India had to start at the grass-roots level. Due to limited budget, the efforts were started with Mumbai and Delhi through travel trade and media engagement activities. “We participated in trade exhibitions, roadshows, FAM trips, meetings with the travel trade, communicating through maps and informing of the location, and later connections and visa. The media embraced Ireland since it was a new destination and because they wanted to give an opportunity to their readers to explore a new destination. We still conduct FAM trips for travel trade and media to expose them to the tourism offerings of Ireland,” informed Fraser.

Initially, Tourism Ireland tapped FITs and Luxury Travel segments. Jim Paul, Head of Australia and Developing Markets, Tourism Ireland, said, “Self-drive is the best way to explore Ireland. Golf, Holidays and Honeymoon segments are picking up. We have been promoting Ring of Kerry, Connemara, Giant’s Causeway, and Cliffs of Moher in the Indian market.” Tourism Ireland has launched an itinerary, specially catering to the Indian market. Fraser said, “Tourism Ireland has come up with itineraries like Dual City Break, Family Fun, Golf, Ireland through the Movies, MICE, Romantic Escape, and Self Drive. These itineraries have been designed especially for the Indian market, keeping in mind their requirements and demands.”

In addition to offering an adventurous experience, Paul informed, “Two routes have been introduced that can be experienced through coaches, self-drives and cycling. Wild Atlantic Way touring route is the longest coastal touring route in the world, which is 2,500-km long and includes various rural and remote experiences. The Causeway Coastal tour in Northern Ireland, stretching 120 miles, starts from Belfast and ends at Londonderry.”

Training Programme
In order to offer a better understanding of the destination and enable the travel trade to sell the destination efficiently, Tourism Ireland has launched the Ireland Specialist training programme (www.irelandspecialists.com) for the Indian market early this year. Menon said, “This programme has been specifically designed for the travel trade to learn about Ireland as a holiday destination, its connectivity and accessibility, what to see and do in Ireland, and to show the very best of what the island of Ireland has to offer clients. We hope to have 750 Ireland Specialists by the end of the year.” From among the travel agents who successfully complete the programme by September 30, one or two agents will be selected through a lucky draw for a mega famil next year.

Visa
The Short-stay Visa Waiver Scheme was introduced in July 2011 to encourage tourism to the island of Ireland. It proved to be a great success. Building on the success of the Short-stay Visa Waiver Scheme, the British-Irish Visa Scheme will commence this autumn, starting from India and China, and will help boost tourism. The British-Irish Visa Scheme will allow travel to and around the Common Travel Area (CTA) on a single visa. “This will be a progressive move and will help improve and generate significant demand for Ireland and the UK. Besides the three visa centres for Irish visa, the ten UK visa centres in India will facilitate Irish visa as well,” said Paul.
 
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