Destinations all over the world are taking notice of the growing number of Chinese travelers, including Asian and European destinations. While big players like Britain, the U.S., and France are all hoping to attract more Chinese visitors, smaller ones, like Ireland, also realize they too can be successful, with the right marketing of course.
Naturally, it’s not as if Ireland’s tourism industry is underdeveloped. It’s one of Europe’s most popular destinations. France leads Europe with 82.6 million tourist arrivals in 2016, and Ireland came in at 8.8 million last year. However, when considering France’s population at 66.9 million, versus Ireland’s 4.7 million, it’s clear that the small island nation is punching above its weight.
Most of Ireland’s tourists come from Western countries, with the UK understandably coming in first. The country has been buoyed for decades by Canadian and American tourists coming to Ireland to explore their cultural roots. However, Asian visitors have largely avoided Ireland, something that Tourism Ireland hopes to change.
Tourism Ireland is an organization dedicated to marketing Ireland, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as a tourism destination. It operates under the North/South Ministerial Council.
In April, the organization launched a sales mission to China, bringing 15 Irish tourism firms, with the purpose of establishing connections with tour operators in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong.
many Chinese have little knowledge of the island, and those who travel to Europe tend to gravitate to higher profile cultural centers like France
Any such push for Ireland will struggle with Ireland’s lack of a brand in Asia. For many North Americans, Ireland is the land of their ancestors. Other Westerners might know of Ireland’s famed whiskey or its writers, like James Joyce. Conversely, many Chinese have little knowledge of the island, and those who travel to Europe tend to gravitate to higher profile cultural centers like France.
Nonetheless, Tourism Ireland hoped to attract 50,000 Chinese visitors by 2017 back in 2015. In August of this year, it was reported that 60,000 total Chinese tourists were expected by the end of the year. Part of this success is due to being able to attach Ireland and Northern Ireland to larger tours of the British Isles. In this sense, Ireland will benefit greatly from increased numbers of Chinese travelers to more popular destinations like England and Scotland.
Part of Ireland’s success has been in attaching it to larger tours of the British Isles
One problem that will become an issue in the coming years is Brexit. Tourism Ireland markets Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as a single destination. It isn’t clear yet how visas and border crossing between Ireland and Northern Ireland will function. Fortunately, there is already a British Irish Visa Scheme that will hopefully help ameliorate this situation. When the scheme was launched, it already included Chinese visa applicants.
Chinese visitors who hold an Irish or British visa can travel to the United Kingdom or Ireland for short periods.
However, for Ireland to truly becoming a popular destination for Chinese tourists the issue of branding still needs to be addressed. Ireland’s attraction as a natural destination, with its famed landscapes, could prove especially attractive to social media conscious Chinese visitors.
One tourist site of note in this regard is the Titanic Museum in Belfast, which has successfully attracted 25,000 Chinese visitors and has participated in Tourism Ireland’s China missions.
Titanic is an extremely popular film in China, attaching the well-known brand of the Titanic to Ireland could make Ireland as a destination more present in the minds of potential Chinese travelers. This alone is not enough and time will tell if Ireland’s marketing and networking efforts will prove successful in the long-term.