While Ireland may not be the most popular European destination for Chinese tourists—that title is held by France—the country’s destination marketing organization (DMO), Tourism Ireland, has been making substantial Chinese marketing efforts to court the ever-growing number of Chinese outbound tourists. The DMO’s newest effort is a training seminar for 50 Chinese travel agents it organized in conjunction with Finnair in the Chinese city Xi’an. Tourism Ireland plans on holding a similar seminar in Nanjing later this year.
Unlike in the United States, awareness of Ireland is quite low in China, something that needs to change to achieve success in the China market
The move is a prudent one for Tourism Ireland. A big part of the country’s disadvantage as a destination in China is lack of awareness. Westerners, especially Americans, are aware of the country’s history and scenic landscapes, buoyed by the popularity of St. Patrick’s Day and the popularity of Irish poets and writers like William Butler Yeats and James Joyce.
Such associations simply do not exist in China. This holds true for both Chinese consumers and travel agents alike. It’s hard for a travel agent to sell an expensive package tour to a destination they’ve never heard of.
Of course, the country has a lot to offer Chinese travelers that makes it an ideal stop in a European tour, if not a sole destination for Chinese tourist. Particularly, Ireland has a joint-visa agreement with the United Kingdom so visitors to England and Scotland can also easily travel to Ireland. However Ireland, and by extension, Britain, is hampered by the fact that it isn’t in the Schengen Area. Visitors to the British Isles will still need another visa for France, Germany, Spain, etc. if they want to travel on the European continent.
Tourism Ireland is working with travel agents in major second tier Chinese cities to raise awareness of Ireland in the Chinese tourism market
Moreover, the locations chosen by Tourism Ireland for the seminars are also quite strategically important for the overall Chinese outbound travel market. The most important markets within in China are still the country’s biggest, most globalized cities, like Shanghai and Beijing. Large, second-tier cities like Nanjing and Xi’an are quickly growing in importance. Xi’an and Nanjing’s metropolitan areas have populations of around 12.9 million and 11.7 respectively, and both cities are becoming wealthier every year.
Finnair, and Finland as a destination, stand to benefit substantially as well. Finland has even less international recognition as a destination, and yet the country has seen dramatic success in marketing itself to Chinese tourists. Finland has done this through a clever destination pitch of turning Finland into a stopover destination and Helsinki as a transit hub on the way to other European destinations.
This newest effort also stands to benefit Finland as a destination, and fits well within its overall Chinese tourism strategy
By improving connectivity between China and Finland via airlines like Finnair, easing short-term visitation restrictions, and expanding adoption of Alipay, Finland was able to drive a 63 percent increase in Chinese visits to Finland in 2017 over 2016. In this way, Finland benefits from the growth of Chinese tourism to destinations like Ireland.
Efforts like Tourism Ireland and Finnair’s training seminars likely won’t have much impact on the number of Chinese tourists to Ireland in the short-term. However, they could help cultivate steady, long-term growth by improving awareness of the country among both buyers and sellers in the Chinese tourism market.