The Irish tourism industry has identified attracting increasing numbers of high-net worth visitors from China as a key growth strategy for the future and 2018 has so far seen a wide range of proactive steps taken to prepare the market for welcoming higher numbers of guests.
With British visitors accounting for 40% of all arrivals to Ireland, the country’s tourism sector has been bracing itself for the impacts of the United Kingdom’s forthcoming departure from the European Union and actively seeking to diversify its source markets. While these efforts have seen increased targeting of North American and continental European visitors, China – and its luxury traveller segment – has been embraced as an attractive prospect for the industry to develop.
With the first Chinese direct flights to Ireland having launched in June 2018, Fáilte Ireland – the country’s national tourism development authority – has supported the market with the adoption of a national training strategy aimed at equipping key service providers with the tools to prepare them to welcome Chinese customers. The programme, which is features COTRI’s CTW Chinese Tourist Welcome Training at its core and is being conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Competitiveness, Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland, has certified a number of marquee Irish attractions as ‘Quality Hosts’, including the Guinness Storehouse, Titanic Belfast, UNESCO World Heritage site the Giant’s Causeway and a selected number of luxury hotels and restaurants.
Discussing the foundations of the strategy, Tourism Ireland’s China Country Manager James Kenny highlighted the necessity for “a lot of research work is needed to look into the market needs and finer details of what specific elements to include in a programme for Ireland” as well as high-level efforts made to help understand Chinese customers’ needs in order to bridge the “significant gap in cultural backgrounds.”
Accordingly, this strategy has seen not just the introduction of practical measures such as Chinese-language signage and Chinese payment options at Dublin airport, but also providing visitors with the opportunity to acquaint themselves with high-quality local produce, alongside other unique experiences.
With cuisine playing a central role in the desires of increasingly experienced independent travellers, for example, restaurants that have undertaken the programme have made conscious efforts to draw Chinese guests’ attention to their services as a means of providing an authentic Irish experience. Richie Wilson, Executive Head Chef at Dublin’s FIRE restaurant highlighted opportunity for diners to eat in its premises’ 19th Century ‘Supper Room’ featuring “incredible vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and a beautiful terrace overlooking the Lord Mayor’s Garden”, while emphasising the importance of locally-sourced produce at sister establishment Sole Seafood and Grill.
Promotion of in-depth experience offerings aimed at Chinese visitors has also played a central role in Tourism Ireland’s award-winning marketing strategy, which saw the national tourism board organise the filming of a number of episodes of renowned topical series ‘Morning Call’ in Ireland and included celebrity host Gao Xiaosong visiting destinations around the country as well as meeting with President Michael D. Higgins and other renowned figures. This was supported by a targeted social media campaign, as well as industry familiarisation trips and annual trade missions to China.
With the island of Ireland having attracted 90,000 Chinese visitors in 2017 – a year-on-year increase of 43% – attempts to market the country as an emerging ‘trend’ destination for the Chinese are looking to be successful and, building upon the increased air connectivity, the industry’s stated target of reaching 175,000 annual arrivals from China by 2025 appears to be well within reach.
A case study of Ireland’s national Chinese tourism strategy is featured in the Autumn 2018 issue of the COTRI Market Report. For more information, please see the following link.