The Irish are famous for dancing, swigging a ‘pint of Gat’ or two and it seems the joyful people of the Emerald Isle are also becoming increasingly famous for luring Aussie travellers to their green shamrock shores.

On his recent visit to Australia, Tourism Ireland’s CEO Niall Gibbons, was all smiles when he talked to KarryOn about the nation’s people, culture and scenery, which he believes, make Ireland such a unique destination.

And there are reasons for Mr Gibbons to smile, with a significant increase in 2016, Tourism Ireland recorded best ever visitor numbers in Irish tourism between January to August with 10m visitors in total for this year spending 5 billion Euros employing 150,000 people across the country.

Australia is the fifth most important overseas market for Ireland after the U.K, North America, Germany and France.

2015 was a record year with 189,000 Aussies visitors and for 2016 Ireland is expected to hit the 200,000 mark.

And it looks like the Aussie travellers aren’t in a rush once they arrive on the green island. On average we spend 14 days and we’re not shy of splashing our cash either with Australian visitors spending 50 percent more per trip than the average overseas visitor.

Mr Gibbons points to various factors for why the tourism has seen such a positive growth and mentions the strong Australian dollar and the really good air connectivity are main reasons for the high numbers.

“With Emirates flying twice per day, Etihad starting to go double daily from April next year and with Qatar starting to fly to Dublin next year, we have 12,000 seats connecting from the Middle East which is on top of the traditional routes”

Niall Gibbons, CEO, Tourism Ireland

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With these glowing numbers it doesn’t come as a surprise that Mr Gibbons was excited to be back down under.

He is eager to highlight that Travel Agents are incredibly important to Tourism Ireland with 60 percent of their business coming from Agents.

To demonstrate the value Tourism Ireland is placing on Travel Agents and travel trade Mr Gibson and the team have been busy this month travelling across Australia and New Zealand during their road show to meet over 400 members of the travel trade.

First up was Auckland on 14 Nov followed by Brisbane on 15 Nov, Sydney on 16 Nov and lastly Melbourne on 21 Nov.

The road shows were a great opportunity for Tourism Ireland to showcase the very best of the destination highlighting key themes including Wild Atlantic Way, Causeway Coastal Route and Ireland’s Ancient East – the newest touring region.

Tourism Ireland is also valuing their ongoing relationships with their travel partners in Australia.

“We work extremely closely with Flight Centre, Travel Corporation and helloworld and we also have close relationships with Emirates (who sponsored this trip), Etihad, British Airways and Qantas”

Mr Gibbons even had a meeting with Qantas’ CEO Alan Joyce.

The demographics are broken down into two broad groups; ‘the culture curious’ – 45+, couples who enjoy the finer things in life which makes up 80% of the visitor numbers and the ‘social energizers’ – under 35, energetic travellers who tend to visit Belfast and Dublin and seeks out activities using social means which makes up the remaining 20 percent.

For anyone who’s been sobbing themselves through Hillary Swank’s visit to Ireland in the movie ‘PS I love you’ knows that the country has something special to offer so it’s perhaps not a big surprise to learn that Ireland is a popular filming location which, as a result, has created the term ‘screen tourism’.

The island’s verdant landscape coupled with country’s love for storytelling and mystical fairytales has seen Ireland becoming a hugely popular ‘screen tourism location’.

Skelling Michael, filming location for Star Wars

Skelling Michael, filming location for Star Wars

The successful TV-series, Game of Thrones, is filmed across Northern Ireland and has done wonderful things for the region.

For die-hard fans there are two companies offering Game of Thrones tours spanning across 20 filming locations encompassing every county in the Northern Ireland.

Mr Gibbons tells a funny story from last year where there’s a scene called ‘Kings Road’ which showcases a path through the ‘Dark Hedges’ surrounded by massive trees. The trees in the scene were damaged in the storm and were salvaged and recycled and later turned into wooden doors.

The doors were then hung in 10 pubs around Northern Ireland which means that every door now has a story from the episode.

HBO was also generous and let the pubs use the Game of Thrones logo marking them as ‘Game of Thrones Territory’.

**PIC FOR REFERENCE - COPYRIGHT UNKNOWN** - (PICTURED: Game of Thrones Road) A Game of Thrones fan has been on an adventure of her own - travelling to the spectacular locations the show is set in. Travel writer Yvonne Gordon has visited the likes of Croatia, Iceland, Malta and Northern Island and photographer her journeys. She came up with the idea before visiting Dubrovnik, Croatia, last summer. While researching the trip Yvonne discovered parts of the show - such as the famous Battle of Blackwater Bay - were shot there. Yvonne, from Dublin, Ireland, snapped the areas of the city she recognised before planning trips to other Game of Thrones locations. - SEE CATERS COPY

The trees in the ‘Dark Hedges’ from Game of Thrones

On the big screen Start Wars seven and eight were both filmed in Ireland and Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been named best destinations for 2017 by Lonely Planet.

So what are the popular destinations and activities for Australian travellers?

Dublin will generally be the point of entry for Aussie travellers and Belfast is hugely popular as well.

Given the Aussies are spending on average 2 weeks in the country, they will have time to take in the whole experience and renting a car is very popular (the Irish even drive on the same side of the road).

And if you feel like you could ate (eat) the twelve apostles – Irish translation for starving, Western Ireland including Cork has grown incredibly popular among foodies.

Cork hosts an annual food festival in September including 188 events over 10 days and the food in Ireland is all about the produce, where it comes from and the story behind every ingredient.

So what’s the main focus for 2017?

Tourism Ireland’s marketing plan for 2017 will launch on 28 Nov and the focus is ‘ You can’t view Ireland from a distance, you have to be there to experience it all’.

With half a million available seats to Ireland every week, we will see campaigns rolled out across the strong markets and continuing collaborations with key partners pushing connectivity points.

There also seems to be some secret celebrity endorsements in the making and we might see Liam Neeson in a new St Patrick’s Day video (he is by the way supporting the upcoming Womens Rugby World Cup in Ireland).

With so many tourism attractions, a wonderful lush landscape and amazing beers and whiskeys and not to mention tasty food, what makes Ireland such a unique destination simply boils down to its people, according to Dublin born and bread Mr Gibbons.

It comes down to the friendliness and warmth of the people he says.

“You will have a very genuine encounter with the warmest and friendliest people in the world. We are naturally inquisitive, our people love the sense of connection, and they will ask you questions, not in a nosy way, they genuinely want to get to know you, find out where you’re from and where you’re going next”

Niall Gibbons, CEO, Tourism Ireland

Have you been to Ireland? Share your travel experience with us in the comment section below…