Pop culture TV shows such as Game of Thrones and Vikings may do a great job at showcasing Ireland’s beauty, but according to the island’s President, it’s the ‘fierce friendly’ locals that keep visitors coming back.

Yes, the President of Ireland.

Speaking to travel media at a special lunch held in Sydney last week (which KarryOn happened to be at), President Michael D. Higgins, touched on his country’s growing tourism industry, saying he believes it’s being spurred by the natural and archaeological sites, history, activities and the Irish people.

Image: Fiona Clelland Tourism Ireland (TI), Martha Behan TI, Aoife Finnegan TI, Niall Gibbons TI, President Michael D Higgins, Sabina Higgins, Alison Metcalf TI, Sofia Hansson TI, Marie McEnallay TI

Image: Fiona Clelland Tourism Ireland (TI), Martha Behan TI, Aoife Finnegan TI, Niall Gibbons TI, President Michael D Higgins, Sabina Higgins, Alison Metcalf TI, Sofia Hansson TI, Marie McEnallay TI

So while the popular series Game of Thrones may perfectly showcase the country’s scenic backdrops and illustrious castles, it’s the bar goers, hospitality staff and even taxi drivers that leave a lasting impression.

“People who have visited Ireland will usually talk about the people they have met and the extraordinary conversations they’ve had.”

Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland

These ‘fierce friendly’ citizens, as Higgins describes them, have contributed to a 60 percent increase in tourism business to the country over the last five years as well as a 65 percent increase in tourism spend.

From the “important” Australian market, Tourism Ireland found that there’s been a 67 percent increase in total spend among Aussies over the last five years, putting us “well ahead of the posse”.

“The connection between Ireland and Australia is deep,” the President added.

Beyond meeting and falling in love with locals, visitors are also being swept up in easy going culture, stunning sites, ancient heritage as well as the country’s “intellectual giddiness” and “glittery festivals”.

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Have you encountered an Irish local?