Never thought of visiting Ireland? Well, you might be soon. In our Breakout Role series, we take a look at places that have seen huge increases in tourism in the last few years, and try to figure out what’s causing all the hype.
For the United Kingdom, 2016 has been a pretty crazy year. After the government held a referendum this past June on whether or not it should leave the European Union, the country voted to exit the EU and its previously well-liked prime minister, David Cameron, resigned from office.
Although there have been signs that Brexit will ultimately help tourism in the UK, as well as a good deal of evidence to the contrary, Ireland, Britain’s neighbors to the west, have seen a record year, with more visitors than ever planning trips to the island nation.
With 10.5 international visitors coming into the country in 2016, the year has been dubbed Irish tourism’s best year ever. This trend isn’t anything new though, as foreign visitors have increased by around 3 million people in the past four years alone.
Photo: Giuseppe Milo, CC-BY
Even with the threat of Brexit looming, the Irish hospitality industry is expected to continue its growth in the years to come, with tourism set to earn the country 5.7 billion dollars in 2017 despite Britain beginning the formal EU withdrawal process by this upcoming March. Eric White, the vice president of sales, marketing and operations for European vacation company Celtic Tours says UK’s exit from the EU will likely only affect British travellers, leaving most other markets untouched.
”[For people in the UK] it used to be really easy and inexpensive to go over—even for a long weekend. Now I think that we could see some of that lessening,” White says. “But as far as [visitors from other countries] I don’t really see Brexit as having much of an impact.”
For other English speaking tourists, White says a familiarity with the language and a well-founded sense of safety helps draw more visitors each year. For Americans in specific, common heritage often plays a role as well, as there are around 35 million Americans—around seven times more than the entire population of Ireland—who trace their backgrounds to the Celtic nation.
Photo: David Ramalho, CC-BY
Growth has had its costs, though, and the hotel industry—especially the heavily populated and highly visited capital, Dublin—has not developed enough to keep up. While the problem persists elsewhere, it’s at its worst in the country’s largest city, with available accommodations decreasing by six percent over the last five years, even as tourism has flourished.
For locals, especially those in more isolated areas outside of the major city centers, the influx of foreign tourists provides a chance to showcase their culture and hospitality. For Bernard McMullan of Tourism Ireland, an organization that promotes the entire island internationally, this helps cultivate the overall travel experience for international tourists.
“It’s the single most important thing that the folks coming home from vacations tell their friends,” McMullan says. ”[We live in an era where] people are offering opinions and sharing their thoughts immediately, so it’s up to us to make sure folks are having a good time.”
Local hospitality also lends itself to a very specific method of marketing, as it allows Ireland to convince tourists that the country offers an experience unlike that found anywhere else in Europe.
“We try to portray ourselves in terms of a unique and authentic offering—that we provide something different,” McMullan says.
Photo: Fred Bigio, CC-BY
When thinking of Ireland, it’s difficult to avoid thoughts of sharp, green-topped seaside hills jutting out over a deep blue coast. These are the Cliffs of Moher, perhaps Ireland’s most famous natural attraction. However, highlight-filled sightseeing trails, such as the Ring of Kerry in the southwest and the Wild Atlantic Way, which spans the country’s entire western coast, less prominent landscapes to foreign tourists.
In terms of history, Dublin is practically a full vacation in itself. The city is of course home to the Guinness Storehouse, as well as Trinity College, the world-famous university whose alumni include literary legends such as Edmund Burke, Oscar Wilde and Jonathon Swift. The college is also home to the incredibly historical Book of Kells, a Latin-language book of Gospels dating back to 800 A.D.
Whiskey has brought tourists to the island for years, with tons of renowned breweries offering tours and tastings, but there has long been a perception that the country’s greatest weakness was its cuisine. The assumption that Ireland doesn’t have any good food to offer its visitors has plagued the nation’s reputation in the past, but, according to White, things have changed in a big way.
“Over the years, Ireland has had a little bit of a bad rap on the cuisine side of things but it’s sort of a stereotype that doesn’t fit anymore,” he says.
Together, all of these elements combine into a truly holistic experience for tourists, one that is especially important on an island that is often the only stop during a vacation. White points to the fact the Ireland is hardly larger than the state of New Jersey, which he sees as a major advantage because it means tourists can see just about anything during their stay, if they’re willing to commit the time.
“If you’re going there and you spend seven nights or something like that it gives you a pretty good opportunity to see what the country has to offer,” White says.
Flights Rates: Current prices can be found for between $632 and $1,167.
Travel Concerns: There are no major safety concerns for travel to Ireland, and a tourist visa is not required for entry.
Currency Exchange: 1 USD = 0.96 Euros
More Info: For international tourists, both Tourism Ireland and Discover Ireland feature accommodation details, flights information and sample itineraries.
Top photo: Andrea Puggioni, CC-BY
Dillon Thompson is a University of Georgia student and freelance writer with a love for travel and an addiction to coffee and hip-hop music.