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13 Dec 2016

Tourism Ireland looks back on a record year for Irish tourism

10.5 million overseas visitors to the island of Ireland contributing €5.4 billion

2016 has been the best year ever for overseas tourism to the island of Ireland, with some 10.5 million visitors (+11% over 2015) contributing more than €5.4 billion (+10%) in revenue to the economy. Growth has come from all markets, with the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Spain and Australia all turning in record performances once again this year. 

Tourism Ireland today reflected on highlights of its promotional activity around the world in 2016. These have included Ireland’s Ancient East, Dublin, the Wild Atlantic Way, Game of Thrones, Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink and a successful campaign to capitalise on Euro 2016, as well as Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening initiative on St Patrick’s Day, which was bigger than ever before this year.

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Patrick O’Donovan TD, said: “2016 looks set to be the best year ever for overseas tourism to Ireland – surpassing all previous records. The latest CSO figures confirm that almost 8.3 million people visited Ireland in the first ten months of 2016. That’s an amazing +11.6% increase by the end of October, or an additional 858,000 visitors on top of last year’s record. Good growth has been recorded from all our markets.  Overseas tourism has contributed over €3.6 billion to the economy for the first nine months of 2016, which is a year-on-year increase of +9.4%. This is helping to sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs in communities around the country.”

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “Throughout 2016, Tourism Ireland undertook a packed programme of promotions, to bring Ireland to the attention of travellers everywhere. A major focus of our activity was Ireland’s Ancient East, Dublin and the Wild Atlantic Way; other important themes have included screen tourism and Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink.”

At the end of November, Tourism Ireland launched its marketing plans to promote Ireland in 2017 and beyond, with a target to grow overseas tourism revenue by 4.5%, to €5.7 billion for the economies north and south, next year. 

Commenting on the year ahead, Niall Gibbons said: “We are heading into 2017 in a position of some strength, based on the success of 2016. Tourism Ireland will create ‘stand out’ for the island of Ireland around the world next year, highlighting iconic experiences like the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East, Titanic Belfast and the Causeway Coastal Route. We will also promote Dublin and Belfast, in particular for shoulder and off-peak travel. Screen tourism will remain a priority, as we continue to capitalise on our connections with Star Wars and Game of Thrones.” 


Ireland’s Ancient East
Ireland’s Ancient East has been a major focus of Tourism Ireland’s promotions throughout 2016. It has been promoted across a range of platforms including TV, print and online advertising; on and through social media channels; at major international consumer and trade fairs; through familiarisation visits for influential travel agents, tour operators, as well as travel and lifestyle journalists and bloggers from around the world; and through Tourism Ireland’s promotional material – its market guides and brochures.

Overseas publicity – worth €385 million
Working with overseas travel, lifestyle and special interest media is an important element of the overseas promotional programme. In 2016, thousands of opportunities were created for potential visitors around the world to read, hear or watch positive messages about the island of Ireland. Tourism Ireland estimates that this exposure is worth an estimated €385 million in equivalent advertising value. 

Digital strength – over 700 million digital connections
Tourism Ireland continued to leverage its strength in digital and social media – especially important in developing new ways of reaching, and connecting more frequently, with our target audiences. Tourism Ireland is now the fourth most popular tourism board in the world on Facebook (more than 3.7 million fans), number four on Twitter (372,000 followers) and number three on YouTube (over 28 million views). Tourism Ireland’s international website,, attracted a record 18 million visitors in 2016. 

Improved access 
2016 saw a number of really positive announcements on the important access front, including new routes introduced by a range of carriers (e.g. Aer Lingus from Los Angeles, Hartford and Newark to Dublin; Flybe flights from Edinburgh and Birmingham to Ireland West Airport Knock; CityJet’s flights from Nantes and La Rochelle to Cork; an Iberia Express flight between Madrid and Cork; and a new Air Canada rouge service from Vancouver to Dublin). An estimated 537,000 direct, one-way airline seats to the island of Ireland were available each week during summer 2016, a +9% increase in capacity over summer 2015. 

And announcements for 2017 augur well for the continued success of overseas tourism. These include a new Qatar Airways service between Doha and Dublin; and a new Aer Lingus flight to Dublin from Miami, as well as expanded services on Aer Lingus flights from Los Angeles, Chicago and Orlando. Other new routes in the pipeline include a Delta flight from Boston to Dublin, Transavia from Munich to Dublin, a Norwegian service between Stockholm and Dublin, an SAS flight from Stockholm to Shannon, a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Shannon, WOW Air from Keflavik (Iceland) to Cork and a Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Cork. Also, Etihad will once again operate double-daily departures between Abu Dhabi and Dublin, from April.


Taking Irish tourism to new galaxies
At the beginning of 2016, Tourism Ireland launched phase two of its special Star Wars campaign, targeting fans of the science fiction franchise around the world. It involved a specially-commissioned ‘behind-the-scenes’ film, created during filming in 2014 on Skellig Michael. Tourism Ireland commissioned Lucasfilm – the company which produced Star Wars: The Force Awakens – to create the short film, in which Star Wars director JJ Abrams and other crew members discuss why they chose this special location for filming. 
In April, Tourism Ireland unveiled phase three of its Star Wars campaign – with another superb ‘behind-the-scenes’ film in which Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) described Skellig Michael as “just indescribably beautiful”. Tourism Ireland shared the films, via social media, in 14 different markets – including Britain, the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the Nordic region, Australia, New Zealand, India, the GCC and South Africa. 

New strategy to boost tourism from Spain and Italy
Two new plans were unveiled by Tourism Ireland, setting out challenging and ambitious targets which will see the island of Ireland welcome almost 3.8 million Spanish and Italian visitors between now and 2020 – 825,000 visitors per year from both countries by 2020 – representing growth of +25%.

Global Greening season – 240 sites in 127 cities in 45 countries
Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening initiative for St Patrick’s Day was bigger and better than ever before in 2016 – generating more than €10 million worth of positive publicity for Ireland across the world. This year, 7 World Trade Center at Ground Zero in New York, Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, Yas Viceroy hotel in Abu Dhabi and the Nelson Mandela statue in Johannesburg were illuminated in green for the first time ever to celebrate St Patrick. Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening initiative has truly gone from strength to strength, with more than 240 landmark buildings and iconic sites in 127 cities in 45 countries around the world taking part this year, including the Great Wall of China, Niagara Falls, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro and the famous ‘Welcome’ sign in Las Vegas.

‘Jump into Ireland’ sales blitz kicks off in the United States
Tourism Ireland’s 2016 series of ‘Jump into Ireland’ sales blitzes across the United States kicked off in March – in Chicago, Boston and New York. Subsequent ‘Jump into Ireland’ events took place during the year in Phoenix (Arizona), Sarasota (Florida), San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. The ‘Jump’ schedule included a B2B event in each city for the Irish delegations, showcasing the island of Ireland to the influential American travel professionals in attendance, via a travel TV show format. Each event also included an opportunity for networking with influential travel and lifestyle journalists. 

Winter is coming! Tourism Ireland’s Game of Thrones campaign reaches 61 million
In April, Tourism Ireland joined forces once again with HBO and its smash hit TV series Game of Thrones, to promote Northern Ireland around the world. Timed to coincide with the return of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, an exciting feature of our 2016 GoT campaign was a series of 10 intricately carved doors, depicting moments inspired by this season, the ‘Doors of Thrones’. Tourism Ireland unveiled the doors each week as season six unfolded – referencing key scenes and events from the latest episode and incorporating some of the iconic symbols of the show. The doors were carved from the trees blown down last winter in Storm Gertrude at the Dark Hedges in Co Antrim – which serves as the backdrop for the Kingsroad, perhaps the most iconic Game of Thrones location in Northern Ireland. 

Sales mission to China
Tourism Ireland’s 2016 sales mission to China saw a delegation of 15 tourism enterprises from the island of Ireland meet and conclude deals with leading Chinese tour operators and travel agents in the key cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. And, for the first time ever, this year’s sales mission included Hong Kong, to begin exploring the potential of the market there. The Tourism Ireland delegation was also joined this year by other key partners – including the DAA, to explore opportunities for direct flights from China to Ireland; and the UK and Irish visa offices, to continue to highlight the British-Irish Visa Scheme, which enables leisure and business travellers from China to visit Ireland and the UK on a single visa. 

Thumbs up for Tourism Ireland!
Tourism Ireland took the top award for international marketing at this year’s All Ireland Marketing (AIM) awards, organised by the Marketing Institute of Ireland, beating off strong competition in the same category from Hanley Energy, Horseware, Ornua and The Taxback Group. The award was presented for Tourism Ireland’s co-operative marketing with key tourism partners – in particular the organisation’s activity to highlight the growth in air access to the island of Ireland and the co-operative campaigns undertaken to create demand around the world for those services, which helped ensure a record-breaking year for Irish tourism in 2015.

Score for tourism! Capitalising on Euro 2016
Celebrating the historic and remarkable achievement that both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland teams qualified for the Euro 2016 tournament, Tourism Ireland created a new online film – bringing the beautiful game together with some of the most beautiful places on the island of Ireland. The video featured two freestyle footballers – Jamie Knight in Northern Ireland and Dara Coyne in the Republic of Ireland – playing ball at some of our top visitor attractions, including the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Powerscourt House and Gardens, Titanic Belfast, the Guinness Storehouse, the Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher. 

New online film starring actor Richard E Grant goes live, highlighting the Wild Atlantic Way to millions across Great Britain
The Wild Atlantic Way is “captivating, stimulating and spectacularly unique” – so said actor Richard E Grant in a new online film, unveiled by Tourism Ireland. The film highlighted the Wild Atlantic Way, including places like Fanad Head Lighthouse and the Slieve League Cliffs in Co Donegal, as well as Newport and Westport in Co Mayo. It was part of a series of short films created by Tourism Ireland and Smooth Radio, to highlight the island of Ireland to about 5.5 million holidaymakers in Great Britain this year. Richard E Grant returned to Ireland in September, to film in Dublin and around Ireland’s Ancient East.

Campaign with the Guinness Storehouse highlights Dublin in Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands
Tourism Ireland teamed up with the Guinness Storehouse in July, highlighting Dublin and its most popular visitor attraction in four important markets – Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands. The campaign included online advertising, driving people to a specially-created page on where they could find out about the many great things to see and do in Dublin – and be in with a chance of winning a weekend break in the city and a visit to the Guinness Storehouse. The campaign also included email marketing, publicity and extensive social activity. 

Galway and Dublin voted friendliest cities in the world 
Two Irish cities – Dublin and Galway – made it onto the list of the friendliest cities in the world, in the annual reader survey of Condé Nast Traveler, a major US travel magazine. Dublin was in third position, with Galway coming in sixth place. 

Autumn campaign with a festival focus
Tourism Ireland launched a €9 million promotional blitz in September, to boost late-season travel to Ireland from around the world. The campaign highlighted the many festivals and events taking place right around the island – from the Dublin Theatre Festival to the Bram Stoker Festival, Culture Night, Belfast International Arts Festival, Wexford Festival Opera, Savour Kilkenny Food Festival, The Outing, Cork Jazz Festival and the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival. 

Sales mission to the UAE and India
Tourism Ireland and eight tourism operators from the island of Ireland took part in a major sales blitz in the UAE and India, as part of a sales mission to grow tourism from these rapidly developing markets. With approximately 90,000 visitors from the UAE and India travelling to Ireland in 2015, Tourism Ireland is committed to growing tourism from these markets further in 2017. 

The Skellig Ring drive named a Top Ten Region in the world to visit in 2017 by Lonely Planet
The Skellig Ring drive was named a Top Ten Region in the world to visit in 2017 by Lonely Planet. The leading travel media company unveiled the accolade in the prestigious Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 – its collection of the world’s hottest trends, destinations and experiences for the coming year. Tourism Ireland has been taking – and will take – every opportunity to maximise this accolade, using it as another ‘hook’ to continue to promote the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland around the world as a ‘must visit’ destination.

Ireland voted best destination in the world – beating France, Germany and Italy at the Group Leisure Awards 2016 
Ireland triumphed at this year’s Group Leisure Awards in Britain, after being voted Best International Destination by thousands of readers of Group Leisure magazine – beating off stiff competition from the likes of France, Germany, Italy and India to claim the title. The annual awards recognise the best destinations, attractions, and providers for the group travel industry – as voted for by active travel organisers from sports and social clubs, retired associations, special interest societies and other groups.  

Three Irish hotels voted among the Top Ten in the world – by readers of Condé Nast Traveler
Ballyfin Demesne in Co Laois was named the best hotel in the world – by more than 300,000 readers of Condé Nast Traveler, the prestigious US travel magazine. In fact, three Irish hotels were named in the world’s Top Ten in the magazine’s Readers’ Choice Survey, in October: Ballyfin Demesne was number 1, Waterford Castle was number 7 and The Lodge at Ashford Castle in Co Mayo came in at number 9.

Sales mission to Australia and New Zealand
Twelve tourism operators from the island of Ireland took part in our 2016 sales mission to Australia and New Zealand – meeting and concluding deals with about 400 New Zealand and Australian tour operators and travel agents, in the key cities of Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. They also briefed local travel editors and bloggers, promoting holidays on the island of Ireland. The busy programme included workshops, presentations and networking events.

Tourism Ireland’s Game of Thrones campaign brings home the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards across Europe!
Tourism Ireland’s ‘Doors of Thrones’ campaign to attract visitors to Northern Ireland has racked up over 20 awards and accolades in the marketing and advertising industry across Europe – including three separate awards at The Drum’s Creative Out of Home Awards in London, in November (the Chairman’s Award, ‘Best Use of Illustration/Animation’ and ‘Best Experiential/Ambient’ awards).

Awards for Ireland in China and India
Ireland was named a ‘best destination in Europe’, at an awards ceremony in Shanghai, China. The awards were organised by World Traveller Media, an information platform for Chinese travellers with its own travel magazine, TV, website and readers’ club. In India, Ireland took the award for ‘Best Luxury Destination’ at the Travel+Leisure India’s Best Awards 2016. Travel+Leisure India & South Asia is a monthly, luxury travel magazine with about 260,000 readers. The magazine asked those luxury traveller readers to select their favourite destinations – and Ireland took the number one spot in the ‘Best Luxury Destination’ category, beating off stiff competition from 55 other destinations (including France, Spain and the USA). 
  Tourism Minister Patrick O’Donovan (right) and Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, at Tourism Ireland’s end-of-year review in Dublin.

Notes To Editors

  • Tourism Ireland is the organisation responsible for promoting the island of Ireland overseas as a leading holiday destination.
  • Tourism is the island of Ireland’s largest indigenous industry; responsible for in excess of 4% of GNP in the Republic of Ireland and employing approximately 220,000 people.
  • In 2015, we welcomed 9.5 million overseas visitors to the island of Ireland, delivering revenue of €4.9 billion.
  • Tourism Ireland’s international website is, 29 market sites available in 11 language versions around the world, which attracted more than 16.6 million visitors in 2015.