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18 Dec 2018

Tourism Ireland looks back on a record year for Irish tourism

~ New global TV, cinema and online campaign to drive continued growth ~

2018 has been the best year ever for overseas tourism to the island of Ireland, with revenue generated by international visitors around €6.1 billion (+10% on 2017), delivered by some 11.2 million visitors. Growth has come from all our main markets around the world – with record numbers arriving here from North America, Mainland Europe, Australia and emerging markets. 

Tourism Ireland today reflected on highlights of its promotional activity around the world in 2018. These have included campaigns for our regions, Dublin and Belfast and Star Wars, 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, Brendan Griffin TD, said: “2018 looks set to be another record year for overseas tourism to Ireland. The latest CSO figures indicate that the number of overseas visitors to our shores continues to grow, as does the revenue generated by them. The tourism sector supports approximately 260,000 jobs in communities all across the country, therefore the importance of the sector cannot be overstated. Revenue generated by tourism reaches all parts of the country, bringing much needed jobs and income to areas with otherwise limited economic activity. Our focus going forward is to ensure that we continue to grow in a sustainable way and to further build on the success that the regions have experienced through initiatives such as the ‘Wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way’ and ‘The Call of the Wild’. The Tourism Action Plan 2019 to 2021, which is due to be published by my Department shortly, will outline some key actions which will underpin the continued growth of the sector in coming years, as will the additional funding secured for the sector in Budget 2019. The continued growth in tourism over the last number of years is testament to the great work being done all across the sector and today, I want to congratulate Tourism Ireland on another very successful year.”
Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “Throughout 2018, 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, the Wild Atlantic Way and Northern Ireland; other important themes have included screen tourism and, in particular, Game of Thrones and Star Wars.”

Last month, Tourism Ireland launched its marketing plans to promote Ireland in 2019, with a target to grow overseas tourism revenue by +6%, to €6.5 billion for the economies north and south, next year. 
Tourism Ireland’s new global campaign – ‘Fill your Heart with Ireland’ – will launch over the coming week in the United States, Britain, France and Germany. From January 2019, it will be rolled out in over 20 markets around the globe. It will include TV, cinema, print, outdoor and online ads, as well as content for social platforms. The campaign will feature less visited attractions and locations and aims to attract visitors all year round.
Commenting on the year ahead, Niall Gibbons said: “We are heading into 2019 in a position of some strength, based on the success of 2018. Working with Fáilte Ireland, Tourism NI and our tourism partners, our aim is to spread this success throughout the year and around the entire island of Ireland – ensuring we maintain our renowned welcome and superb visitor experience.
“Our new campaign, ‘Fill Your Heart with Ireland’, presents Tourism Ireland with a great opportunity to drive continued growth to the regions next year and to encourage visitors to travel off-peak. It will feature locations that have been less visited by overseas visitors and will also highlight outdoor activities like cycling, walking and kayaking. We are confident that our new campaign will set the island of Ireland apart from our competitor destinations and help deliver another record year for overseas tourism in 2019.” 


Overseas publicity – worth €330 million
Working with overseas travel, lifestyle and special interest journalists, bloggers and social influencers is an important element of the overseas promotional programme. In 2018, 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 €330 million in equivalent advertising value. 

Digital strength – one click away from 1 billion connections
Tourism Ireland continued to leverage its strength in digital and social media – especially important in reaching, and connecting more frequently, with our target audiences. Tourism Ireland is now the fourth most popular tourism board in the world on Facebook (4.3 million fans), number four on Twitter (504,000 followers) and number four on YouTube (49.3 million views). By year end, Tourism Ireland’s international website,, will have attracted more than 20 million visitors. 

Improved access 
2018 saw a number of really positive announcements on the important access front, including new routes introduced by a range of carriers. These included a new Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Dublin, Ireland’s first ever direct flight from the Asia-Pacific region; and a new Hainan Airlines flight from Beijing to Dublin. Other new services included Aer Lingus flights from Seattle and Philadelphia; Air Canada services between Toronto and Shannon and between Montreal and Dublin; new Ryanair flights from Liverpool and Bristol to Shannon and extended Ryanair flights from Manchester to Shannon; and a new Air France flight from Paris to Cork; as well as a new Icelandair flight from Reykjavik to Dublin. There were more than 591,000 direct, one-way airline seats to the island of Ireland available during summer 2018; this was a record and a +7% increase in capacity over summer 2017. 
Also, announcements for 2019 augur well for the continued success of overseas tourism. These include new Aer Lingus flights from Minneapolis and Montreal; a new American Airlines flight from Dallas; and a new Norwegian flight from Hamilton (Ontario); as well as new Ryanair services between Cologne and Knock and between East Midlands and Shannon. And, the new Irish Ferries cruise ferry, the WB Yeats, will sail between Cherbourg and Dublin from mid-March.


Mark Hamill praises Ireland’s starring role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Tourism Ireland launched the final phase of its Star Wars campaign in early 2018, targeting fans of the science fiction franchise around the world. In a new film, created to celebrate Ireland’s starring role in The Last Jedi, Star Wars’, Mark Hamill – aka Luke Skywalker – praised Ireland’s beauty, saying “To come back to Ireland was a great treat for all of us because the beauty of that country is unmatched. You get up in the morning and see vistas where I was sure it was a special effect”.

New strategy to boost tourism from Germany and the United States
In January, two new plans were unveiled by Tourism Ireland, setting out challenging and ambitious targets which will see the island of Ireland welcome 800,000 German visitors and 2 million American visitors per year by 2021 – representing growth of +20% for Germany and +23% for the United States. 

‘Wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way’ promotion targets 10 million Britons 
A new initiative – the ‘Wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way’ – was rolled out in Britain, specially designed to entice holidaymakers there to visit the Wild Atlantic Way during the off-season months. It reached an estimated 10 million people, highlighting ease of direct access from six British gateway cities to Cork, Kerry, Shannon, Knock, Donegal and City of Derry airport. The campaign was rolled out in Britain in two phases: phase one was in February and March and phase two in September and October. 

‘Jump into Ireland’ sales blitz in the United States
Tourism Ireland’s 2018 series of ‘Jump into Ireland’ sales blitzes across the United States kicked off in February – in Houston, Tampa and Atlanta. Subsequent ‘Jump into Ireland’ events took place during the year in Boston, Chicago and Seattle, in April; and in California – in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and Orange County – in November. The ‘Jump into Ireland’ schedule included a B2B event in each city for the Irish delegations, showcasing Ireland and their products and services to the influential American travel professionals in attendance, via a 60-minute interactive presentation on stage. Each event also included opportunities for networking with influential travel and lifestyle journalists.

Global Greening season – 304 sites in 50 countries
Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening initiative for St Patrick’s Day was bigger and better than ever before in 2018 – generating more than €10 million worth of positive publicity for Ireland across the world. From world-famous sites such as the London Eye, Niagara Falls and the Colosseum, to some of the more unusual newcomers for 2018 – including a lion statue in Kenya made entirely from re-cycled flip flops, a giant Blue Whale skeleton in the Natural History Museum in London and a Game of Thrones-themed ice hotel in Lapland – sites big and small around the world turned a shade of green to celebrate our national day. Other new sites which took part this year included the Luxur Obélisque at the centre of the Place de la Concorde in Paris, the San Mamés stadium in Bilbao, the UN headquarters in New York, the Palestinian Museum in Ramallah (designed by Dublin architects Heneghan Peng), the Busan Cinema Center in South Korea (the official venue of the Busan International Film Festival, Asia’s largest film festival) and the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York.

Tourism Ireland leads first ever sales mission to Qatar
Tourism Ireland’s first ever sales mission to Qatar took place in March. The three-day sales mission involved a series of sales calls and networking events in Doha, where the participating Irish tourism companies had the opportunity to network with, and sell to, influential travel professionals based in Qatar. Among the GCC countries, Qatar is a growing market for Irish tourism and this received a significant boost in 2017, when Qatar Airways launched its new daily flight between Doha and Dublin. 

The Italian job for Ireland! 17 million Italians see Ireland ads on metros and buses and in airports 
In April, Tourism Ireland teamed up with Francorosso, one of Italy’s leading tour operators, in a month-long “moving TV” campaign – with an Ireland video playing on almost 3,500 screens in 72 metro stations and on board 69 metro trains, in the cities of Milan, Rome and Brescia; the video also played on 500 buses in Milan and on around 280 screens in 13 different airports around Italy. The campaign, which also included email marketing and social media, reached an estimated 17.2million Italians, or potential holidaymakers for Ireland, each week of the campaign.

Biggest ever sales mission to China 
Tourism Ireland’s biggest ever sales mission to China took place in May. A delegation of 29 senior representatives from 24 tourism enterprises from around the island of Ireland took part in the targeted mission to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong – to grow our share of this rapidly-growing tourism market. The sales mission involved meetings with representative of both Hainan Airlines in Beijing and Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong, to discuss how to drive demand for, and maximise the promotion of, both services. Tourism Ireland aims to grow Chinese visitor numbers to 175,000 per year, by 2025. 

May the Fourth be with you! ‘Star Wars Day’ promotion highlights the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland
May 4th is commonly known as ‘Star Wars Day’ – a special day of celebration for fans of the science fiction franchise everywhere. Tourism Ireland capitalised on the unofficial Star Wars holiday, giving an extra promotional push in 15 markets to its Star Wars film, in which Mark Hamill – aka Luke Skywalker – praises Ireland’s beauty.

Ireland voted ‘Best European Destination’ at The Group Travel Awards
For the second year running, Ireland triumphed at The Group Travel Awards in Britain and was voted Best European Destination – beating off stiff competition from destinations like Italy, Germany, Paris, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium to claim the title. The annual awards celebrate and recognise the best destinations, events, accommodation, transport providers and attractions for the British group travel industry – as voted for by readers of GTO (Group Travel Organiser) magazine. 

Promoting ‘Ireland the music island’ to millions of Europeans on Spotify
In June, Tourism Ireland teamed up with Spotify, the world’s most popular music streaming service, to promote Ireland as ‘the music island’ in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the Nordic countries. The campaign highlighted great music experiences in Dublin, Belfast and Cork – with ads and a video running on Spotify platforms, driving users to a dedicated microsite. The microsite featured an interactive map, a local artist and venue guide for each city. The campaign aimed to reach Spotify users across Europe through their passion point – music – and encourage them to come and discover the diverse musical styles that can be found across the island of Ireland.

Royal visit provides tourism boost
The visit by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex was more good news for Irish tourism this summer and another unique opportunity to convince potential holidaymakers in our largest tourism market to visit Ireland. During their time here, the royal couple enjoyed our wonderful culture and hospitality – with visits to Croke Park, the Book of Kells and EPIC the Irish Emigration Museum. A large media contingent travelled here to cover the visit, bringing the story to millions of people in Britain and elsewhere around the world. Tourism Ireland rolled out a programme of activity to inspire people to come and follow in the royal couple’s footsteps, with inviting messages demonstrating the friendliness, welcome and fun for which Ireland is renowned.

Destination Delicious! Showcasing Ireland’s fabulous food in Selfridges Foodhall
A special ‘Taste the Emerald Isle’ pop-up showcased the best of Irish food and drink in the Selfridges Foodhall on London’s Oxford Street, during August and September. Tourism Ireland worked with Bord Bia and Selfridges for the launch event – with celebrity chef Clodagh McKenna in attendance, preparing delicious Irish treats for the invited food, travel and lifestyle journalists and bloggers. Featuring more than 40 well-known Irish food brands, as well as various artisan producers, the pop-up included the likes of Avoca, McCambridge Bread, Flahavan’s, Carlingford oysters, Lismore Food Company biscuits, Connemara Peated Irish Whiskey and Glendalough Gin. 

Autumn campaign with a festival focus
Tourism Ireland launched its autumn promotional campaign, 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 and Culture Night, Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, Galway International Oyster Festival, Belfast International Arts Festival, Savour Kilkenny, Cork Jazz Festival, Wexford Festival Opera and New Year Festival (NYF) Dublin. 

New online films fronted by TV and radio presenter Angela Scanlon go live, highlighting Ireland to millions across Great Britain
A new series of online films, starring TV and radio presenter Angela Scanlon and her dad Phelim, were unveiled in September and October. The online videos – called “On the road with Angela Scanlon” – were all about driving holidays around the island of Ireland and were seen by an estimated 123,000 people across Britain. They were hosted on the Telegraph website and were promoted via online advertising as well as on the social platforms of both The Daily Telegraph and Tourism Ireland.

800+ million Chinese see images and videos of Ireland
A Chinese TV star called Ren Zhong visited Ireland, in September. His visit was part of a new Tourism Ireland campaign in China – in partnership with vivo (one of the biggest mobile phone brands in China) and National Geographic (China edition) magazine. Ren Zhong and his crew captured footage along the Wild Atlantic Way – using vivo’s new phone to create a video all about Ireland. The resulting film, called ‘Be Wild’, went live in early November and reached millions of Chinese on social media and on one of China’s most influential video platforms, Youku (similar to YouTube).

‘Flavours of Ireland’ in London
Tourism Ireland’s ‘Flavours of Ireland’ B2B tourism workshop took place in October – with tourism companies from Ireland meeting and doing business with top UK inbound tour operators who bring business to Ireland and the UK from all over the world (including the US, Mainland Europe, Asia, Australasia and Africa).

Sales mission to Australia and New Zealand
Eleven tourism operators from Ireland took part in Tourism Ireland’s 2018 sales mission to Australia and New Zealand – meeting and concluding deals with around 500 Australian and New Zealand tour operators and travel agents, in the key cities of Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. 

Promotion targets hundreds of thousands of New York commuters in Penn Station
In November, hundreds of thousands of New York commuters and visitors to the city saw a new Tourism Ireland promotion in Penn Station, part of a two-month campaign in conjunction with United Airlines. Penn Station serves more than 350,000 commuter passengers a day, making it one of the busiest passenger transport hubs in the western hemisphere. The promotion involved an Ireland ‘takeover’ of the United Airlines city ticket office in Penn Station and included eye-catching displays featuring great images of Ireland, like Ross Castle and Quinn Abbey, as well as multiple digital screens showing a wide range of locations around the island of Ireland; a three-piece band playing traditional Irish music during rush hour; fun gifts for commuters (including sheep stress-balls, shamrock keyrings and Tayto crisps); and a competition for commuters to be in with a chance to win a trip to Ireland. 

Ireland scoops ‘best destination’ award in New York
Ireland was named “best destination: Europe” at the 16th annual Travel Weekly Readers Choice Awards in New York – beating off tough competition from France, Greece, Italy, Spain and England. Travel Weekly is the leading weekly newspaper for American travel agents and travel professionals and thousands of its readers voted in the various categories earlier this year. 

Stars of top TV show Vikings lend a hand to promote Ireland’s Ancient East and Dublin
To mark the launch of the latest season of the hit TV series Vikings, Tourism Ireland launched a new online video campaign featuring two of the show’s leading stars. In the videos, Georgia Hirst (who plays Torvi) and Jordan Patrick Smith (who plays Ubbe) bring fans on a virtual tour of some of their favourite places to visit in Ireland’s Ancient East and Dublin. The two online films – which will attract around 2 million views – are being promoted on Instagram and Facebook in 10 markets around the globe and have been designed to inspire fans of Vikings to come and discover Ireland’s Ancient East and Dublin for themselves.
Tourism Minister Brendan Griffin (right) and Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, at Tourism Ireland’s end-of-year review.

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 around 325,000 people across the island.
  • By the end of 2018, we will have welcomed around 11.2 million overseas visitors to the island of Ireland, delivering revenue of approximately €6.1 billion.
  • Tourism Ireland’s international website is, 29 market sites available in 11 language versions around the world, which attracted around 19.2 million visitors in 2017.