Analysis: St Patrick's Day is a key opportunity to promote Irish tourism, trade and investment interests overseas
March 17th marks the celebration of St Patrick's Day. Each year, we don the shamrock, line the streets of our cities and towns to watch parades and celebrate all things Irish. But do we realise how important the day is for the Irish tourism industry?
The tourism industry in Ireland is seasonal in nature. The number of overseas visits peaks in Quarter 3 each year and is substantially higher than in other quarters. The timing of St. Patrick’s Day provides a welcome boost to businesses operating in the Irish tourism sector during the off-peak season. Both overseas and domestic visitors to our cities and towns will stay in hotels and B&Bs, eat in restaurants, drink in bars, avail of transport and spend in shops.
What was once a one-day event has transformed into a longer festival in many locations such as Dublin and Cork. With events planned to suit all age groups, the festivals provide a lucrative source of revenue for the tourism industry in those areas as visitors stay longer and spend more.
March 17th's global reach
While the direct benefits associated with overseas visitors during the off-peak season may be apparent, the significance of the global reach associated with St. Patrick’s Day is perhaps less apparent. The day itself offers a unique opportunity to put Ireland on the global stage and to raise the awareness of the country as an attractive destination for overseas visitors.
International media play a key role. In 2015, for example, Ireland welcomed broadcasters, bloggers and print journalists from European countries, the United States and Canada, among others, who travelled to Ireland to cover the St. Patrick’s Day Festival. It was estimated that the international media had an audience reach in the hundreds of millions. In 2014, the publicity received from the St. Patrick’s Day Festival was worth an equivalent of €7 million in advertising value and reached an audience of over 300 million people.
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From Tourism Ireland, 2021's St Patrick's Day video
We are not solely dependent on international media to reach a global audience. Tourism Ireland have developed innovative promotional campaigns to promote Ireland overseas on St. Patrick's Day. In 2021, for example, they shot a St. Patrick’s Day video which highlighted Ireland’s heritage and natural beauty and incorporated landmarks such as Kilkenny Castle and Newgrange as well as scenic coasts and towns. The video, which was narrated by Liam Neeson, has been viewed almost 54 million times.
Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening Campaign has also gained momentum in recent years. 725 landmarks and sites, spanning 71 countries, were illuminated in green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in 2021. These included globally recognizable sites such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Sydney Opera House and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. This year, however, the campaign has been paused so monuments around the world can be lit in Ukrainian colours
Global reach is important for attracting future visitors to Ireland and for the long-term development of the tourism industry. While global reach is demonstrated in the examples above, it can also be facilitated by ministerial visits overseas on St. Patrick’s Day.
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From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, are we getting our money's worth from our patron saint and St Patrick's Day marketing machine?
St Patrick’s Day is viewed by the Government as a key opportunity to promote Irish tourism, trade and investment interests overseas. We are all familiar with the image of the Taoiseach presenting a bowl of shamrock to the US president in the White House. We are also aware of the ministerial overseas visits that take place over the St. Patrick’s Day period. But we may not be aware of the impact of these St. Patrick’s Day visits for our tourism industry.
The 2012 overseas visits provide a clear example of impact. Ministers used the St Patrick’s Day visits in 2012 to promote The Gathering tourism initiative overseas. The following year, Ireland welcomed 250,000 additional visitors who accounted for over €170 million in additional revenue. This was over 13 times greater than the budget of €13 million core funding allocated to the campaign. As such, The Gathering provided a much-welcomed cash injection into the Irish economy.
We need to use this day to extend the welcome to future visitors to enable the tourism industry to return to pre-pandemic levels
Of course, the success of The Gathering cannot be attributed just to ministerial visits. The initiative was overseen by a project director and senior management team who delivered key functions such as overseas promotion. However, the ministerial visits did allow for direct access to target markets and provided an international platform to launch and promote the campaign in a coordinated manner. The in-person nature of the visits also allowed for meaningful relationships to be developed overseas.
Now, more than ever, we need to use all available means to attract overseas visitors. While we can expect overseas visitors on March 17th, we need to use this day to extend the welcome to future visitors to enable the tourism industry to return to pre-pandemic levels. The global reach and the networking opportunities associated with St Patrick’s Day provide a unique opportunity to give those overseas the green light to visit Ireland.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ