A game changer for Canadian agents
(photo above: An impending storm didn’t stop agents from enjoying the Giant’s Causeway)
With Belfast and the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland clinching a coveted spot as the number-one region in the world for travellers to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 ranking, as last year saw a record number of Canadians travel to Ireland, and as non-stop and year-round air access from Canada continues to increase, all signs point to further growth for Canadians travelling to the Emerald Isle.
“Last year, we had 203,000 Canadian arrivals, so we’ve had over a 100% increase since 2013, and we’ve had double-digit growth the last three years,” says Jonathan Sargeant, trade promotions and e-marketing executive at Tourism Ireland. “From Canada, the travel trade are very important in terms of bringing business to Ireland – over 30% of all trips to Ireland are booked with the travel trade, if not more, so it’s certainly a very important market.”
As Canada continues to pull its weight bringing visitors to Ireland – 2016 saw the country join the ranks as a top 10 feeder market for Ireland – Canadian Travel Press joined a group of travel agents and tour operators from across Canada on an eight-day FAM to learn more about the tourism offer around the island nation.
“The goal is really to increase business to Ireland and brand awareness,” says Sargeant about the annual FAM put on by Tourism Ireland in Canada, Tourism Northern Ireland and Failte Ireland. “I think they have more confidence in selling the destination having been here, and they do get a really good experience – they’re seeing Ireland’s Ancient East, they’re seeing Dublin, they’re seeing the Wild Atlantic Way and they’re seeing Northern Ireland, so just being able to say you’ve seen all of the brand experiences really does help when selling it as well.”
Along the journey, the group took in the cliff side shores of Arranmore Island on the Wild Atlantic Way, learned how to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, visited attractions like the Titanic Belfast museum and Winterfell Tours, one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones, and participated in off-the-beaten path experiential offerings like a cooking demonstration with NI Food Tours and an interactive visit to the Listoke Distillery & Gin School.
“We normally do two nights in Northern Ireland to get the message out about the beautiful city of Belfast and Derry-Londonderry, and also showcase the likes of the Giant’s Causeway and the Causeway Coastal Route,” he says. “Tourism is great for the Irish economy, and in Northern Ireland, it plays an extremely important role; but also on the whole island, it’s the largest indigenous industry and it hires over 250,000 people on the island so we really do value the importance of tourism.”
The Canadian group also had the opportunity to meet with more than 60 Irish tourism representatives like Ashford Castle Hotel, Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, and Guinness Storehouse, at a trade show day at the Slieve Russell Hotel & Spa, Belturbet, Co. Cavan, held exclusively for the FAM participants.
Denis Martin, travel consultant TPI, in St. John’s, NL, said he learned more during this trip, particularly in meeting with the hoteliers and suppliers during the workshop, than in his 14 previous visits to southern Ireland.
“The reason I came on this trip was to open my ears and eyes to new options for Ireland. I’ve been doing Ireland for a long time, and I wanted to do something different,” he says. “This was excellent for me. I’ve got itineraries going through my mind now – I’ve got a Halloween one planned already. I can’t wait to get cracking on this… You can be 18, you can be 88, there’s something here for everybody.”
For Marie-Eve Derouin, product manager, Mediterranean & Europe destinations at Exotic Tours in Montreal, participating in the FAM made her realize Ireland can fit every budget and type of itinerary.
“The various types of activities we explored and the type of accommodation we stayed at made me realize there is something for every client, from the pubs to the museums, from the hiking trails to the self-drives,” she says, noting that demand for Ireland has grown in recent years, especially for self-drive tours. “We were selling B&Bs or four-star hotels, but I found that the manor houses and castles are fabulous for luxury travel and more affordable than we think.”
Personal travel consultant Shelly Monroe of Sweet Escapes Travel – TPI in West Porters Lake, Nova Scotia says she jumped at the opportunity to go on the FAM, as she’d never been, yet frequently sells it to clients.
“It is always easier to increase your sales when you have been there yourself,” she says. “I will be able to sell with confidence and know a lot more about the country, the history and how far/how long it takes to drive around Ireland. Everyone highly recommends it to their friends and families, Ireland is on a lot of people’s bucket list. Plus tracing one’s family roots and ancestry is becoming a big trend.”
Before visiting the destination, Leah Holt, Edmonton-based travel designer with Go Travel, says she never thought of Ireland as a food destination.
“I am definitely going to put together a culinary tour for foodies this next year,” she says. “I’d love to show off Ireland’s bakers of soda breads, cheese makers, premium chocolates, delectable lamb, seafood producers, and fascinating distilleries. Behind every food is an Irish story.”
With Ireland growing in popularity among her clients every year – especially as it becomes more accessible from Canada – Holt hopes to increase her bookings this year.
“I wanted to go experience Ireland for myself, so that I could then sell this destination with confidence and knowledge,” she says. “Ireland blew my expectations out of the water. I thought I was going to freeze, that it was going to be dreary and drab and that all we’d eat were potatoes and meat. Boy, was I wrong. The weather was very pleasant and the sights were majestic. Ireland has some very talented chefs who create dishes that will make your taste buds sing.”
For Calgary-based Carla Wilson of Custom Travel Solutions, coming back with a wealth of knowledge from attending the trade show was invaluable, and so was experiencing a variety of accommodations, from hotels to manor homes and castles.
“The more we discovered Ireland, the more I realized the groups and types of people that would enjoy Ireland are so varied,” she says. “Food groups, adventure lovers, history buffs, ancestry seekers, even a ladies getaway would be perfect. I had not realized prior to the trip that Ireland has so much to offer. Probably the most surprising aspect is the gourmet food found everywhere. I always thought it was the outdoors and nature that drew visitors to Ireland, but there really is so much more.”
Jennifer Chedore, travel consultant at Blowes Travel Cruise Centres Inc. in London, Ont., says prior to the trip, she hadn’t associated Ireland with active travel.
“The hiking, the cycling, you can do it all over the island, the surfing, the zip-lining, it’s amazing. I didn’t know that you could do river cruises in Ireland – that’s awesome,” she says. “Although we haven’t seen all of Ireland on this FAM, we’ve learned that the northern part is a huge attraction that maybe a lot of people are missing because they’re going to the Cork, the Kilkenny, the Waterford, whereas Donegal, Belfast, Derry, they’re just incredible places with a lot of history. I’ve had clients that have wanted to come over and take a day to visit grave sites of their ancestors. If they’re interested in their ancestry, they can actually do it prior to coming down, and they’ll have it all planned out for them and work a tour around that, that’s cool.”
Meanwhile Karen Pearson, a Winnipeg-based travel consultant at The Great Canadian Travel Company Ltd., says she was surprised to discover the destination was a perfect spot for singles, as well as spa and girls’ getaways.
“I am even more enthusiastic about selling Ireland than I was before. I always thought it would be good for couples and families, but never considered singles or ladies groups. It’s certainly a very safe country for a person travelling alone, and I was surprised by the number and quality of the spa resorts we met with,” she says. “Also, Game of Thrones and movie scene tours – I was unaware of how many tours and activities there were that centre around Game of Thrones specifically.
Making the connections.
Although Ireland has already been a big part of the offering at Kensington Tours, Toronto-based Jolene Plant, director of product development, Europe, says getting first-hand experience in the destination will help increase the company’s product offering.
“Getting to meet these guys on the ground, the ones who are handling our business, that can only help you grow exponentially, having those key contacts,” she says. “Being able to see especially Northern Ireland, I think it’s an area that hasn’t been out there as much to the North American clients. I think having the opportunity to come and see it first-hand, being able to put those experiences together for clients will be huge.”
Similarly, Darlene St. Louis, UK product manager/air dept. manager, at Senior Discovery Tours in Toronto, which offers several tours featuring Ireland, says meeting face-to-face with suppliers, establishing new connections and maintaining good relations with existing contacts were some of the main advantages of going on the FAM.
“Being accompanied by [guides and destination reps] offering such a wealth of information and learning how to jump on Failte Ireland’s campaigns – the Wild Atlantic Way, Dublin Breath of Fresh Air & Ireland’s Ancient East – these are so important for me, and help me to incorporate good selling features in our brochure write-ups,” she says.
With its very diverse tourism offer, Danielle Lemire, travel consultant at Transat Travel in Ottawa, believes that Ireland will be an easy sell.
“I think it’s a great combination of new world with old world with scenery all mixed together,” she says, adding that she’ll be able to grow her business exponentially from what she’s learned. “Now, I know where to send them, which tourist attractions are best for them, what hotels are going to be best for them, it’s a game changer for me.”
As many people like to do a fly/drive trip in Ireland, Eric Moe, manager special projects/student group travel at Carlson Wagonlit Victor Travel/Victours in Toronto, says one of his big takeaways was seeing the quality of the roads, the signage and the new Wild Atlantic Way branding.
“The confidence generated in terms of being able to sell what you know is my biggest takeaway,” he says. “There is no substitute for first-hand knowledge complete with tourism contacts all over the island. There is nothing we can’t organize or make happen for our clients. Seeing is believing.”
As Ireland is a popular destination for her clients, travel counsellor Denise MacKay of the Alberta Motor Association – Travel in Calgary, says she was happy to have the opportunity to visit for herself.
“I now have some great personal recommendations for my clients, which always helps to plan a trip and provide a great travel experience,” she says. “Clients appreciate personal recommendations, and to see it in person helps to sell it. There is a lot of great information online, but nothing beats visiting destinations in person, and experiencing all that the destination has to offer.”