Irish Tourism focuses much of its resources on catching the 'Irish-American' customer. But studies and forecasts show that less Americans are describing themselves as 'Irish', an increase in non-white U.S. tourists travelling outside the U.S., and that emerging nations are becoming more increasingly appealing to the U.S. tourist. This raises the question; is there longevity for Irish Tourism in the targeted demographic, and can Ireland deliver what they seek?
Ireland and Irish-American Tourism
There are affectionate and nostalgic affinities between the Irish-American diaspora, and the destination of Ireland, created by a plethora of historic and anthropological reasons. The Irish Tourism sector has capitalised on this positive disposition of this particular demographic, honing the tourism product to satisfy the apparent appetite for a wistful Utopia. Advertising in the U.S. has relied heavily on an old-fashioned sentimentality, with a significant dash of schmaltz, to woo the Irish-American back to their ultimate ‘home’.
Tourism Ireland, the Irish Government agency for promoting tourism in the U.S. unashamedly focuses its entire marketing budget on this specifically defined demographic of 'Irish-Americans' in defined locations. The 2018-2025 Strategy For Growth declares:
This approach by Tourism Ireland has changed very little since the strategy of ‘engaging the diaspora’ was first adopted. Meanwhile, research indicates a rapid and massive change to almost every aspect of tourism and travel. Changes are evident in the perceived clientele and in much changed destination preferences.
Is the U.S. Tourist that important to Ireland?
Of all of the visitors to Ireland, U.S. visitors stay the longest and spend the most money. In 2017, the Irish Tourist board estimated 1.83 million American and Canadian visitors to Ireland, delivering revenue of €1.67 billion for the economy (Tourism Ireland, 2018d). Therefore, it is vital that for the sake of Irish employment and the Irish economy that the U.S. Tourist keeps coming to Ireland.
Global Travel is growing, but that isn't necessarily good for Ireland.
Global tourism is growing according to UN World Travel Organisation. The 2018 May to August outlook is the most optimistic in a decade with international tourism receipts rising by 5% in 2017 (UNWTO, 2017). The World Economic Forum warns that Europe cannot expect to evenly benefit from the growth in global tourism with increasing competition from emerging nations. Global travel and spending observes a noticeable change in spending in the Middle East in 2016/17.
The growth of international tourism is a combination of personal desire and the progress of infrastructure, allowing for more comfortable long distance travel. The contribution of budget travel industry and investment in emerging nations is a major disruptor to the tourism industry.
U.S. tourists visiting Europe VS visiting Ireland
There is no doubt to Irish Tourism’s success of connecting with a U.S. market. Irish Tourism is attracting an impressive number of tourists Americans who travel to Europe. The number of American tourists visiting Ireland as part of a trip to Europe has floated between 5 and 7.5% for the last decade - but is this exempt from change?
The spread of U.S. Tourists who visit Ireland when visiting Europe is evenly spread except from the South. Statistics show that there is a dramatic gap of U.S. tourists from the South who stop in Ireland when visiting Europe. In 2010, 55% of people in the South identified as Black (US Census 2010).
U.S. Tourists are changing
Yes, more people are travelling outside the U.S., outbound departures grew 5% between 2016 and 2017 (Euromonitor International, 2017) and there is a comforting upward trend in those applying for passports.
More interesting however, is that there are more non-white U.S. tourists travelling than ever before. African-American travellers were described as the ‘fastest growing travel market in the U.S.’. Organisations like TravelNoire and Nomadness which cater to black travellers are just a small sample of the growing Black Travel Movement. Why is Ireland not making a more significant effort to attract these new customers?
Why don't U.S. tourists from the South visit Ireland?
There is little evidence of Irish Tourism pushing marketing resources to the south. Has the region simply been forgotten about or is it being ignored because it isn't known for being 'Irish-American' enough? There are many flights coming through Houston Texas to Ireland and this should be a help to the future of transatlantic travel to Ireland. Ireland is safe, English-speaking, caters to a wide-range of diets and has considerable connections to America's south in cultural history. The most significant being The Derry Civil Rights Movements being inspired by the Martin Luther King Jr Civil Rights Movements, and the similarities drawn between 'southern hospitality' and 'The Irish Welcome'.
But even if tangible connections don't yet exist, why should Ireland remain reliant on diaspora or concrete networks? Ireland has proven itself to be a welcoming and attractive destination to Germans and Japanese, both with lower diasporic connections.Why not make an effort and engage the African-american U.S. tourist?
Is the Irish-American still a sustainable (or compatible) customer?
With such a distinct connection to Irish ancestry identified in Ireland's Tourism Policy, it is appropriate to monitor the ‘Irishness’ of U.S. residents. In the US Census 2016, there was a 9% drop in people describing themselves as 'Irish' compared to 2010's census. This translates to almost one million people, and this is about half of the annual U.S. visitors to Ireland.
As a sample of trends moving the opposite direction, during the same period, people describing themselves as Ethiopian had an increase of 45%, and Nigerian an increase of 27%.
Additionally concerning is the growing gap between the social and political values of Ireland and 'Irish-America'. While Ireland is embracing a liberal and inclusive agenda including abortion rights, LGBTQ rights and legal self-determination of gender, there are high-profile Irish-American groups actively opposing each of those movements, with public figures who celebrate their 'Irishness' alongside their homophobia.
Irish Tourism can reasonably kick this problem along for another few years, but what business strategy advises that? Especially when Ireland employees 10% of its work-force in the tourism industry. There is clearly huge potential for Irish Tourism outside the 'Irish-American' circle in the U.S. but like any success story, it will require genuine investment.