Beyond the Guinness

Dublin is more than just Guinness or no-smoking signs, says Dublin Tourism’s Frank Magee, who expects that Middle Eastern travellers will come in for the history, the horses and the pre-immigration clearance to the US
The Liffey at sunset

Eleven hundred years after it was founded in the ninth century, Dublin has established itself as the ideal tourist destination, TTN spoke to Frank Magee, chief executive at Dublin Tourism, which is a commercial organisation, to find out what Middle Eastern tourists can look forward to in this wonderful city.

In concert with Tourism Ireland, Dublin Tourism concentrates on tourism and development plans in the city and is a source of information for visitors. One in every three visitors visits a Dublin Tourism Tourist Information Office – one of the highest usage rates in Europe – and the new Dublin Pass offers free entry to over 30 top visitor attractions, free airport transfer to the city and special offers for eating, shopping, entertainment and tours.
Excerpts from the interview:

What has been the tourist arrival figure for 2005? And what percentage increase in tourists are you looking at for 2006?
Dublin has seen tourist arrivals of almost four million tourists in 2005, an estimated five per cent increase over the previous year. Room rates are competitive as compared to anywhere else in Europe. Over the last two years there has been an increase of 25 per cent in the total number of beds. Room occupancy has also increased seven per cent. We have a range of accommodations available to suit different levels of choice, from five-star accommodation to budget hotel and campus accommodation.
Targets for 2006 are to increase visitor numbers by seven per cent and revenue by nine per cent.

How much has the Middle East contributed to that?
Unfortunately we do not have exact figures of tourist arrivals from the Middle East.

Aer Lingus now flies direct to Dubai. Do you see a boost in tourist figures from the region?
Absolutely. We are very optimistic about this new route to Dubai and we are hoping to see a significant increase in tourist arrivals from Dubai. We are sure that we will get to see an increase in this service to daily flights. Dubai is a tourist hub and with our pre-immigration clearance for travellers flying further to the US, we are the perfect stop-over for both business travellers and families flying.

How do you plan to drive more Middle East tourist traffic to Dublin?
First and foremost, we would start by increasing awareness an about the city. Middle Eastern travellers need to know what the city of Dublin has to offer. We are promoting ourselves through the local media in Dubai and offering value-added packages to the tour operators. We also like to promote ourselves as a 52-week destination. We have cultural, sports and educational events that take place all year round. After London and Paris, Dublin is the third most popular city break destination in Europe. This is based on the total number of arrivals in the city along with the average night-stay which has increased from three nights to five nights.

Are you looking at other new source markets?
So far the majority of tourist arrivals have been from the UK followed by the rest of Europe, but we are expecting to see an increase in tourists from the Middle East and the rest of Asia soon. Almost 50 per cent of tourists arriving in Dublin are repeat visitors. Of the tourists that arrived into the city last year, a large share of them has been business travellers, followed by visiting family and holidaymakers. We also get a lot of foreign language learning students.

Has Gulf Air flying to Dublin brought in any significant increase in travellers?
While Gulf Air has been flying from Bahrain to Dublin previously, we expect to see more businessmen and holidaymakers coming from Dubai with Aer Lingus, since Dubai is the hub for business in the Middle East.

Do you have plans to simplify visa procedures for ME travellers?
We have opened an office in Dubai and we believe this will ease visa procedures for travellers from the Middle East. However there are no plans to introduce entry with the Schengen visa since we enjoy very close ties with UK and wouldn’t want to enforce border controls with them. We also work very closely with the Visit Britain and Tourism Ireland promoting the country internationally and promoting long-haul travellers. We like to keep abreast with tourism information and share opportunities with London.
What role does the private sector play in the tourism industry?
The private sector plays an aggressive role to promote tourism within the country. We are a free market. 52 per cent of every euro that is spent is put back into the private sector. Only very small shares of hotels are state-owned. The state does not get involved in the running of these businesses. Ryanair now has 18 new routes within Europe and is still growing. This will open new markets for Dublin. The London-Dublin route is one of Europe’s busiest air routes. Now, because of our open skies with the United States, we are positive that we will see an increase in air traffic on that route as well. Our topography has given us some fantastic opportunities and we are confident about seeing big changes in arrival numbers without affecting the infrastructure of the city.

What else does Dublin offer besides Guiness? What kind of tourist would Ireland appeal to?
The city of Dublin appeals to a fairly sophisticated market. With its ancient history written across the walls and roads, this city is a dreamer’s paradise. Heavily adorned by artists, writers and poets such as Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, this city speaks out to those willing to relax their minds and admire beauty in its very true form. Dublin is simply a breath of fresh air. With the new no-smoking rule in any work establishments, people can indulge in a smoke-free environment anywhere they go. This also surpasses a new trend of ‘smlirting’ – flirting while smoking among the pub-goers.
Dublin has something for every one. From theatre to sports to shopping. Dublin also has a vibrant and exciting nightlife culture. From traditional pubs with Irish music to the hip and trendy bar and club scene, you'll find it all here. The city is now home to some 1,000 pubs and no visit to Dublin would be complete without sampling a local brew in a real Dublin pub! Dubliners like to eat and food is among the cheapest as compared to anywhere else in Europe, including Michelin restaurants.
Sport is also very popular in Dublin. Rugby is a big game, greyhound racing is very popular, as is horse racing. Several stud farms – mostly owned by Arabs – situated in and around Dublin. Even for golfers, Dublin boasts of their many natural golf links. In fact 50 per cent of all golf links in the world are in Ireland. This year the Ryder Cup will take place at the Parklands in Ireland. Theatrical events are quite popular too and we have a calendar of events all year round as well. Ireland is synonymous with castles and you can step back in time and visit a selection of ancient and historic fortifications situated both in the city and throughout Dublin County.

Policy Matters by Shalu Chandran