Keeping Ireland Top of Mind

Ireland has been top of mind for U.S. luxury travel advisors throughout the pandemic, thanks to a concerted effort and deep financial investment from Tourism Ireland to stay connected with the trade, and their clients. Virtual events, e-zines, social media, webinars and lots and lots of inspirational content on the Emerald Isle are just some of the tools used throughout 2021 to promote Ireland to the important U.S. market. All of these programs led up to the launch of the “Green Button” restart campaign a few weeks ago, which invites consumers to book a trip to Ireland now by pressing a “Green Button.” The campaign launched on September 27 across multiple channels including TV, digital and social media. An active program of publicity, co-operative promotions with airlines, as well as tour operators, is also under way. The $4.9 million campaign, which is scheduled to run through January 14, 2022, seeks to reach and engage audiences with the highest potential to travel to Ireland.

Iconic attractions and scenery are a focus of the campaign, including Dublin’s Trinity College and Guinness Storehouse and Belfast’s Titanic visitor experience. Additionally, dramatic sights such as the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim and the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, are included to drive consumers and advisors to where travel offers from Tourism Ireland’s partners are housed.

Why the big push? The United States is the second-largest source market (after Great Britain for tourism to the island of Ireland.) In 2019, 1.7 million American visitors traveled to the country. The U.S. is considered the most important market for Ireland in terms of revenue, as it’s responsible for 27 percent of all tourist spending. Revenue generated by American visitors in 2019 was $1.9 billion. 

We caught up with Tourism Minister Catherine Martin and Alison Metcalfe, executive vice president of Tourism Ireland for North America, Australia and New Zealand, to find out what’s been going on behind the scenes in 2021 and what’s to come in 2022 for the luxury travel advisor community.

Travel Advisors Vital to Plan

“We made a decision that working with the travel advisor community was really important to Ireland’s business going forward, as it always had been in the past,” Metcalfe told Luxury Travel Advisor. “We needed to look at a way to stay engaged and so over the last 18 months, we—like a lot of destinations—have leveraged technology to provide a wide program of virtual opportunities to educate U.S. travel advisors to keep them up to date on what’s happening in Ireland.”  

Equally important, she said, was keeping these U.S. travel advisors connected to Tourism Ireland’s industry partners, who couldn’t make their regular trips to the United States to visit with advisors. That solution included interactive and immersive webinars and virtual workshops, with several focusing specifically on luxury. Metcalfe said Tourism Ireland is focusing on specific niches that are likely to come back strongly, such as golf and outdoor activities.

Tourism Ireland has adapted to this new era of COVID by ensuring its staff are fully versed with all the information that’s now needed for the consumer to travel. “We know clients are looking for flexibility and clarity around protocols,” said Metcalfe. “Travel is a bit more complex at the moment, so we’ve really worked hard with our team here to keep agents up to date on product, on protocols, on new experiences, and we’ve done that through our virtual expos and our monthly webinars, which are usually themed. We’ve really been encouraged by the level of participation.”

As the industry regroups and meets again at live events, Metcalfe is convinced there will still be a desire, for meeting online. “We will keep some of the best of those virtual platforms to allow us to continue to provide an expanded program of opportunities for buyers and sellers to come together in the U.S. market because clearly they provide scale and efficiencies. We’ll then refocus our efforts on making in-person events more targeted to deliver strong results, whether it’s luxury or outdoor activities or other specific segments that are going to come back.”

Ha'penny Bridge, River Liffey, Dublin

The Ha’penny Bridge is a pedestrian bridge built over the River Liffey in Dublin. (Photo by Tourism Ireland)


The plans will be tweaked as travel advisors provide feedback, said Metcalfe. “I would like to thank the travel advisor community for continuing to engage with us, and I would also say to them, if there’s anything else you think we could be doing at Tourism Ireland, please let us know. We have a really proactive trade and industry engagement team here, and we’re always keen to innovate and make sure that agents and advisors have the tools they need.”

The New York-based Tourism Ireland team is based on Park Avenue and comprises four people who engage with the trade. “Essentially it’s a B-to-B-focused team, and we divide up that resource according to different segments of the market, so we would have, for example, a resource looking after the key tour operator accounts, someone handling group travel and luxury travel, others are looking after the retail consortia, and we’ve continued to put a spotlight on the luxury segment and work closely with retail consortia, such as Virtuoso, Signature and Travel Leaders, both virtually, but also we’re now back doing in-person events. Within that team, we’re using digital technology to underpin how we disseminate our program of communications,” said Metcalfe.

The trade and industry engagement team activity at Tourism Ireland is very much integrated into what the organization is doing within the consumer marketing space. 

“The trade team has gone out to our tour operator partners to share what we call a content toolkit,” said Metcalfe. “So if they are promoting Ireland, they have access to content and assets that also carry that 'Green Button' messaging, but we also ask them to provide vacation offers that we include in our e-zines and our social channels. They’re housed on our website, as well.”

She notes that just about everyone has had to pivot during the pandemic to deliver their communications programs online and that’s been no different at Tourism Ireland. 

“We’ve had to upskill in terms of digital, so everybody who works within the team has the ability to conduct webinars and has access to content to put into customized communications. Now that we are in restart marketing mode, it’s important that the trade team, together with our publicity and communications team, are aligned in supporting and amplifying the campaign messaging, including the promotion of great value vacation packages. We want to make sure that U.S. consumers have Ireland in their consideration set for booking their next trip in 2022,” she added. 

The idea of the “Green Button” campaign is purposely simple. “I think that with any campaign, if you have to explain what the idea behind the campaign is, you’ve lost your audience,” said Metcalfe. “Green obviously symbolizes ‘go’ in most people’s minds and it symbolizes Ireland as well. We’re seeing very good engagement across all key consumer metrics: web traffic, social media, third-party referrals from the website to partner offers, etc. It’s really great to see a lot of these channel metrics moving upwards as opposed to downwards, as we’ve seen during pandemic.”

A key aspect of the campaign is targeting “Culturally Curious” travelers in those gateways with direct air access to stimulate demand and generate business for 2022. As that demand builds and as air access comes back, Tourism Ireland will expand the campaign’s targeting. Before COVID, Ireland had 18 U.S. gateways with direct access to Dublin and Shannon, and carriers are already making announcements to come back with flights from key cities, such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and Orlando. 

One great selling point is the ease of traveling to Ireland from the East Coast of the United States, which takes about five hours, the same amount it takes to travel to the West Coast. As for COVID requirements, those who are fully vaccinated simply need to fill in the passenger locator form before they travel and show proof of vaccination. There’s no testing and there’s no self-isolation required, said Metcalfe. “Returning to the United States, the U.S. authorities do require you to have a negative PCR test to come back into the U.S., which is taken 72 hours beforehand, so again, that’s easily bookable when you’re in Ireland. There’s lot of places where you can get that done,” said Metcalfe.

Focus on Luxury

Ashford Castle Hotel
(Ashford Castle Hotel)

Tourism Ireland is focusing on specific niches, like golf, that are likely to make a strong comeback. (Photo by Ashford Castle Hotel)


Ireland just by nature is by all means an authentic experience, its people, its cultural heritage, its green countryside and pubs allow one to live like a local very easily, and for many, that is the very definition of luxury. The island of Ireland, however, also has its share of five-star hotels for bespoke travelers.

“Luxury means different things to different people. For some, it’s all about the unique place or accommodation and service around that. For others, it’s about authentic, personalized, custom experiences and it may not be staying in a five-star property,” said Metcalfe. “We’ve got some wonderful heritage hotels around the island of Ireland, spanning the iconic Ashford and Dromoland castle hotels, historic Adare Manor, Ballyfin country house, the Merrion and Shelbourne hotels in Dublin and the Culloden Estate in Northern Ireland to name just a very few.”

In Ireland, however, it’s not just about staying in a fancy hotel, it’s about the experience. For example, Ashford Castle has a program called Meet the Makers, where guests can take workshops and travel to the homes of artists and crafts people, such as furniture makers, stone carvers and textile designers. 

Throughout Ireland, customizable experiences focus on food, as well as the chance to take private food tours, participate in a “catch-and-cook” program, try their hand at falconry or go foraging for truffles.

“Ireland is a very organic destination in that regard,” said Metcalfe. Other unique experiences? In Northern Ireland, a visit to Giant’s Causeway could include a privately curated tasting with a representative from Bushmills Distillery, the oldest whiskey distillery in the world. If you’re staying in Dublin at the Merrion Hotel, you can tap into the services of the Genealogy Butler. And then there’s golf, which Ireland is widely recognized for throughout the world.

“So it’s really tapping into those passion points. It’s the food, the culture, and being able to get under the skin of it to meet the makers and to meet the locals and enjoy private customized local experiences,” said Metcalfe.

She notes that there are many options to stay in some great private rentals around Ireland, which are seeing strong demand because of COVID and because people want to spend more time with friends and family in familiar destinations, doing meaningful things.

“I’m not sure that all travel advisors are quite aware the breadth of private rentals that Ireland has,” she said. “They know we are known for our cottages, but you can rent wings of stately homes, or you can go and stay in a castle or a manor house and dine with the aristocracy, for example, at Crom Castle, where the Earl of Erne and his wife will entertain you for two or three days on the estate, doing activities, dining with you.”

Travel advisors could also send clients to County Laois for a stay at Ballyfin Demesne, a luxury property. While there, they can go out to Birr Castle, which is located in the center of Ireland, and have afternoon tea with the lord and lady of the castle. 

“Ireland is a small enough country so it’s possible to make local connections and get under the skin of the destination. Being able to customize these private experiences to client interests and passion points is very doable,” said Metcalfe.

The country has a strong group of DMCs on the ground to make these connections and customizations. Travel advisors can work with Tourism Ireland to access these DMCs or use those that are preferred in their luxury networks, such as Virtuoso or Signature.

“Our role at Tourism Ireland is to get the destination message out there and to highlight the breadth of what there is to do and see to support the Irish industry. We create the demand, and then the Irish suppliers can satisfy that demand with great innovative programs,” she said. 

Trends that Tourism Ireland is seeing include those “Culturally Curious” travelers booking Ireland, and all of Europe for that matter, for next year, and for stays that are a bit longer than they had been in the past. They’re also upgrading their accommodations and they are looking to add more experiences.

“As a result, they’re spending more, and they want to do meaningful things,” said Metcalfe. 

She is optimistic for the future of Ireland’s tourism industry and high on the list of things to be excited about is the Ryder Cup coming to Ireland in 2027 at Adare Manor, a five-star property in County Limerick which provides cycling, golf and equestrian activities.

View of Giants Causeway
(Tourism Ireland)

Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim is one of the most iconic attractions in Northern Ireland. (Photo by Tourism Ireland)


“Ireland is a great destination for the great outdoors, and whether you’re a luxury traveler, adventure traveler, or a bit of both, it’s easy to mix and match. There’s great hiking trails, cycling trails and sea kayaking,” she adds.

One result of the pandemic is that people living in Ireland have come to discover all of the great activities they can do at home because they haven’t been able to travel externally and that’s shaped what’s now on offer for travelers. “So there’s lots to do, particularly for multi-generational groups,” said Metcalfe. “We are finding that families want to travel together, but then the challenge is, is there enough to do for everybody that has different interests? Ireland allows you to base yourself in a particular region and go out and do day trips. You don’t have to keep moving every day because things are clustered around centers and typically most people like to stay very close to the coast, and there’s that wonderful, rugged scenery. So there’s something for everybody.”

Metcalfe has held the role of executive vice president of Tourism Ireland, heading up North American operations, Australia and New Zealand for eight years. She is also chair of the U.S. Chapter of the European Travel Commission (ETC), which she says has been a great honor. Through that role, she has worked closely with tourism representatives of the ETC member countries, many of whom are also based in New York City.

“The U.S. is the number-one market for Europe in terms of volume and revenue,” said Metcalfe. “Europe as a whole is a very aspirational destination for Americans. We expect to see recovery next year, particularly as some other parts of the world may remain off limits for some people depending upon how the COVID situation evolves. We expect demand to be certainly stronger than it has been in 2021. There is a huge pent-up demand for Europe and for Ireland and we’re beginning to see the airlines are coming back with their access.”

The key to travel coming back as planned is to ensure that Americans have the correct information, and that the travel experience is as hassle-free as possible. She says travelers want to be sure they have a great deal of flexibility around booking, that there is value in what they are purchasing and that they are totally clear on what’s required in terms of protocols.

For that reason, Metcalfe forecasts that clients will be booking longer trips with fewer destinations to keep things simple. “If they had considered three or four countries before, they may now be doing only two because of the complexity of travel restrictions, which may or may not be there,” she said.  

On the up side is the encouraging fact that across Europe, the vaccination rate is very high, well over 70 to 75 percent in some countries, she said. “In Ireland, 92 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated and Ireland was also ranked number one by Bloomberg in the COVID resiliency ranking just a week or two ago,” said Metcalfe.

She says that research conducted by Tourism Ireland shows that the U.S. consumer will determine their vacation plans based on how a country has handled COVID and what percentage of the population is vaccinated. 

“So, I think Europe as a whole is quite well positioned,” she said.

When we spoke, Metcalfe was most delighted to have heard that morning that music is now allowed back in the pubs in Ireland. “That’s a really positive thing,” she said, noting that while most restrictions have been lifted, people are still being cautious and proof of vaccination is required to get into the pubs and restaurants.

During her eight-year tenure at Tourism Ireland, Metcalfe has overseen nearly a doubling of the business from the United States to Ireland, from one million to 1.7 million. For that reason, she’s enthusiastic about leading the recovery and getting back into steady tourism growth for the country. That’s likely to happen as Tourism Ireland plans to continue to invest strongly in the U.S. market in 2022 and travel advisors will likely see even more learning opportunities on the Emerald Isle. 

“We will be looking to expand what we do with the travel advisor community and we are looking for new opportunities to grow our group business, our luxury business and our outdoor business,” said Metcalfe. “That will all be a priority for us next year.”

For now, Tourism Ireland is hearing of positive trends from the larger tour operators which bodes well for the future. 

“They are seeing good interest in Ireland and pent-up demand,” said Metcalfe. “We expect next spring and summer to be pretty positive, and we hear people are booking into 2023 already. We’re in the restart phase now with a focus on volume and will be through much of 2022 but, as we move into 2023, we’ll look to start that rebuilding phase where we’ll pivot back with a stronger focus on revenue and take it from there,” she told Luxury Travel Advisor.

Up Close With Minister Martin

Tourism Minister Catherine Martin
(Tourism Ireland)

Tourism Minister Catherine Martin (Photo by Tourism Ireland)


Tourism Ireland has kept in front of travel advisors and their clients throughout COVID to ensure the country remains top of mind. Activities hit a peak in September when the country launched its $4.9 million “Green Button” campaign, which was a direct message to the U.S. to plan a vacation to Ireland now.

We visited with Minister Catherine Martin, who flew in from Ireland to the United States to promote the “Green Button” campaign in the Chicago and New York markets. Minister Martin oversees tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sports and media for Ireland. Gaeltacht refers to the districts where the government recognizes that Gaelic is the predominant language.

“Tourism is an incredibly important industry for Ireland,” she told us, noting that overseas tourism contributed $7 billion to the country’s economy in 2019, making it best year ever. Of the 11.3 million visitors to Ireland, 1.7 million were from the United States and they spent $1.9 billion.

When the pandemic set in, Ireland quickly appointed a Tourism Recovery Task Force. The group comprised stakeholders from across the tourism industry, who made recommendations as to what needed to be done. An implementation group that is still in effect was subsequently formed and Minister Martin said she is in touch with them on a regular basis.  

“The key part was identifying that there was devastation, and listening to and being informed by the stakeholders,” she said. “That’s why, over the last six or seven days between Chicago and New York, I have continued to engage with the travel advisors, the air carriers, and those involved in the industry because they’re in the best space to inform us of what needs to be done.”

Minister Martin noted that visitors come to Ireland for a multitude of things, such as its culture, its scenery, its food and festivals, outdoor activities (including golf, hiking, cycling and boating), and the very warm welcome that comes from its people. But the U.S. and Ireland also have a special tie, she said.

“There is that link between our two countries that will always be there. The U.S. is a place that so many of us in the mid-1800’s during the Great Famine turned to for refuge. So, we’re inextricably linked, and there is a pride about the link between our two countries. There’s a bond that will always be there,” she told Luxury Travel Advisor.

She says Ireland has missed its U.S. visitors and that it’s been heartening lately to hear American accents again in its streets and in its towns and its cities. “With this ‘Green Button’ campaign, we’re saying, ‘Press the green button and come to Ireland. We can’t wait to see you and welcome you back,’” said Minister Martin.

Ireland is a great value to travelers now, she said. Flights are currently not expensive, however, she is also hearing of strong pent-up demand to travel to Ireland so she recommends booking quickly. 

Ireland will continue to invest heavily in travel promotions, in fact, an additional €35 million has just been approved for the Tourism Marketing Fund for 2022. A separate fund of €90 million is in place for aviation recovery. 

At press time, Aer Lingus announced the resumption of international direct flights to Ireland from New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Washington, Seattle and Philadelphia. Aer Lingus will re-introduce flights from Shannon in March to JFK and Boston with 14 flights per week to the United States.

Luxury in the Offing

Ireland is home to lavish castle hotels, manor houses, country houses and spas. On the horizon are three new and updated luxury experiences making a splash on the upscale scene in Ireland’s Ancient East.   

AFTERNOON TEA is served at the Gold Salon at Carton House, which is now managed by Fairmont.
(Carton House)

Afternoon Tea is served at the Gold Salon at Carton House, which is now managed by Fairmont. (Photo by Carton House)


Following a meticulous restoration and renovation, Cashel Palace Hotel in County Tipperary is set to open on March 1, 2022 with 42 bedrooms, including six suites. This 18th-century former archbishop’s palace sits at the foot of one the most emblematic sites in Irish medieval history, the Rock of Cashel — and there are balcony views and private access to it from the back of hotel. This residence will also encompass the Bishop’s Buttery Restaurant serving local produce, the original Guinness Bar, a ballroom and a spa.

For more than 250 years, Carton House in County Kildare has been the finest Georgian estate in Ireland. Recently purchased by the Irish-American Mullen family and having undergone an extensive restoration and a luxury redesign it has now opened as the first Fairmont-managed resort in the country, its sister properties include the likes of The Savoy in London and The Plaza in New York.

The renewed estate is also famous for its fine dining and two championship golf courses.

Meanwhile, County Wicklow is home to the Marlfield House Hotel, long acclaimed as one of the most celebrated luxury hotels in the country. This Regency period house, set in 36 acres of grounds, has launched four new “Pond Suites” to add to its 18 manor house rooms and two-bedroom lodges.

Overlooking a pond, in a lush, wooded setting of mature oak trees and ferns, the suites have large open-plan interiors, with patio doors onto a private terrace. Offering a truly luxurious country house experience, in a private setting, this is a popular listing in Ireland’s Blue Book of luxury Irish accommodations.

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