That’s “green” as in “cash,” especially for agents who sell the destination with the help of Tourism Ireland’s support. Ireland is this year’s winner for Best International Destination for Travel Agent Support in Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Awards, and according to Alison Metcalfe, v.p. of marketing for Tourism Ireland in the U.S., it’s a partnership centuries in the making.
“There is a strong bond because of the shared heritage between Ireland and the U.S.,” she explains, a bond that dates back to the Great Famine in the mid-1800s. Many Irish sought refuge in America, creating both a strong market for travel back to Ireland from the U.S. and an uncommon European gratitude toward Americans that remains to this day. “Ireland offers a genuine welcome to American clients,” she explains. “As much as we have fantastic hotels and beautiful scenery, the people, our locals, are sometimes really what set Ireland apart.”
The focus of Tourism Ireland’s travel agent efforts has been to spread the word about that uniqueness through a series of educational experiences that aims to do more than just rehearse statistics. FAM trips are a big piece of that effort. “I’m a big believer in the role of the FAM,” she explains. “Within Ireland, agents can pick key destinations and really see those destinations, have the experience within those destinations. That way, they are better equipped to sell. They can match exactly what each client needs. Nothing beats the experience on the ground.” Tourism Ireland itself brought 100 agents to Ireland in 2010; working with tour operator partners, Metcalfe says, that number rises to between 200 and 250.
The organization is also working to bring a little taste of Ireland to agencies in its key markets across the U.S. with a series of “Flavor of Ireland” business-to-business workshops. “We’ve moved away from the roundtable and try to present our country in a more engaging way, to really give the flavor of the country,” Metcalfe describes. “The music, the food, the literature—we’re showing that it’s not only the tours and the independent packages. We also want them to get a sense of what that experience is in Ireland.” The diversity of product alone puts agents who really know what they’re selling in Ireland at a great advantage, she points out. “You can go from an urban city to the countryside in just a few hours…. Having that knowledge can pay great dividends.”
Tourism Ireland is also taking to the web to promote its product, launching e-newsletters targeted toward agents selling to select niches, such as groups or golf. “The goal is to connect our product to the businesses most interested,” Metcalfe explains. “We want to provide information most relevant to agents’ business needs.”
To that end, Tourism Ireland will continue to expand its online offerings in 2011. Details weren’t available at press time, but Metcalfe promises a revitalization of the Shamrock Club—its online travel agent training program—in the spring. Its website, discoverireland.com, will also introduce new pages geared specifically toward the trade, continuing to target and cater directly to the businesses and niches that need support most. And of course, Metcalfe promises, “We will continue to offer a full range of agency support: FAM trips, an expanded series of webinars, and more ‘Flavors of Ireland’ workshops. Our role is to ensure Ireland will remain front and center.”