There is no doubt that the global travel industry has had it’s challenges over the past year, and the Emerald Isle is no exception. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, and Niall Gibbons – CEO of Tourism Ireland – is looking forward to getting back on track.

The impact of Covid-19 has been significant on the travel and tourism sector, what plans does Tourism Ireland have in place to encourage North American travelers to visit when the time is right? 
Tourism to the island of Ireland has grown steadily over the last decade or more and, I’m glad to say, we have welcomed record levels of visitors from North America. Visitors tell us that what brings them back to Ireland time and again is the natural beauty of our coastline and landscapes, our historic cities, our unique culture and heritage, great golf, walking and cycling and, most of all, the genuine warmth of the Irish welcome. During the pandemic, North American visitors have been telling us that they long to reconnect with their family and friends across the island of Ireland and savor the very special welcome they know awaits them there. We have been working closely with our tourism industry colleagues, with health authorities and government agencies across the island, to ensure that everything is in place to deliver the best, safest and most rewarding holidays. So, in 2021, we look forward to welcoming back our many friends from the US and Canada and helping them to make new vacation memories in Ireland.

The pandemic has had an impact on consumer behaviors and attitudes around the world, what types of travel experiences and trip styles will people be looking for as tourism restarts, and how will Tourism Ireland respond?
The island of Ireland is the ideal place to enjoy the holiday experiences that US and Canadian holidaymakers are longing for as they begin to travel again in 2021 and beyond. US travelers tell us they can’t wait to get back to familiar destinations where they feel welcome and safe, and where they can reconnect with family and friends and enjoy a memorable vacation…truly Ireland offers all of this and more, set in stunning scenery or in historic cities and towns. Activities like golf, walking or cycling are easy ways to explore nature and the great outdoors, and wherever you find yourself across the island, our unique culture and heritage is always close by to be enjoyed. We have wonderful places to stay and world-class food. All of this, and the genuine Irish welcome, makes for great holiday memories.

The U.S. market has seen significant growth over the last 6/7 years, how long do think it will take to recover to 2019 levels of business?
We’ve kept in touch with our US visitors through the pandemic and they’ve told us how much they dream of traveling again and what they most look forward to. I am very glad to say that Ireland offers all the familiarity, the safety and the unique welcome of family and friends that are U.S. travelers’ top priorities for 2021 – as well, of course, as the great vacation experiences that brought Ireland record levels of visitors in 2019. So, if anything, you could say that Ireland’s appeal is stronger than ever. 2020 was a very difficult year for all of us. Now, hope is on the horizon and 2021 is the year of recovery. From a standing start, we realize that it may take a number of years to recover to 2019 record levels, but we look forward to steady growth in visitors in the coming years. We have also continued to work closely with our North American travel industry partners and together we will be promoting the uniqueness of great vacations to Ireland through all the usual channels, when the time is right.

The U.S. is home to approximately 35 million people with Irish heritage, what role can the diaspora play in the recovery?
Ireland is extremely fortunate – in fact it’s the envy of countries around the world – in having such an influential and committed diaspora. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the U.S. The bonds between Ireland and the 35 million people across the U.S. who cherish their Irish heritage have never been stronger. 2020 has been very difficult for people on both sides of the Atlantic, when the pandemic prevented travel and kept families apart. With so much family time lost and special occasions missed, we believe that the diaspora will be among the very first visitors to return to Ireland in 2021 and, I can assure you, people across the entire island of Ireland look forward to welcoming them back. The diaspora can also significantly influence the wider recovery in travel from North America. When the time is right, we would greatly welcome their support in getting the message out that Ireland is open for business and that the welcome and vacation experience is better than ever, and one not to be missed.