- Tourism Ireland today launched its overseas marketing strategy and plans for 2009. Forecasting at the best of times is difficult, and in the present period of great economic uncertainty it becomes extremely hazardous. But there must be a plan, and in forming it some assumptions must be made.
- First of all, it is estimated that overseas visitor numbers to Ireland in the current year will be down by about 3% on 2007, to just under 7.5 million. That reflects falls of under 2% from mainland Europe, 3% from Britain, and 12% from North America. Other areas are estimated to have grown by 11% this year.Though still an estimate, it is probable that revenue will have declined by about 4% to €3.8 billion for 2008, due to unfavourable currency exchange rates, shorter length of stay, and the drop in visitor numbers.
- This will represent the first drop in visitor numbers since 2001, and while disappointing, it compares not unfavourably with the experience of many major tourism destinations this year.
- All of the global economic frailties which were the primary reason for this reversal will still be with us next year. Unfortunately they will even be more acute in all our main markets, Britain, US and Continental Europe.Against this background Tourism Ireland is prudently forecasting a further drop in overseas visitors next year of somewhere between 1% and 5%.
These declines are expected to come in a range of:
Britain: -1% to -4.5%
Continental Europe: Flat to -4.5%
North America: -4% to -12%
- That’s for overall visitor numbers. When looking at the pure holidaymaker sector the fall in 2009 could be up to 8% (following an estimated fall of 9% in 2008).
- So that looks like a challenge to retain total overseas visitor numbers at over 7 million next year, an aggregate drop of about 10% in the 2 years 2008/2009. Such is the volatile state of our source market economies that this forecast could well be seen by some as optimistic. Let’s hope it’s not.
- Good access capacity is vital to achieving these forecasts for 2009. While nothing is secure in the present climate, carriers have indicated that they currently expect to operate close to the same service levels as in 2008. However, it is clear that failure of load factors to hold up could lead to reduced frequency and/or the dropping of some routes.
- There are some hopeful signs about. Lower oil prices should help to see more affordable access costs. Substantial improvement in the strength of the dollar (if maintained) and a new more positive administration coming in January may give an early boost to US consumer confidence. This would have a positive knock-on affect in our other source markets.
- Tourism Ireland’s new marketing communications will highlight the “character and characters” of the island of Ireland, celebrating not just what the island has to offer, but also the people who make the island of Ireland a unique tourist destination. The Sightseer and Culture Seeker segment will remain the primary consumer target for the industry in the challenging year ahead.
- Addressing the launch, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Martin Cullen, reconfirmed the Government’s commitment to tourism, pointing out that €160 million had been allocated for next year, €47 million of which would be invested in the marketing strategy outlined today.
- While it is always disappointing not to forecast for growth, the consensus at today’s launch was that the targets set for 2009 were reasonable, given all the prevailing circumstances. Despite the unfavourable economic conditions, many millions will travel next year and Ireland will have to fight hard to retain its share. Something in excess of 7 million overseas visitors would seem like a satisfactory result at this remove.