It is very early to make any sort of confident statement about how well the tourist industry will do this year but for what it’s worth there are some indications that visits from America may be on the increase.
We have a hint of this based on data from our online AA RoutePlanner. You may well be familiar with this as it is a very popular section of our website. In fact it generates over 8 million routes per annum.
The vast majority of users are based in Ireland which is hardly a surprise. But if you look at where else enquiries are coming from it tells a story.
Comparing January just gone to the same month last year we have seen a big surge in users from the United States. Over 20,000 individuals downloaded directions for a journey in Ireland, which is up a full 68% on January 2012.
In the context of the Gathering this is a very good early indicator. Of course we don’t know how many people will actually come and visit us but for route enquiries from America to be up by so much is encouraging.
The staging of a college football game between Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin last year clearly had some sort of impact. It’s hardly scientific but I had first hand evidence based on walking around Dublin that weekend. It was like a throw-back to my youth; there were Americans everywhere.
And like when I was young I bought into the unspoken consensus that when you meet an American in Ireland everybody has to do their ‘Bord Failte bit’. I was delighted to be asked directions or to be a bit helpful to people staring in bafflement at a street map.
I stopped short of saying ‘top of the morning to you’, but I consciously did my bit. There is every good reason why we should all do the same. North American visits were up by 14 per cent last year to just over 1 million visitors, which I am reliably told is the second best year ever after the peak in 2007.
Hospitality is something we do very well in Ireland but it is an industry that has been through purgatory during the recession.
The AA is playing its part to promote Ireland overseas. We have just launched a new online booking service for AA Inspected hotels – www.AAHotels.ie – and we will be promoting that internationally via our network of AA-type clubs all around the world, including the ‘Triple-A’ in the US.
The data will no doubt please Failte Ireland and the tourism sector generally. The same data shows that route enquiries from key markets like France, Germany and the Netherlands were also up in January.
More disappointingly, route enquiries from the UK were down 1.4% compared to January 2012. That could become a serious issue for us here. Ordinary citizens in the UK are feeling the pinch, we know that directly from our colleague organisation over there.
Growing or even maintaining UK visitors this year will be a challenge. British visitor numbers fell 4 per cent last year as our neighbours are becoming accustomed to words like ‘austerity’. Get used to it guys, and don’t expect it to be fun. But I’m feeling cheerful today and the American data is certainly heartening.
The AA RoutePlanner is available at www.aaireland.ie/routes The site generates printable driving directions between any locations in Ireland, Britain and Continental Europe. The routes show directions, journey times, traffic incidents from AA Roadwatch, fuel costs and tolls. It can also display AA accredited Hotels and Bed & Breakfast accommodation.
The AA carries out detailed inspections of all of its accredited Hotels and guesthouses. Only those that have been physically inspected and approved by us are listed.
Irish people know us very well of course and lots of them use the RoutePlanner regularly. But in fact the AA brand is well known internationally so for an American unfamiliar with Ireland it is a great comfort and a great service. The AA logo is their reassurance as to the quality of the Hotel they choose.