It's enough to make most tourism destinations green with envy. St. Patrick's Day is Ireland's annual commercial – one that puts the Emerald Isle in the spotlight with consumers across the globe. And as revellers guzzle green beer and Guinness and dust off their old Chieftans and Enya albums today (March 17), and the nation itself celebrates with parades and all manner of events that put the aye! in being Irish, leprechaun accountants are tallying up an annual €10 million equivalency value in global press coverage. "It's great to be top of mind at this time of year," says Dana Welch, head of Tourism Ireland in Canada, noting that it's especially welcome coming at a time when Canadian travellers' thoughts are turning towards Europe for the summer.
March is the busiest month of the year for the tourist board – one of the few that has maintained an uninterrupted presence in Canada for many years now. The team from the Toronto office, for example, gets involved in many events leading up to St Patrick's Day, such as Irish film festivals, community breakfasts and luncheons, parades, and the tourist board's Global Greening initiative -- an international campaign that sees iconic buildings, landmarks and sites across the world – including Niagara Falls this year -- lit green around St Patrick's Day. And while Welch says she can't quantify just how many bookings are generated for the trade due to the publicity surrounding St. Paddy's Day, she acknowledges the publicity is a godsend.
In 2016 more than 200,000 Canadians visited Ireland -- a 16 per cent increase over the year previous -- making it the best-ever year for Canada. This year direct flights continue with Air Canada rouge and Aer Lingus, while WestJet, Transat and ASL Airlines offer seasonal service.
Trafalgar Canada president Wolf Paunic says the Emerald Isle has been the tour company's No. 1 single country destination for three years in a row. "Ireland is super popular with Canadians and a very important destination for Trafalgar travellers," he says. "The tradition, the people, and the experiences… attract the audience of all ages." And with a mind to capitalize on the spirit generated by the "iconic" St. Patrick's Day festival, Trafalgar has been offering a 12% discount on select spring and summer departures booked this week (through March 19). Details are available at www.trafalgar.com/can/offers/st-patricks-day.
But If St. Patrick's Day isn't enough to get yours or your client's juices flowing for Ireland, one surefire way to do so is to see the musical Once -- on Broadway, London's West End, or wherever it may be playing (it's currently on tour in the US). The "enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who's about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love song," is just that – enchanting, not the least due to the cast of actor/musicians who bring the charm of the country to life through music, and a pub atmosphere where guests can actually have a beer on stage before the performance. I challenge anyone to watch the play and not want to head straight to the airport and hop on a plane headed for Shannon. My first visit to Ireland in the mid-1980s was, in fact, a self-directed music pilgrimage. Inspired by bands like The Pogues and The Dubliners, my goal was to find real Irish music in an authentic setting; the holy grail would have been local pub goers breaking out in song with their own instruments as it was rumoured could happen. A Paul Brady concert in Dublin aside, my quest was not entirely successful. However, times have certainly changed since those days and Irish culture has undergone a veritable renaissance, both in language and the arts. Today jigs and reels and vibrant traditional folk music can be easily found, from buskers on the pedestrian mall of Galway to the incredible music mecca of Doolin village (also a gateway to the Aran Islands), and the clubs and pubs of Dublin, Belfast and everywhere in between. (Note: A special shout out to Fibber Magees in Belfast, an under-the-radar jewel and permanent resting place of not too few brain cells I may have lost there once…)
Lastly, I can't offer any craic-ing review of Ireland without muttering in awe about Ashford Castle. The restored medieval castle (oldest in Ireland) and former Guinness estate (about an hour north of Galway) is now a five-star Leading Hotels of the World that has to be seen to be believed. Set on 350 acres of parkland overlooking Lake Corrib, the turreted treasure was the backdrop for the John Wayne film "The Quiet Man" (and others) and today is renowned for it own School of Falconry. Best advice: splurge and stay there for a night, it's a fantasy come true.
This & That
- Toronto's landmark Hard Rock Café, home to many a travel industry event over the years, is closing in May due to lease issues. It's not known if or where a new one may pop up.
- Canada's Girl Guides have canned future travel to the U.S., as many others are doing, despite judges in Hawaii and Maryland rejecting Donald Trump's travel ban. If clients are balking on moral grounds, remember that there are other states that are also opposing the ban, including Washington, California, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon.
- Imagine the Amazon forest with no trees. That's what's happening underwater to the Great Barrier Reef due to global warming. Famous for me getting my diving certificate there some years ago, the reef is also a world wonder and source of billions of dollars in tourism revenue for Australia annually.
- Sandals Resorts is now taking bookings for its second resort in Barbados, Sandals Royal Barbados. The all-suite will open Dec. 20 (www.sandals.com/main/royalbarbados/rb-home/)
The first annual Tourism Australia Corroboree West for Aussie specialists will take place on Australia's Gold Coast Oct. 7-19, featuring 300 frontline travel sellers from Canada and around the world. Applications now open through April 21 at www.aussiespecialist.com/cw17ca.
- Myrtle Beach, SC's 56th annual Canadian-American Festival wraps up Sunday (March 19), but many accommodation and shopping discounts will continue through the end of April to help Canadian visitors cope with the exchange rate differential. Search Can Am promotions at www.visitmyrtlebeach.com or call (888) Myrtle-1.
Bronwyn Hodge, general manager, Goway's Islands:
"We don't assume all luxury clients want the same thing. Not everyone on a 'luxury vacation' is seeking five-star resorts with butler service, or first class airfare, or fully escorted tours. What we are seeing and hearing is that affluent holidaymakers today want authentic experiences, often including a bit of adventure, tailor-made itineraries, and transformational journeys."