Country’s tourist board expects visitor numbers to remain steady despite political uncertainty. Samantha Mayling reports

Ireland’s tourism industry expects visitor numbers from Britain to remain steady in 2020 despite uncertainty over Brexit and the fall in the value of sterling.

About 4.6 million Britons have visited the island of Ireland so far in 2019, up 1% year on year – and overall annual overseas numbers are 10-11 million.

Tourism Ireland has been wooing Brits this autumn as part of a €12 million international promotional blitz, sending the message that the island will remain easy to visit regardless of what happens with Brexit.

Its campaign is also encouraging Brits to visit off-peak and explore more remote destinations.

Furthermore, the tourist board plans to spend €7 million on promotional campaigns next year in the British market, reiterating the “easy to visit” message.

Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland chief executive, said: “Brits will continue to travel, despite economic uncertainty. People will find Ireland as fun and friendly as ever, and the ease of travel will remain.”

He said the Common Travel Area – established in 1923 when Ireland gained independence – means there are no travel restrictions between the UK and Ireland.

“You have seamless travel between the whole of Britain and the whole of the island of Ireland,” he said. “Regardless of what happens with Brexit, legislation about the CTA will continue and people can travel for holidays as if it is one country.

“If you travel by ferry or fly, there will be no restrictions.

“Travel will be as easy as ever, whether going from the north or the south. It will be easier to get to Ireland than Europe.”

There are 1,600 flights per week from 23 British airports to the island of Ireland and new ferry services such as Irish Ferries’ operation with WB Yeats from Holyhead to Dublin and Stena Line’s Stena Estrid service from Holyhead from next year.

Food, film and football will be 2020 themes

Food and drink tours, seen-on-screen locations, culture and sport will be key UK marketing themes for Tourism Ireland in 2020.

Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland chief executive, said the tourist board’s ‘Taste the Island’ initiative was being “beefed up”.

The domestic campaign is being introduced to international markets, encouraging tourists to explore foodie trails and food festivals.

The country is continuing to welcome fans of Star Wars – thanks to locations in Skellig Michael and other spots along the Wild Atlantic Way – and Game of Thrones, which used many sites in Northern Ireland for filming.

“We see more people wanting to go beyond urban centres, as they want to switch off and get away to places such as the Wild Atlantic Way,” he said.

Next year, Dublin will host four Euro 2020 football matches in June and Galway will be European Capital of Culture.

Tourist board plans fam trips

Tourism Ireland is planning 2020 fam trips for the UK trade as part of its strategy to encourage off-the-beaten-track tourism and out-of-season trips.

Since 2016, the tourist board has had a ‘Brexit taskforce’ which liaises with travel trade partners to keep them abreast of issues.

“Our relations with the travel trade are very good, and they are helping us to get travellers out to the regions such as Galway and Donegal,” said chief executive Niall Gibbons. “The travel trade finds Ireland hassle-free, especially compared to Dover-Calais.”

The tourist board’s trade marketing strategy will be revealed this month in Dublin and Belfast. Gibbons said tourism to Ireland has the capacity to grow over the coming three years, despite challenges such as Brexit and the grounding of B737 Max aircraft.