For Niall Gibbons, numbers at heart of tale

At the launch of Tourism Ireland’s strategy for 2019 at the Hearst Tower in Manhattan were (l-r): Tourism Ireland Chief Executive Niall Gibbons with Minister Brendan Griffin, Bill Byrne of Aer Lingus and Tourism Ireland’s head of operations in North America, Alison Metcalfe. Photo by

By Ray O’Hanlon

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons is all for his organization’s 2019 pitch to potential visitors.

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But while arrivals from overseas are being invited to “fill their hearts” with Ireland, Gibbons is focused on filling his head with numbers.

Numbers are his thing. And he rattles them off faster than an interviewer can fire off questions.

And top of his number list is an impressive combination: 11.2 million visitors to Ireland in 2018 spending 6.1 billion euro.

“It was a record year,” he said, straying for a moment into the realm of words.

But he’s quickly back with those numbers.

The tourism industry is now supporting 350,000 jobs all across and up and down the island. Last year there were 2.4 million visitors from North America, a figure that has pretty well doubled in the last five years.

This, according to Gibbons, means that ten percent of visitors to Europe from North America travel to Ireland.

Air access, says Gibbons, is the key to this. In 2011 there were ten gateways to Ireland in North America.

“Now there are twenty four with Minneapolis/St. Paul and Dallas/Fort Worth coming on stream this year.”

Gibbons works in an industry in which, as he puts it, “you can’t switch off.”

And being constantly switched on is appropriate given the current Tourism Ireland strategy.

“Fill your heart with Ireland,” wasn’t just plucked from the fresh Irish air, but is rather derived from an interesting and to say the least novel marketing experiment in which a young Swedish couple were wired up with heart monitors and brought to some of the island’s most scenic places.

Their “passion points” were duly recorded at destinations such as the Cliffs of Moher.

Those towering walls of rock can for sure set the heart racing, sat any time of year and no matter what the weather conditions.

And with the focus now on attracting visitors to Ireland at all times of the year - including what Gibbons describes as the “shoulder Seasons,” or first and fourth quarters of the year – there is an opportunity for visitors to experiences the island of Ireland in all its varied moods and hues.

The prospects for a bountiful 2019 are good, according to Gibbons, though he acknowledges the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

There are, crucially, a lot more beds to match all the new airline seats, most especially in Belfast.

And of course there is that hardy annual always to the fore: golf. This year will see the British Open at Royal Portrush in County Antrim, and the Irish Open at Lahinch in County Clare.

So Ireland to the fore for all with a place in their hearts for a special place