Alison Metcalfe has a continental size work beat. She also has a lot of work on her plate.
If the size comparison between a landmass the size of North America and a plate seems like a stretch, well, you might as well throw in the Atlantic Ocean.
And then factor in Covid-19.
Metcalfe is Executive Vice President North America for Tourism Ireland and the circumstances of the last year and a half were not exactly in the job description when she took the position on.
But you have to deal with what the world throws at you and Metcalfe, along with her colleagues, have been doing just that.
To say that Covid threw a curve ball at the tourism sector of the Irish economy would be an understatement for the ages.
But now, with vaccines making non-essential travel to Ireland possible again, it's time for a home run or two; literally.
Ireland is telling the world that it is open and ready to welcome back international visitors to its shores. What plans does Tourism Ireland have to encourage travelers from the U.S. and Canada to travel back to the island of Ireland?
Metcalfe is relieved that she can now answer this question.
Tourism Ireland, she says, "is encouraging American travelers to start planning a future trip to the island of Ireland.
"Ireland reopened to international travel, including the U.S., on July 19, and businesses have been working hard to get ready to welcome visitors back.
"The last eighteen months have been difficult for everyone but now we can get back to the things that matter most, reconnecting with family and friends and enjoying
Ireland’s great outdoors, beautiful wild landscapes and participating in the ‘craic’.
"As we hit the marketing restart button, Tourism Ireland is working closely with our North American travel partners to inspire future travel demand by highlighting the wide variety of things to see and do across the island – including the Wild Atlantic Way, the Causeway Coastal Route, Ireland’s Ancient East, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and vibrant city experiences including Belfast and Dublin.
"We’ll also be shining a spotlight on our world class links golf courses, where our champions – including Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke – honed and perfected their skills.
"Our message is that Ireland offers golfers the complete package, with some of the very best links golf in the world, stunning scenery and the warmest of welcomes.
"We’re encouraging Irish Americans, friends of Ireland and holiday makers alike to put plans in place to visit over the coming months."
The world has changed a lot in the last eighteen months. So what can visitors expect from an Ireland vacation post-pandemic?
Says Metcalfe: "The same great vacation experiences that attracted a record number of U.S. travelers pre- pandemic are ready and waiting, and in many cases Ireland’s appeal will be even stronger.
"Visitors are looking to enjoy the great outdoors more than ever before, and Ireland‘s wealth of activities such as cycling, walking and golf offer great ways to explore nature and the great outdoors.
"Ireland’s unique culture and heritage experiences are at the heart of a vacation in Ireland and when combined with great places to stay, world class food and the warmest Irish welcome, it makes for a memorable vacation.
"Tourism experiences across the island of Ireland are adhering to mandated health and safety protocols while continuing to deliver an enjoyable experience and high standard of service. We can’t wait to roll out the ‘green’ carpet.'"
The mentioning of Irish Americans is a reminder that Ireland does enjoy a very special link with the United States in particular.
The U.S. is home to approximately 35 million people with Irish heritage, and that might even be a bit of a lowball number. How important, in Metcalfe's view, will this audience be in supporting tourism recovery across the island of Ireland?
Ireland, she says, is extremely fortunate. "In fact it’s the envy of many countries around the world in so far as having such an influential and committed diaspora.
Nowhere is that more obvious than here in the United States.
"The bonds between Ireland and the 35 million people across the U.S. who cherish their Irish heritage have never been stronger.
"The last eighteen months have been very difficult for people on both sides of the Atlantic, when the pandemic prevented travel and kept families apart.
"With so much family time lost, and special occasions missed, it is already evident that those with friends and family in Ireland have been among the very first visitors to return to Ireland.
"What’s more, people across the entire island of Ireland are ready to welcome them back. We also hope that the diaspora will share their positive experiences with friends on their return to the U.S. and in so doing assist our recovery efforts by influencing others to start planning a trip to Ireland."
That's an important point. When you have a community joined together by a common heritage, shared experience and word of mouth can indeed influence big decisions such as flying across an ocean in search of a holiday of a lifetime and a storehouse of memories to add to a life's story.
As we look to the 2022 and beyond, what can we expect from tourism to the island of Ireland for the US market?
Says Metcalfe: “The US market remains one of Ireland’s most valuable overseas markets for Irish tourism. US travelers stay longer and spend more and in 2019, the US market delivered 1.7m visitors to the island of Ireland worth over €1.6billion.
“While we recognize it will take a while to recover to pre pandemic visitor levels and achieve full restoration of 2019 air access, our consumer research indicates there is significant pent-up demand for travel to Ireland, and Tourism Ireland has just launched a major restart campaign, our Green Button Campaign, which highlights to US travelers that Ireland is open and ready to welcome visitors back and encouraging them to “Press the Green Button” and book that long awaited trip to the island of Ireland.
The tourism industry is a resilient and will gradually recover from what has been its most challenging test yet. Ireland is open and we look forward to welcoming US travelers back over the coming months and helping them make new vacation memories in Ireland.”
To say that there is a pent up demand might be putting it mildly. The decision by the Irish government to stand by the decision to allow non-essential travel to Ireland has been a critical one.
But "non-essential" in this context is a technical term. Alison Metcalfe and her colleagues would for sure argue that a visit to Ireland is an essential undertaking for anyone with even the remotest connection to an island that has contributed so much to the vast square mileage that is North America.
So the longed-for big return is underway. Ireland awaits your pleasure.