Last year, two million visitors from North America visited the Emerald Isle.
That stunning figure – fully one-in-ten of all Americans who travelled to Europe on vacation made Ireland their destination — was the fruits of two decades of hard work by Tourism Ireland, the cross-border agency set up as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Fast forward to the summer of 2020, however, and, courtesy of our new lodger Covid-19, the total number of American holiday-makers in Ireland would hardly fill a Paddywagon tour bus.
For while there is no complete ban on travellers from the US travelling to Ireland — though that option is being mulled over in government corridors in Dublin — the necessity to quarantine for 14 days on arrival means only the bravest, long-stay vacationers are boarding the EI 104 from JFK to Dublin.
Reversing that situation — starting the arduous ascent from zero visitors back up to two million — is a long-haul journey all of its own.
But it’s one for which the Tourism Ireland team, ticket-in-hand, is on board for.
With their partners in Tourism NI and Fáilte Ireland, and with the blessing of the decimated tourist industry across the island of Ireland, Tourism Ireland is already perfecting its pitch to the many Americans it hopes to entice back to Ireland — when it’s safe once more to visit.
The first outline of that roadmap back to a rejuvenated US tourism market willl be glimpsed at the Big Irish Echo Campfire on 28 August.
Bringing together Irish American advocates and activists from across the nation, the Campfire gathering aims not just to boost spirts during the pandemic but to look at how the bridge to Ireland can be kept open in hope of better days ahead.
To spark that conversation around the Campfire, Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons will broadcast a special message to Irish Americans. His comments will preface a lively debate about the future of US-Ireland tourism chaired by Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo, NY, and featuring Alison Metcalfe, head of Tourism Ireland in the US, Elizabeth Crabill of CIE Tours International, Dr J. Patrick Greene of The Irish Emigration Museum, EPIC in Dublin, Jim Lamb of the Ireland Institute in Pittsburgh and Bill Byrne, VP North America for Aer Lingus.
Can the dizzying drop in tourism numbers really be reversed? Past performance gives cause for optimism. North American visitor numbers from the US passed the one million mark in 2013 and then doubled through 2019.
No doubt a hot topic for discussion over the marshmallows at the Big Irish Campfire.
You can download the full program for the Big Irish Campfire and register for free online.
The official opening will be at 11am PT on 28 August by President Michael D. Higgins and Congressman Richie Neal of Massachusetts.