A two-day international travel trade fair ended here on Wednesday, attracting a record number of participants from home and abroad.
Named Meitheal 2019, the event, which is primarily organized by Failte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority in Ireland, is the largest of its kind ever since it was first launched in 1975.
Over 600 Irish tourism businesses and 300 international buyers and tour operators from more than 22 countries participated in the event, marking the largest attendance at Meitheal to date, said organizers.
Meitheal is an Irish word which means friendly and joyful gathering in English. The annual event serves as a platform for local tourism suppliers ranging from tourist attractions to hotels and Irish whiskey manufacturers to sell their services and products directly to international buyers and tour operators.
More than 13,500 face-to-face meetings between tourism suppliers and buyers were arranged in a huge hall of a local hotel during the two-day event, said organizers, adding that millions of U.S. dollars worth of business deals are expected to have been clinched over the course of the two days.
In his opening remark delivered on Tuesday, Failte Ireland’s CEO Paul Kelly said that “Last year was a best-ever for tourism in Ireland”.
The Irish tourism industry now generates 7.8 billion euros (about 8.8 billion U.S. dollars) in revenue and employs an estimated 260,000 people, he said.
“To maintain this momentum the industry must intensify its international sales focus,” said Kelly, adding that this is even more important now as Ireland faces the challenges of Brexit.
According to a Failte Ireland’s recent research, Ireland could lose more than one million overseas tourists from Britain and other core markets in the event of a hard Brexit, which could cause a loss of 380 million euros in revenue and 10,000 jobs to the local tourism sector in the first year.
Currently Britain is the largest source of overseas visitors to Ireland. Official statistics showed that in 2018 over 10.6 million people visited Ireland, of which the number of visitors from Britain accounted for more than 3.75 million or about 35 percent of the total.
To minimize the impact of Brexit, the Irish tourism authorities have in recent years stepped up their efforts in exploring the new opportunities in the emerging markets like China.
James Kenny, China Country Manager of Tourism Ireland, which is a co-organizer of Meitheal 2019, said that “we have seen a 40 percent increase in the number of Chinese visitors to Ireland from 2016 to 2017 and we expect another big increase from China in 2018.”
In 2017 an estimated 90,000 people from China visited the island of Ireland, according to Tourism Ireland.
The number of the Chinse visitors to Ireland for 2018 is not ready yet, said Kenny, but he believed that there will be a big increase in the figure for the year as two direct flights between Ireland and China were launched last June.
A third direct flight between the two countries was launched in February this year, which will help further boost the number of Chinese visitors to Ireland in the years to come, he said.
Tourism Ireland, a state-agency tasked to market the island of Ireland as a tourist destination overseas, expects by the year 2025 the annual number of the Chinese visitors to the island of Ireland will reach 175,000. (1 euro= 1.125 U.S. dollars)