Last year witnessed nearly 11 million out-of-State visitors to Ireland which helped bring in around €7.5 billion in foreign exchange earnings. This, together with domestic tourism revenue of just under €2 billion generated a total of €9.42 billion or 4% of Gross National Product.
Through such an expansion in numbers the tourism industry has created over 94,000 new jobs since 2011 and now supports over 260,000 jobs or 10% of total employment here.
From all this Fáilte Ireland has calculated that the current value of the food & drink market here to the Irish tourism industry sits at around €2.2 billion. That’s 35% of the total revenue spend from all visitors to Ireland last year and this is expected to grow to €2.6 billion by 2023.
Now, more than ever before, Ireland’s food and drinks providers have a key role to play in attracting the overseas tourist to this country.
Fáilte Ireland’s aim, as expressed in its Food and Drink Strategy 2018-2023 – the first-ever such all-island food and drink initiative launched last year, is to consistently enhance the visitor experience through food and drink and thus have it make a strong contribution to overall tourism revenue growth.
‘Building the Irish Tourism Sector’, a presentation delivered recently to all tourism industry stakeholders including vintners’ associations, hotel and restaurant associations as well as Blue Book representatives, involved Fáilte Ireland’s Director of Business Development Paul Keely, its Head of Enterprise Development & Hospitality Martina Bromley and Tracey Coughlan, Manager of its Taste the Island project, touching on Fáilte Ireland’s strategy for growth, its Food & Drink in Tourism project and its Taste the Island programme. The presentation also indicated the next steps in the development of the tourism industry here for some 30 attending stakeholders.
Fáilte Ireland has put a value on its ambitions in this area – it hopes to grow the value of tourism spend on food & drink to €2.6 billion by investing in this as part of Ireland’s overall tourism offering thus helping increase the overall number of visitors to Ireland.
It hopes to achieve this in two ways: firstly by increasing the number of tourism operators engaged with food and drink development initiatives such that the probability of encountering great food and drink experiences will only increase; secondly Fáilte Ireland has been at work building an enhanced awareness and perception of Ireland’s food and drink offering.
To date, the tourism body has counted 844 “experiences” – businesses comprising food and beverage industries that have a tourism focus, that’s every business that has engaged at some point with Fáilte Ireland through a brand or region and who could possibly engage with Fáilte Ireland again as part of the Strategy.
This has given it plenty to work with: 125 microbreweries, over 15 gin distilleries and over 16 working whiskey distilleries.
There are also 16 Michelin Starred establishments here alongside 31 Bib Gourmands, over 7,100 pubs, 2,406 restaurants and 983 hotels, 27 active food networks, over 60 food festivals, 160 farmers’ markets and 40 cookery schools.
Accompanying this has been an increase in the number of primary food producers interested in diversifying into tourism through agri-tours, host-driven experiences and Meet the Maker projects etc.
Tourism expectations of food & drink changing
Fáilte Ireland’s research indicates that where once the majority of tourists looked for food and drink that was familiar to them, today’s tourist tends to seek out quality local food and drink offerings representative the places they visit.
In this, the country has not been found wanting and the progress made has now begun to alter overseas visitors’ perceptions of the quality of our food and drink offering too.
To date overseas visitors had never really considered Ireland to be a ‘food destination’ before their visit and have therefore arrived with relatively low expectations; but Fáilte Ireland’s research has shown that the quality of Irish food is repeatedly called out by visitors who’re pleasantly surprised following their visit.
The task now is to close this perception gap.
According to its Food and Drink Strategy 2018-2023 the ‘Taste the island’ promotion was born through a flagship project to “scope and plan a tourism initiative of scale aimed at closing the perception gap to form the basis of a food and drink strategy”.
‘Taste the Island’
Indeed, never before have there been so much favourable publicity and positive news stories on Ireland’s food story and experiences. It’s hoped that this development can also help alleviate regional economic disparities in our tourism map.
According to Fáilte Ireland’s Survey of Overseas Travellers, overseas holidaymakers have tended to congregate either in Dublin on the East Coast or along the southern counties of the West Coast such that five counties currently account for 81% of overseas holidaymaker nights.
To counter this the Taste the Island promotion sees Fáilte Ireland lead an all-island initiative with partners Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland to showcase Ireland’s world-class food & drink culture. The promotion hopes to drive economic growth and address both regionality and seasonality issues as well as growing bed nights/revenue.
Changing tourists’ food perceptions
This change in overseas tourists’ perception of our food and drink offering can be harnessed to further enhance Ireland’s food & drink reputation globally, giving outlets an opportunity to showcase their food & drink offering as part of Ireland’s tourism appeal.
The promotion hopes to attract overseas leisure visitors & business tourism events as well as creating a stimulus for further development on an individual, network and regional level.
Fáilte Ireland’s Food Strategy called out the importance of visitor experience through food and drink. It shifted the development and emphasis away from a cohort of food enthusiasts to the majority of food service providers and aimed to increase the overall quality of the food & drink experience for visitors.
Among the tourism body’s five Development Pillars here are ‘Taste’ through restaurants, cafés and pubs as well as through ‘Meet The Maker’ experiences where tourists get to visit distilleries and breweries as well as encounter other producer/visitor experiences such as farmers markets etc. There are also festivals and other events at national and regional level of course.
The next steps
The Tourism Strategy’s next steps involve the development of a programme to include pubs, restaurants, cafés, festivals, tours and tasting experiences.
Fáilte Ireland intends working with representative bodies and sectoral bodies on partnership initiatives which will materialise in the form of industry workshops this May and June.
An all-island Taste the Island launch will take place in June with media engagement as part of an in-depth communications plan.
“The focus of this type of Taste the Island initiative can only truly be successful with the engagement and drive of the industry on the ground,” comments Martina Bromley, Head of Enterprise & Hospitality Development with Failte Ireland, “The delivery of a good idea or a strategic concept can only ever be successful if the activation on the ground for the food and drink businesses is fully committed to delivering on the promise and ensuring the consumer experience exceeds their expectation.
“We now have a cohort of food & beverage businesses that are seeing themselves in the tourism game and this offers them great business and growth opportunities – particularly if they engage with new and exciting international marketing platforms like Taste the Island.”