Ireland has become the latest European country to target Arabian Gulf tourists even as a slump in oil prices has begun to affect regional economies.
Tourism Ireland, which has a mandate to promote both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is promoting “fantasy tourism” itineraries along the areas in Northern Ireland where the HBO television series Game of Thrones and the film Star Wars: The Force Awakens were shot.
“We expect tourism from this region to grow between 5 and 10 per cent this year,” said Niall Gibbons, the chief executive of Tourism Ireland. “There is a lot of untapped potential and despite the economic difficulties, there are still people who will take a holiday, and we need to capitalise on tourism.”
Ireland received 9.3 million tourists last year, a number that is expected to increase by 4 per cent this year. The island received 55,000 tourists from the region last year, a fraction of 576,000 tourists from the Gulf who visited the UK in the first nine months of last year.
With currency fluctuations, Ireland’s hotels, restaurants and tourism entities are 20 to 40 per cent cheaper compared with 2008 levels, Mr Gibbons said.
This year is also Northern Ireland’s year of food and drink. A peace accord signed in 1998 marked the end of unrest in Northern Ireland.
Arabian Gulf tourists also spend significantly more than those from Ireland’s higher source markets such as the UK, the United States, Germany and France. A tourist from the Gulf region spends €2,000 (Dh8,084) per person per trip compared with €350 from the UK and €800 from the US.
The Irish government expects to invest €300 million in the tourism sector in the coming years, Mr Gibbons said.
To encourage tourism, the government indefinitely lowered value added tax on the hospitality segment, including hotels, entertainment areas and food services, to 9 per cent, from 13 per cent in 2011. It scrapped air passenger duty in 2014.
Ireland is not the only destination to market itself to the Gulf tourists.
Germany expects the number of tourists from this region to go up by 15 to 17 per cent this year, according to Maria Amaral, the Dubai-based director of marketing and sales for the German National Tourist Office (GNTO) in the Gulf. The agency is expected to meet tour operators in Dubai this week following a similar meeting in Abu Dhabi last week.
“The factor that could have played a role in the increase of the number of visitors to Germany is the low euro exchange rate,” Ms Amaral said.
The Arab Gulf tourist spends about €4,344 per trip to Germany, including transport, accommodation, food and shopping, she said.
The GNTO is promoting nature tourism this year.
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