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Irish Open a perfect pitch for golf visitors

By Roger Pride

This month's Irish Open at Royal County Down is the perfect dress rehearsal for Northern Ireland's hosting of the Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

Northern Ireland has already held a very successful Irish Open back in 2012 and is building a reputation for hosting international events like the Giro D'Italia and the MTV Awards.

Major events can help to accelerate reputation change: the short-term opportunities for small and medium businesses are sometimes exaggerated, but what is more important is that major events provide an opportunity to lift the reputation of the destination.

Customer experience is critical. In 2010, we wanted visitors to feel they were at a Welsh Ryder Cup, not simply a Ryder Cup in Wales. We looked at what we could do at every point in the customer journey to ensure that the visitor had a positive experience.

The concept is called "moments of truth", when the customer starts to form an impression of the brand. We identified those moments that present an opportunity to create a positive impression.

Each visitor is a potential ambassador for Northern Ireland. You have to ensure that, while they are there and when they leave, they are saying positive things on social media.

My experience of Tourism Northern Ireland has been extremely positive. But the country needs to have a much more international perspective and be more outward-looking. Everything is global; there's no such thing as local media anymore.

For example, over Sunday opening - if you are trying to promote Northern Ireland as a weekend break destination, then Sunday is an important part of the experience. There is an expectation among visitors that on a Sunday they can do most of the things they can do every other day of the week.

The vast majority of people who go to Northern Ireland will return home with incredibly positive stories because of its people.

If the Northern Ireland people keep doing what they are good at - which is being great hosts - then the reputation of Northern Ireland will continue to improve.

Roger Pride, chair of the Wales board of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, led the marketing campaign for the Ryder Cup in Wales in 2010

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