Tourism plan bids to attract 184,000 Canadian visitors to Northern Ireland
Tourism chiefs in Ireland are hopeful an aviation conference in the United States will boost its campaign to attract more Canadian visitors to Northern Ireland.
Tourism Ireland has said the reinstatement of direct flights from Canada to Belfast could prove part of the answer to encourage more Canadian visitors to Ireland to make Northern Ireland part of the island's "must see" destinations.
Currently only a third of Canadian visitors to the Emerald Isle – who spend an average of £625 per visit – cross the border and now the tourism body is amping up its campaign to induce more to venture north and to spend their hard-earned dollars here too.
Members of the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland yesterday met the Irish tourist body, including hoteliers The Merchant Hotel, Hastings Hotels and The Fitzwilliam. All reported a spike in the number of visitors from Toronto, Vancouver and other Canadian cities and regions in recent times.
The tourism marketing body was presenting its new plan 'Canada: Land of Opportunity - A Strategy for Growth 2014-2016' which sets out its aims to increase the number of Canadian visitors to Ireland by 47% to 184,000 by the end of 2016.
It is envisaged that meeting such targets would draw in revenues of up to £115m across the island of Ireland.
Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland said aviation chiefs were preparing to meet in Chicago next week for the World Routes 2014 forum to discuss global air routes.
At the same time, he said, "dialogue is ongoing" within the tourism industry to "prioritise efforts to reinstate a direct flight from Toronto to Belfast".
A number of years ago, as many as three carriers brought Canadian travellers to Belfast but there has been none for four years.
In the intervening years, Belfast International Airport has said Northern Ireland tourism was losing out due to the lack of a direct air link with Canada.
No one from the airport was available for comment yesterday but two years ago, business development director, Uel Hoey, said "tens of thousands" of Canadians had flocked to the province when the Belfast-Toronto link was in operation.
Mr Gibbons did point out that for the first time ever this winter, there will be direct scheduled services from Toronto to Dublin, a route expected to bring a 18% rise in capacity in 2015.
Alison Metcalfe, head of North America, also pointed out that in the meantime, Dublin was "only up the road" to Canadians who were used to driving up to an hour and a half just to dine out for the evening.
She said that of all the visitors to Ireland, "Canadians have one of the highest propensities to visit Northern Ireland".
The campaign was now on in earnest to attract what are described as "culturally curious" – the well-travelled and those with higher incomes from Ontario and its key Toronto population.
She added that a secondary focus will also aim to attract residents of Alberta and British Columbia.