A major tourism initiative aimed at enticing the Irish diaspora to return home to visit is set to be expanded next year, Failte Ireland has confirmed.
The Global Irish Festival Series, which was piloted along the Wild Atlantic Way in October, will be doubled in size in 2019 with the aim of expanding it to every county in the next four years.
A joint initiative between the tourism body and the Department of Foreign Affairs, it aims to encourage the diaspora to reconnect with Ireland by attending festivals in their home counties.
Product development director Orla Carroll said the series offers the perfect reason for the diaspora to come home and visit.
“The idea, in a way, is building on from The Gathering,” Ms Carroll said.
The Gathering was a 2013 tourism-led drive to get members of the diaspora to return home. More than 5,000 events took place across the country.
“We’re such a lucky country to have such a diaspora who connect to Ireland. 70 million people..it’s about recognising what we have and looking at how we can keep that motivation going.”
The first Global Irish festivals were held in October in Limerick and Donegal to help drive tourism in the off-peak season.
They were funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs to the tune of 210,000 euro.
Next year, funding will be provided to festivals in four counties.
“They will be a different flavour in every county,” she said.
It is part of a drive by Failte Ireland’s to boost the numbers attending festivals across the country over the coming years.
In 2017, more than 200,000 overseas visitors attended festivals in Ireland generating €108 million to the economy.
“I would estimate that’s probably 220,000 in 2018 although we haven’t got those figures yet,” she said.
By 2022, Failte Ireland wants to grow that figure to 300,000 visitors.
If they manage it, it would be worth 170 million euro to the economy.
“What people love about festivals, is you meet like minded people,” Ms Carroll said.
“People are there for a similar reason to you. That is really motivating to travel for.”
She said they are a great means of not only extending the summer trading season but of spreading tourism benefits across the country.
Although the St Patrick’s Festival in Dublin draws the largest number of overseas festival goers, Ms Carroll said new research by the tourism body showed the majority of overseas visitors attending festivals did so outside the capital.
“When Irish people think Electric Picnic, international visitors don’t come for that,” she said.
“What they do travel for is the celebration of a specific interest, tradition or culture.”
Galway Arts Festival, Tradfest, Rose of Tralee, Listowel Writers Week, Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival, Cork Jazz Festival and Dingle Food Festival are among some of the most popular.
Next autumn, a new Halloween festival is being launched.
Ms Carroll said even though people had started dressing up for Halloween in locations across the world, its origins lay in Irish Celtic traditions of Samhain, which comes from the old Irish for “summer’s end”.
She said Failte Ireland wants to harness that in a festival next autumn. It will be in addition to the Bram Stoker festival, which is held in Dublin every October Bank Holiday weekend.
“It’s about making it uniquely Irish – that doesn’t mean greenifying it, but that our culture is filtered through it,” she said.
She added: “Kind of like the Burning Man festival but with an Irish twist… we don’t want to replicate but we’re looking at how we can bring in fire without just having a boring old bonfire.”