I’m afraid, there’s still a bit of doom and gloom in the forecast for 2010, but there are some great opportunities for travelers as well.
Have a look at our predictions for 2010 and let us know what you see for the future.
High Profile Visitors
There’s talk that both the Pope and President Obama are considering trips to the Emerald Isle (separately, of course). The Pope’s visit would celebrate the Peace efforts in Northern Ireland, but comes on the heels of long-delayed reports on Church abuse scandals. Word of an Obama stop comes from new information about his ancestral home in County Offaly; the site has only recently been identified, and a presidential visit would be a tourism windfall. Our vote… yes, to both special guests… but that might be wishful thinking.
More Americans in Ireland
Tourism Ireland predicts a 2% growth in visitors from the US for 2010. Considering Ireland hasn’t recovered from the 10% drop in 2008 and global travel among Americans on the rise compared to last year, they will likely meet that target.
Travelers will Mistake Bargains for Value
Tourist hotspots like Killarney, Dublin and Galway will offer amazing deals on accommodation and tour packages. However, only travelers in the know will recognize that the real value will come from the small, regional travel destinations that are likely to offer more amenities and personal service. Passionate hosts and guides in Donegal, the Burren, the Shannon Region and anywhere in the Midlands will step up their game, but will lack the advertising dollars to attract the masses.
Most Americans Won’t See the Ireland TV Ad “Blitz”
Ireland will be spending $500,000 on TV ads in the US this year, but unless you’re in a specific demographic (over 50 with expendable income and a decent cable TV package), you probably won’t see the ads. The rest of us will have to rely on the Today Show’s annual St Patrick’s Day visit to Ireland for our TV fix.
The Return of Dynamic Currency Exchange
We thought we saw the last of this credit card conversion “service” back in 2006, but it has returned. This system lets various businesses, namely those with high tourist volume, present customers with bills in their home currency. What they fail to mention is that the conversion, say from euros to US dollars, might be 5% or more than if the customers’ credit card company was left to make the conversion itself. The only good news is that the price on the slip IS the price you will pay… which includes the extra charges for that piece of mind.
Hotels Will Lead the Charge for Bargains
The Celtic Tiger years brought a frenzy of hotel building to the Emerald Isle, and the economic downturn has left a lot of beds empty. As a result, the hotel industry has been the first to woo visitors with deeply discounted rates. This trend is beginning to dethrone B&Bs as Ireland’s cost-effective accommodation choice.
Bus and Fly/Drive Tours Will Pass Discounts to Their Customers
Tour companies rely on bookings for survival, so in 2010 they will use all their leverage to get the best prices from airlines, car rentals and hotels. They will advertise packages that the average traveler will not be able to touch by booking à la carte (and I’ve long been an à la carte travel planner). The trick is finding a package that suits you… a super cheap golfing holiday is of no use to someone looking for a castles and folklore itinerary.
Airfare Deals will be Spotty
Prices have dropped on plane tickets, but it’s a shame that $600 roundtrip in low season is still considered a deal, and $700 in high season is a steal. Expect fare sales to spring up as low as $199 one-way — the only problem is that the dates will be limited, and the other half of the ticket will likely cost more than $299. Sign up for your airline’s email list and book when the sales are announced. This year, it’ll probably be too late if you wait to book until a month before departure.
Quiet Times in Shannon Airport
Flights between the US and Shannon evaporated in the last quarter of 2009, leaving Delta and Continental as the only carriers offering direct flights to and from Ireland’s West Coast airport. Aer Lingus has promised the return of their flights in 2010, but huge staffing cuts makes a return to a full Aer Lingus schedule nearly impossible. That’s bad news for the West Coast, but good news for those who can take advantage of a much-more-relaxing-than-Dublin arrival in Shannon.
A few years back Aer Lingus touted itself as the first transatlantic discount airline. You won’t hear those words coming from them in 2010. This year, expect carriers such as Continental, Delta, United and US Airways to have slightly better prices… and we do mean slightly.
More Irish Accents
The downturn in the Irish economy has sent the influx of immigrants back to Eastern Europe, and the Irish are returning to jobs as hotel clerks, cleaners and waiters (some of them quite reluctantly). Although we enjoyed the smiling Polish faces, it’ll be nice to be greeted with an Irish accent again.
Expect Bumpy Roads
Ireland’s road system got a complete overhaul in the last decade, but the European Union gravy train has ended and the Irish economy is struggling. That means funds for maintaining all those new roundabouts are tight, and minor repairs will be delayed. Secondary roads will be the hardest hit, and extreme weather conditions in the last two months won’t help things either.
Few Deals on Car Rentals
In 2009, most of the car rental companies tightened their budgets and did minimal updates to their fleets. That means 2010 requires a new batch of cars for companies that choose to update their fleets, but also means few deals for renters. Those who score a good price will have to fight for one of the better cars in their rental class (in the economy category… a Focus or Opel trumps a Corsa any day).
Travelers will Get Hit with Taxes
New taxes on petrol (gasoline) will mean almost a six-cent increase per gallon (US$). Those renting cars will be the first to notice the increase, and it won’t be long before tour operators and other transport companies pass the expense to consumers. Small reductions for VAT (Value Added Tax) and alcohol taxes might bring a hint of relief… if retailers don’t decide to increase prices.
2010 WISH LIST
Dreaming of Super Cheap Flights
Please! Lure us with irresistible flight prices. If we get a great deal on travel, we WILL spend those saved pennies (and more) on car rentals, accommodations, sightseeing, restaurants, souvenirs and all those other things that bolster the tourism economy. I promise!
A Vote for Transparency in Car Rental Agreements and Policies
Stop the “hidden” fees in Irish car rentals. I’ve grown tired of the unending stream of stories from visitors lamenting that what they thought they were going to pay for their rental car was quite different from what they actually paid.
Much of this stems from travelers assuming Ireland’s rental policies are similar to other countries, but that is not always the case. The fact that most credit cards won’t cover insurance in Ireland, means unaware travelers feel strong-armed into purchasing extra insurance at the desk… Refuse the rental companies insurance and expect a hold of $2,000 to $15,000 placed on your credit card. Ouch!
Many of these problems could be cleared up if rental agencies simplified the information, made it consistent across the industry and clarified details during bookings… instead of burying it in the fine print.
A Rail Tours Campaign
The Irish budget has added discounts for senior travelers using the rail system. For this to catch on, a well-produced rail tours brochure that is available in both print and as a download will go a long, long way (and, please, don’t just give us links to commercial rail tour operators, that doesn’t count). Visitors will savor a collection of very specific 7 and 10 day itineraries that include sites, accommodations, meal options and details like handicap accessibility. If Ireland really wanted to crank up their game, they’d offer the rail discounts to all travelers, and promote a change in how people experience Ireland.
Give Us More Mobil Content
Travelers are hungry for up-to-date Irish travel content for their phones and portable devices. A steady stream of digital guidebooks, maps and phone apps centered on improving a visit to Ireland will be a welcome addition to the travel sector. Bring…It…On!
I could probably come up with 100 more items for my wish list, but I’ll stop at four.