As we head into 2014, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight a few trends… maybe even make a prediction or two about what the new year holds for those planning a trip to Ireland.
The Rise of the Wild West: Failté Ireland has spent the last year polishing up the west coast with a collection of road signs and amenities for its launch of the longest defined coastal driving route IN THE WORLD. They’re calling it the Wild Atlantic Way, and the route highlights the best Ireland has to offer from the top of Donegal to the bottom of Cork. The real advantage of this project will emerge from the regional collaborations that spring up from the initiative and offer visitors more options.
The Revival of Shannon Airport: After breaking away from the Dublin Airport Authority last year, Shannon Airport is now poised to negotiate its own contracts with air carriers. The effort, combined with the government’s scrapping of one of its travel taxes, has already boosted the number of flights into Shannon. 2014 will set the tone for the future of the west coast airport, so we should watch closely. The timing is promising… along with the Wild Atlantic Way, Limerick – only twenty minutes by land from Shannon – has been named Ireland’s first City of Culture and is offering a full lineup of world-class events throughout the year.
The Redefining Accommodation: A few years ago, all the talk was about budget B&Bs, cutback service, and dreadful “zombie hotels.” However, with tourism on the rise and a new generation of hosts emerging, change is upon us, and it’s giving tourists more options. Upper-end B&Bs and even hostels will set themselves apart by offering boutique services like design-inspired rooms; upgraded breakfasts; and fresh, local fare. Meanwhile, homestays and house rentals will broaden the options for visitors. However, expect some growing pains as customer confusion emerges from upmarket B&Bs “borrowing” descriptions from luxury hotels, homestays “liberating” lingo once reserved for B&Bs, and online booking engines making accommodation types appear to be similar… even when they’re not.
Loads of Blog-Love: In October, Ireland went out on a limb and hosted a large bloggers’ conference. A week of treating online content creators as rock stars resulted in a social media blitz that had tourism chiefs smiling. But now the dust has settled, and the real benefits will be revealed in 2014 when blog posts inspired by that week in October will appear on the front page of search results, and people influenced by bloggers start making travel decisions. It’s going to be hard to quantify the impact, but it will have a lasting effect on what people see as they plan their trip online.
The Redundant App: After a few years of hearing “mobile is the future,” many Irish destinations are responding with their own smartphone apps. Unfortunately, there’s a rash of “so-called apps” being launched that deliver content that would be better served via a mobile-ready website. Weak apps will proliferate through the year and will eventually die on the vine — probably when their design is no longer supported by updates to smartphone operating systems. Meanwhile, a few sites will put the focus on mobile web design over apps that require a download, and they will serve as examples for the industry.
A Warm Reception for Roots-Seekers: The Gathering enlightened a lot of people working in Irish tourism by introducing them to the “real” Irish diaspora. Suddenly, community-based events that embraced heritage, history, and families were seen as sought-after tourist offerings, and visitors seeking their roots were welcomed as part of the family rather than strange specimen from the Plastic Paddy jar. Lessons learned from The Gathering will have a particularly valuable impact on rural tourism and centres offering genealogical research resources.
Sorry, I wish I could predict cheaper flights with wider seats and more legroom, but that’s not in the cards for 2014. However, Aer Lingus did announce an overhaul of its food menu — that “might” offer a bright spot.
Use the comments section to mention the trends you think are on the horizon.