by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Ovation Global DMC
Technology, the internet and digital platforms have systematically altered the business tourism landscape as dramatically as the recent emergence of luxury destinations like Dubai and Abu Dhabi in locations where 30 years ago there were only sand dunes. These radical changes were brought home to me very tangibly a couple of weeks ago when TBEX, the annual convention for travel bloggers, came to Dublin.
For weeks before and, presumably, for weeks still to come there has been and will continue to be lots of activity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter featuring #Ireland, #Dublin, #WAWwest, #TBEX. We’re also seeing a plethora of blog posts covering a wide range of niche interests from genealogy to gastronomy, from backpacking to luxury. The over-riding sentiment expressed over tens of thousands of on-line impressions is overwhelmingly positive, justifying entirely the Irish government’s not insubstantial investment, through Failte Ireland, in securing the event for Ireland in the first place.
The savvy marketers at Failte Ireland have been reading the signs of the times and clearly understand the power of digital in all its expressions. They’ve reached out impressively to this undeniably maverick bunch and offered a taste of Ireland to them that most have found irresistible. Positive experiences lead inexorably to the creation of positive content and the internet facilitates the easy delivery of this all over the world.
But what are the bloggers saying about Ireland?
What do they like?
Are they seeing Ireland differently to the way we see it ourselves?
What are they surprised about?
Here are 5 things which drew most frequent comment:
1. The Food
Ireland has been quietly re-positioning itself as a foodie nation over the past few years and this was very apparent to the blogging community who extolled, praised and lauded it from Ballycastle to Ballydehob. When you visit France or Italy you expect your food experience to be a highlight but most people don’t come to Ireland in search of awesome culinary traditions. However, judging by the avalanche of positive statements on Twitter about the quality of the food in Ireland we can expect a change in the future.
Food was showcased beautifully at the Opening Event in the Guinness Storehouse with Padraig Og Gallagher in attendance from Boxty House along with the Sheridan’s from the eponymous artisan cheesemongers. Equally the DoubleTree (formerly The Burlington) did a great job with great sweets and treats during the morning and afternoon breaks.
It’s interesting to note that the Web Summit which attracts 10,000 technies to Dublin next week is staging the inaugural Food Summit in collaboration with Good Food Ireland. Over 60 artisan food suppliers will try to convince the technie nerds of this world that there’s more to food than pizza.
2. The Drink
Whether we like it or not (see previous blogpost on Arthur’s Day), a key part of Ireland’s reputation amongst the peoples of the planet is derived from the inextricable association with whiskey and beer. Ironically neither Jameson nor Guinness, our iconic global brands, is owned by an Irish company – Pernod Ricard is the parent company of Jameson and Guinness is owned by Diageo. Needless to say the bloggers arrived with the expectation that drink would feature in their programme and we didn’t disappoint them. VIP and speakers at TBEX visited the Old Jameson Distillery prior to the opening party which took place … at the Guinness Storehouse.
This party, it should be stated, was an exceptional event showcasing Ireland as a destination comfortable in its own skin, proud of its traditions but with a clear eye to progress. We were treated to a variety of impactful sensory experiences involving magnificent food, the ubiquitous Guinness, breathtaking entertainment and interactive opportunities such as pint pulling, cheese tasting etc
3. The People
The friendliness of the Irish people was a leit motiv throughout so many of the blogs, tweets and Facebook postings generated before, during and after TBEX. This is the one thing that Irish people probably take for granted but it’s probably what leaves the most lasting memories for visitors. Bloggers, in my experience, are sensitive souls who embrace a nomadic lifestyle as a calling or vocation. Their choice is certainly not motivated by financial gain and, unless you’re a rock star blogger – there are a small few – blogging per se doesn’t provide anything other than a subsistence return. This laudable lack of materialism allows many bloggers to connect with people and places at deeper levels. They get beyond the surface and see into the mystery of things (I think Wordsworth mentions this in “Tintern Abbey”). They’re intrigued, therefore, by the natural curiosity of Irish people and by the fact that, ultimately, there’s a core of decency in most of us here. This friendly, open, reaching-out attitude of Irish people in general is one of the most mentioned characteristics in TBEX postings.
4. The Landscape
I found one blog in which the writer proclaimed herself to be underwhelmed by the landscape in Ireland stating that Ireland looked pretty much like Nova Scotia. Everyone else, and particularly those who took the post event trips along the Wild Atlantic Way said the exact opposite. They were inspired by Inishmore, captivated by Connemara, beguiled by Buncrana, delighted by Dingle …
On Instagram it’s even more striking as the full visual impact and magnificence of the scenery is captured by skilled, sensitive photographers.
5. Dublin bus drivers and taxi drivers are the best in the world
I saw this for the first time during the International Bar Association Annual Conference in 2012. Twitter was lighting up with good karma for Dublin taxi drivers and most of us resident here wondered what these international corporate lawyers were smoking. There were all sorts of really positive stories, the kind that Ritz Carlton would be proud of – great service experiences where our taxi men were routinely going above and beyond the call of duty.
Well. it’s happened again with both public service vehicle drivers coming in for praise. No less than Johnny Jet, one of the true Rock Stars of the Bloggers universe tweeted the following:
I’m pretty sure #Dublin has the nicest bus drivers in the world. Unbelievably friendly and helpful
Padraic Gilligan works for MCI and blogs from airplanes at 35000 feet when he can contemplate the true meaning of the place he’s just been to and then try to craft a post around it. He attended TBEX for the first time and for him the highlights were (a) Corey Conely’s opening address and (b) the interview with legendary photographer John Minihan