In September 2012, Tourism Ireland began a year-long campaign to increase visits called The Gathering. The objective of the campaign is simple: to attract more tourists to Ireland – particularly from North America. The strategy is clear: to appeal to potential visitors who have some family connection to Ireland, no matter how remote. The results: they won't really be known until 2014, but the campaign has certainly had the effect of polarizing public opinion.
- Gabriel Byrne famously called the campaign a "scam" and an effort to "shake [people] down".
- Some Irish tour operators have recently reported that fewer than 1% of this year's visitors have even heard of the campaign.
- Other small-scale tourism operators feel The Gathering has contributed to an upswing in business over the last several months.
It's hard to say whether this campaign was promoted effectively or not, but for us, at its core, it's a great example of destination marketing.
Tourism Ireland has tapped into the desire of so many Irish emigrants and descendants to reconnect with their roots on their ancestral turf. Marketing 2013 as the year to make it happen is clearly a promotional tactic, but it's promoting something that's authentic and meaningful to millions of potential visitors. Yes, there's money involved, but it's far from a scam. Hundreds of thousands of visitors will get real emotional value out of their trip.
We're eagerly awaiting the release of hard data and analysis of what went wrong or right. But as an unofficial metric, 4,260 registered Gathering events and counting certainly isn't bad (part of the campaign included allowing anyone to create and register their own Gathering event based on familial relationships, common interests or any other social glue). That level of participation indicates that the campaign has resonated, not just abroad but inside Ireland as well. And when a city, state or country gets its residents to support its external marketing efforts?
That's the holy grail of destination marketing.