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Ireland's presence at Expo 2020 Dubai has had an incredible response, says tourism minister – wknd.

Thursday, Mar 03, 2022 | Sha'ban 01, 1443
Published: Sat 26 Feb 2022, 11:14 AM
Catherine Martin, Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media is leading Tourism Ireland’s sales mission to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This is Tourism Ireland’s biggest ever sales mission to the Middle East, with a record 17 tourism businesses from the country taking part.
She also launched St Patrick’s Festival at Expo 2020 Dubai on February 15. St. Patrick’s Day (SPD) is a global celebration of Irish culture that takes place on March 17.
Martin spoke exclusively with Khaleej Times.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
St. Patrick’s Day is Ireland’s National Day and is celebrated all around the world; by our citizens, our 80 million strong diaspora and friends of Ireland. Our celebrations in Ireland take many forms, from local parades and céilís, to the major St. Patrick’s Festival that will bring Dublin to life between March 16 and 20. It’s an opportunity for us to come together as a national and global community and celebrate our Irishness and the very best of Irish culture, heritage and kinship. Ireland is reopening after a very difficult period and SPD provides a perfect opportunity to rebuild connections. Of course, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were not able to travel and celebrate as we would have liked last year, so 2022 will provide a fantastic opportunity to showcase Ireland as a great place to live, visit, work, study, and invest, through the Global Ireland programme.
Ireland’s culture of creativity and innovation will be brought to life on March 17, through culture, sport, screen, business and community events along with the iconic ‘Greening’ of Expo 202 Dubai landmarks with Tourism Ireland. Iconic landmarks across Expo 2020 Dubai, such as Al Wasl Plaza, Expo Sports Arena and, of course, the Ireland Pavilion will light up in green in honour. Global Greening is an international phenomenon, which takes place every SPD and has seen the world’s most iconic buildings, landmarks and natural wonders such as the Sydney Opera House, Niagara Falls and the Leaning Tower of Pisa lit up in green.
The Expo will host a programme of National Day events for Ireland, including a ceremony at Al Wasl Plaza, the jewel of the showpiece event. The Ireland pavilion will partner with the Irish Business Network (IBN) Dubai to host their annual flagship SPD breakfast event at Expo. The IBN is a vibrant and active business organisation supporting Irish businesses and professionals living in Dubai who are Irish or have an affiliation with Ireland. This event will provide a strong business element to Ireland’s SPD programme at Expo.
A gala performance led by world-renowned instrumentalist, Martin Hayes, will reflect the breadth and vibrancy of modern Irish music and feature some of Ireland’s finest musicians. Ireland will have an exciting opportunity to stage a musical performance in the special Al Wasl Plaza, inclusive of an immersive, bespoke audio-visual show. The musical heart of Ireland’s presence at Expo, and indeed the St. Patrick’s Festival at Expo, will be our Expo Players, who animate the Pavilion courtyard each day performing Irish music and tracks from the Irish Songbook. The Expo players are drawn from a deep well of Irish musical talent and introduce audiences to Irish music, its history, instruments and stories.
The Irish Songbook is a special project for Expo focused on iconic Irish songs and St. Patrick’s Festival will see the launch of The Great Irish Songbook The Album.
We are also partnering with Screen Ireland, Galway Film Fleadh and Cartoon Saloon to stage a full animation festival at Expo, running from March 15 to 17. Irish animation is a huge success around the world and showcases the best of Ireland’s creativity and innovation. Cartoon Saloon have created a special edit from some of their major, Oscar nominated, films (including Wolfwalkers, Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea) which will be shown in the iconic 360 degree Al Wasl Plaza.
No SPD celebration would be complete without a parade and the Expo St. Patricks’ Parade will be led by Irish Defence Force pipers and our incredible Irish community. The Ireland pavilion will also partner with the IBN Dubai to host their annual flagship SPD breakfast event at the Expo. The IBN is a vibrant and active business organisation supporting Irish businesses and professionals living in Dubai who are Irish or have an affiliation with Ireland. This major event will provide a strong business element to Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Festival at Expo.
The Irish Pavilion will partner with Sport Ireland to deliver a sporting element to St. Patrick’s Festival at the Expo that will excite and energise the Irish and wider Expo community, placing an emphasis on health and wellbeing. The local Irish sporting community (GAA and soccer) will come together for a special family-fun day and blitz, with Irish sporting heroes as guests of honour. This will extend to family members of all ages as prominent Irish sport and fitness personality Maeve Madden will lead an outdoor, free fitness class that will be certain to draw crowds.
I am sure you will agree it is a jam-packed programme of events! All friends of Ireland and Irish citizens in the UAE are invited to join us.
Irish and Emirati cultures share many aspects — we value family, prioritise shared experiences, produce inspiring music and have a strong sense of national pride. In Ireland, we are known for being a land of céad míle fáilte, or ‘one hundred, thousand welcomes’ and this is certainly mirrored in the UAE, where you are famous for your hospitality and warmth, especially to visitors. These similarities were reflected in the mesmerising Riverdance at Expo residency in November, which seamlessly incorporated elements of middle-eastern culture and music.
Tourism Ireland promotes the island of Ireland through an extensive, multi-channel marketing programme, which includes advertising, digital and social media activity, publicity, email marketing, as well as trade and consumer promotions and co-operative activity with key airline and travel trade partners.
Tourism Ireland’s sales mission to the Middle East this week is its biggest ever. We have a record 17 tourism companies who have travelled here from Ireland this week. They are taking part in workshops and networking events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to meet and conclude deals with over 200 tour operators and travel agents. A third workshop involved the partners from Ireland meeting luxury travel buyers from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Tourism Ireland’s 2022 Green Button advertising campaign will go live here in the UAE in February and will run until the end of April on multiple channels, including digital, radio and outdoor. It will reach around two million potential holidaymakers. The campaign delivers a very clear ‘book now’ message and aims to single-mindedly drive visitor numbers and intention to book a trip to the island of Ireland this year.
At Expo 2020 Dubai, Tourism Ireland has a Green Button installation in the main thoroughfare of the Ireland pavilion. A series of videos promoting the island of Ireland is running on the giant installation. Visitors can ‘press the Green Button’ and find out about the wide variety of superb experiences and attractions on offer, encouraging them to book their next holiday to the island of Ireland.
Tourism Ireland is also promoting our world-class golf. Key events include the Irish Open at Mount Juliet this summer, The Open returning to Royal Portrush in 2025 and the Ryder Cup at Adare Manor in 2027. In January, Tourism Ireland had a stand at the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi and at the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.
Tourism Ireland also has an extensive publicity programme, targeting print, broadcast and online media and influencers in the UAE, with positive stories about Ireland. There are lots of great things happening in Ireland this year and Tourism Ireland is sharing all those positive stories with the media – including the centenary of the publication of novelist James Joyce’s Ulysses, the designation of Belfast as a UNESCO City of Music, the recent opening of the new Game of Thrones Studio Tour in Northern Ireland, and much more.
Tourism Ireland will also partner with key travel trade partners. For example, a campaign with WeGo — the biggest online travel agent in the Middle East — will kick off on digital channels in March, to coincide with SPD. It will run until June, including around Ramadan, which starts on April 2.
Ramadan is an important period for online research and booking for the Eid-al-Fitr break that follows Ramadan.
Social media is another important platform for Tourism Ireland to tell prospective visitors about the many great reasons to choose Ireland; Tourism Ireland has 127,000 Facebook fans in the Middle East, around 20,500 Twitter followers and almost 3,000 followers on Instagram.
All this activity is enhanced with support in the region from ‘Team Ireland’ — the Irish Embassy, Bord Bia, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Invest NI — leveraging Tourism Ireland’s marketing activities in the GCC through partnerships, communication, attendance and knowledge-sharing.
Tourism Ireland’s 2022 Green Button advertising campaign will go live in the UAE in February and will run until the end of April on multiple channels, including digital, radio and outdoor. It will reach around two million potential holidaymakers. The campaign delivers a very clear ‘book now’ message and aims to single-mindedly drive visitor numbers and intention to book a trip to the island of Ireland this year.
At Expo 2020 Dubai, Tourism Ireland has a Green Button installation in the main thoroughfare of the Ireland pavilion. A series of videos promoting the island of Ireland is running on the giant installation. Visitors can ‘press the Green Button’ and find out about the wide variety of superb experiences and attractions on offer, encouraging them to book their next holiday to the island of Ireland.
Ireland, like the rest of the world, bore the brunt owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. What measures did you take to keep the momentum going as far as tourism was concerned?
Tourism Ireland’s never stopped keeping the lights on for Ireland promoting the best of Ireland through the media, consumer and trade digital channels. Our objective was to keep Ireland front of mind and our ambition was to inspire people around the world to ‘fill their hearts’ with the island of Ireland.
This initiative, using the hashtag #FillYourHeartWithIreland, involved sharing inspirational content that spoke to the world during a difficult time and connected people with the island of Ireland. It included Tourism Ireland’s short, behind-the-scenes film created during filming for the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s popular novel Normal People. It covered a range of themes to bring the best of Ireland onto people’s screens and make them smile — from enjoying a trad music session to learning how to Irish dance, taking a virtual tour of our towns and villages, listening to the words of our Nobel Laureate poets and playwrights or even enjoying a fun TikTok video from Ireland.
In addition to many horizontal/economies wide supports, the Irish Government also introduced several tourism specific supports and initiatives, designed to support strategic tourism businesses survive through the pandemic and to help drive the recovery of the sector. These included several Business Continuity Schemes designed to help tourism businesses such as Accommodation Providers, Transport Operators, Tourism Agents, Tourism Attractions and Tourism Activity Operators, to offset their fixed costs and to continue operating.
An Outdoor Dining Enhancement Scheme, was introduced for developing outdoor dining capacity nationwide by supporting Local Authorities and hospitality businesses with upgrading and enhancing streets and public spaces and implementing weather-proofing solutions to facilitate year-round outdoor dining.
A Business Adaptation Scheme was introduced to help contribute to the costs of implementing public health measures through grant payments to make either the structural adaptations required for fixed, visitor-facing premises, or to cover the cost of Covid-19 related consumables (such as sanitiser or Personal Protective Equipment).
Our National Tourism Development Authority, Fáilte Ireland, also provided an extensive range of non-financial business support to guide businesses through operating their business during Covid-19.
The response to Ireland’s presence at Expo 2020 Dubai has been outstanding. We have had hundreds of thousands of visitors, who have responded very positively to our theme; ‘Island of inspiration: putting creativity at the centre of the human experience’. Creativity and innovation are at the heart of our offering — from our inspiring Maker’s Gallery, to our vibrant Expo players, whose live music lights up our courtyard each and every day. Our theme really harmonises with the overall Expo objective of Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. Our beautiful pavilion, designed by Irish architects, draws inspiration from ancient Irish and middle-eastern cultures. It is an oasis of calm and inspiration in the hustle and bustle of Expo and visitors have spoken highly of our warm Irish welcome from our knowledgeable Irish Pavilion Officers.
Of course, we started with a bang in November with the Riverdance at Expo residency which ran throughout the whole month of November, with 22 performances at Jubilee Park, pop-up performances and masterclasses. Our unforgettable Expo World Choir event in December also brought the Expo community together, with singers of 146 nationalities registering to take part and represent their countries. Our presence at Expo has had an incredible response, including almost 550 media pieces and fantastic engagement on social media platforms.
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