A repeat of the large growth in visitor numbers from Australia over the past five years is "entirely doable" if more hotel accommodation is made available, Tourism Ireland chief Niall Gibbons has said.
Speaking at an event in Sydney promoting tourism to Ireland, Mr Gibbons said that the 5,000 shortfall in hotel rooms was one reason why the State agency was looking to grow tourism numbers from Down Under and farther afield as Australians tend to travel outside the busy Irish summer season and stay longer.
Mr Gibbons said that their average stay, at 13 days, is longer than visitors from the UK and their average spend, at more than €1,000, is higher. Almost 200,000 Australians visited Ireland over the past five years, up 40 per cent.
“We know that we need 5,000 hotel rooms now. Unfortunately, we won’t have them until 2020, and that’s one of the reasons why we are looking at markets where we can grow seasonal business,” he said.
Australian visitors were "very good regional travellers", he said, venturing beyond Dublin. They rank No 6 in the visitors to the Titanic Quarter in Belfast and No 8 at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.
Mr Gibbons made his remarks following a speech by President Michael D Higgins to representatives from Australian tourism, the airline industry and travel media at a lunch in the Royal Botanic Gardens near Sydney Opera House.
Mr Higgins, who is on a State visit to Australia, told the audience there were “immense opportunities” to attract more tourists from the country.
In a jocular address on a rainy afternoon, the President remarked that the Australians had mistimed their wet weather. He recalled a Clifden hotelier describing Irish rain as "artificial – we just use it to keep the place green".
He complimented Australians on their “civilised approach to life balance”, which they bring with them when they travel, sending longer periods in Ireland than other tourists. He boasted of the many activities that “healthy Australians” would find in Ireland, including hiking in the Dublin Mountains and cycling on the Wild Atlantic Way.
“The image people in Ireland of a certain age have of Australians on television is that when they are not rescuing people from the seas they are arguing about splitting up their marriages,” he said of Australia’s TV soap operas.
On the Irish love of sport, he said that visitors would "find people willing to tell you about why we have been robbed regularly" but added that the country did not intend to be robbed of hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
“Our bid is very much better than the French bid,” he said.
Mr Higgins urged that “great care” be taken with the quality of the 282,000 jobs in the Irish hospitality industry and warned that “efficiency should never defeat hospitality”.
“You could end up with jobs in the tourism sector that are efficiently slapping the product in front of your face and you wouldn’t, in fact, last long,” he said.
It was now easier to get to Ireland from Australia, the President told the audience, which included representatives from three airlines, Etihad, Emirates and Qatar, which fly from Australia to Ireland with a stop in the Middle East.
Cathay Pacific will start a Dublin-Hong Kong flight next year, creating another one-stop route to Ireland for Australians. The airline is planning four flights a week from June, carrying up to 280 people per flight.
“Hong Kong is such an amazing stopover,” said Shannon Davis, marketing and communications manager for Cathay Pacific in Australia. “It is a good option for Australians travelling to Ireland. It is two holidays in one go.”
Earlier on Friday, the President's wife, Sabina Higgins, visited Croydon Public School in Sydney, where the wife of Mr Higgins's nephew Kevin works and where his children attend. Mrs Higgins read the children The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde on her visit.