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As Olympic athletes arrive, the Irish tourist board is hoping to lure weary Londoners away from a fortnight of potential transport gridlock at the Games.
Its new video advert, featuring Irish TV and film actor Chris O’Dowd, shows one Londoner reaching his city workplace in the same time that it takes another to travel to idyllic rural Ireland.
Ireland’s proximity to Britain has made it a possible beneficiary of the London Olympics as it tries to boost tourism numbers which have stagnated so far this year.
However, a crippling economic downturn and its ailing sports facilities meant Ireland missed a trick in attracting high-profile training camps before the July 27-August 12 Games.
The debt-laden country has been forced to think creatively over how it can piggyback on the Olympics within the confines of its budget.
Alongside its half-a million euro advertising campaign targeting jaded Londoners, Tourism Ireland is focused on attracting anyone in Britain who wants to get away from Olympic fever.
“If they want to escape somewhere…we’ll gladly take them over here, that’s the angle,” said Mark Henry, director of marketing at Tourism Ireland.
The Olympics campaign is part of a wider drive by Ireland to revive interest from a UK tourism market which has waned in recent years as recession-hit Britons opt to stay at home.
“The British travelling public continues to shrink so it’s difficult to grow the business environment. The general economics is depressing peoples’ intent to travel and the willingness to spend money and that is our barrier to growing the business this year,” said Henry.
Most of the economic benefit overflowing from the London Olympics to Irish shores has come from companies who were involved in the construction of the Games sites, such as building firm John Sisk and Son.
The gain is estimated at 300 million euros ($367.83 million).
This is small change in comparison to Britain’s targeted 13 billion pounds in Olympic economic benefit over four years at a roughly 9 billion pound cost. But economists say this will be hard to achieve.
A government-backed report in 2008 estimated that Ireland could benefit to the tune of 58 million euros in additional tourism spend from the London Olympics.
Authorities said it was too early to assess whether they were on track to achieve this figure.
One of the more practical measures introduced last year was a temporary visa waiver for the Olympics, recently extended to four years, which is helping to lift Ireland’s long-term appeal.
This allows people from countries such as India, China and Russia, who have obtained a UK visa, to travel to Ireland without getting another visa.
“We doubled our number of Chinese tourists, it still constitutes a very small percentage of the people compared to Britons or Americans…it’s about growing the business beyond 2012,” said Henry.
Some hoteliers have started tweaking their menus in anticipation of a surge in Asian tourists, with the addition of miso soup to some breakfast buffets. Nine Chinese tour operators have incorporated Belfast and Dublin into their UK tour itineraries so far on the back of the visa waiver, Henry said.
However, few Olympics-related bookings have been reported by hotels, said the head of the Irish Hoteliers Association.
“It seems to be that people visiting the Olympics are on a sports agenda, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a bounce back into Ireland,” added Michael Vaughan.