Skift Take

Google is a key pillar in destination marketing. So it's interesting that Ireland tapped one of the tech giant's execs to be the new leader of its tourism strategy.

Most tourism board CEOs come from the hotel or tourism industry. But Tourism Ireland’s new chief executive, Alice Mansergh, came from Google’s marketing side. 

Mansergh took over in September, and was previously managing director for Google Customer Solutions for the UK and Ireland. She replaced Niall Gibbons, who had been CEO of Tourism Ireland for 14 years.

During her 19 years at Google, Mansergh witnessed the evolution of tech company’s marketing practices. A lot of her time was spent at Google’s Dublin office, the company’s headquarters for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Now, Mansergh is trying to help Ireland grow its overseas visitor revenue by 5.6% per year. She spoke with Skift about why Tourism Ireland won’t be asking countries to light their monuments green for St. Patrick’s Day, what’s making Northern Ireland so attractive now, and how privacy laws have shaped marketing relationships. We edited this interview for length and clarity.

Skift: A lot of destination marketing top bosses come from the hotel or tourism industry, but you came from Google. How did that happen?

Mansergh: A lot of people think, well, are those not two completely separate worlds? But there’s actually a lot more overlap than you might think in the sense that, today, 80% of people will research what they’re going to see online before they book a trip.

During my time in Google, I marketed Google’s own consumer products, things like Google Chrome, Maps, Gmail, et cetera, around Europe. I worked with a lot of travel businesses who were figuring out how to reach consumers at the right time when they’re thinking about holidays, getting inspired, researching, figuring out what they’re going to see and do.

In 2018, a role came up on on the board of Fáilte Ireland, which is the tourism development agency that invests in tourism infrastructure, etc.

The pitch I made to them was, well, you’ve lots of people on board from cars and airports and hotels, and that deep tourism industry knowledge is really important. Now you also need someone to represent how people make the decision about where they’re actually going to go. And that happens online.

So I joined that board. When the role came up at Tourism Ireland, I threw my hat in the ring.

Skift: You worked at Google from the internet’s Wild West days through the enactment of privacy regulations and laws.

Mansergh: One of the most interesting things about the internet since inception was that principle in marketing that really you want to understand what the consumer wants or needs, and then the internet allows you to be there in real-time showing the person who wants and needs what you have to offer, what you’ve got.

Now, the world of privacy has moved on a lot. Third-party cookies are becoming a thing of the past. There’s an acknowledgement that you need to respect people’s privacy at the same time as trying to do wonderful things like personalize and show people custom information just for them. I think in the future, it will be based on consented first-party information.  

There are two options. One is that you form a relationship of your own with the consumer. So if you have a website and people sign up for emails or for information to be sent to them, right there you have a consented privacy safe relationship with that person that you can personalize for them.

The other option is that you partner with some of the players who do understand consumers, be it Meta, Google or whoever else.

Tourism Ireland Chief Executive Designate: Alice Mansergh

Skift: One of the destinations you market is Northern Ireland, which has now developed its own tourist infrastructure.

Mansergh: Northern Ireland has been emerging from the past 30, 40 years ago, when tourism wasn’t as much of an industry for them, but we’ve really moved forward now.

There are exciting new hotels and attractions opening. Take the Titanic Belfast. It’s an incredible experience that opened in the last 20 years where you can experience all the history of shipbuilding that led to the Titanic being built. And then obviously the tragic story that followed from that.

People are increasingly excited to visit places like the Giant’s Causeway, an amazing rock formation. There are many new hotels and places to stay, along with the incredible Causeway Coastline, which then leads you on to the Wild Atlantic Way.

Skift: What are some marketing campaigns you have in the works?

Mansergh: “Home of Halloween” is a focus. Halloween is one of the most popular festivals here in the U.S. and not everybody knows it actually started on the island of Ireland 2,000 years ago in Celtic culture. And so who wouldn’t want to experience Halloween in its home.

Our overarching campaign throughout the year is called “Fill your Heart with Ireland” and it really plays to hearing stories from people. We featured the Derry Girls and Sharon Horgan, who are real personalities from the island of Ireland. They share what it is about the island that fills their hearts.

On that topic, we know from consumers the things that typically make the most excited about coming to the island are scenery, heritage, and people.

Skift: I understand you won’t be doing your annual Global Green Initiative for St.Patrick’s Day this year.

Mansergh: That was an initiative that started back in 2010 where monuments around the world lit up green for St.Patrick’s Day to mark the moment.

We took a pause on asking people to light up, because at one point, we were asking 600 sites around the world to light up, some of which wouldn’t normally have lit up, and at the time of the energy crisis in Europe and the Ukrainian war, it felt like, okay, it’s respectful to let people decide for themselves whether they want to light up or not.

But we’re delighted that people choose to light up. We expect there will be iconic buildings right around the world that are lighting up green because every great campaign lives on itself and becomes a habit. I think for most countries, it’s become a habit that people want to mark the day and light up green and be proud of connections to Ireland and Irishness.


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: destination marketing, google, ireland, northern ireland, tourism, tourism marketing

Up Next

Loading next stories