Sports Tourism: Marketing Ireland's Best Kept Secret - the Gaelic Athletic Association

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Destination marketing has assumed heightened importance in the tourism industry as destinations are confronted with increasing competition from new and emerging countries. Kolter et al. (1993) employ the term 'place wars' to describe the cut-throat nature of modern tourism. Consumer profiles and preferences are constantly changing and this has implications for Irish tourism. In terms of development, the tourism industries in both the North and South of Ireland have reached a crossroads and to remain competitive they must diversify their product.

This paper examines the opportunities that exist for the island of Ireland in one of the world's fastest growing niche markets: sports tourism. The first section provides an update on Ireland's tourism performance and establishes the need for diversification and niche marketing. The second section analyses the sport tourism market from an Irish perspective and stresses the importance of promoting local sport as part of both the sports tourism portfolio in its own right and its contribution to the cultural tourism product.

The paper then deals specifically with the tourism potential of Gaelic Games and how they could be developed into an attractive and marketable tourism product. In order to establish whether there is a latent demand for Gaelic Games a survey was carried out on a sample of overseas visitors and the results are discussed in the paper. Given the positive response to the questionnaire the final section of this paper focuses on strategies that could be adopted by the GAA, Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to manipulate the cornerstone of marketing - the 4-P's - to develop, package, and promote Gaelic Games as a sports tourism product.

Key Words: Sports Tourism; Culture; Diversification; Product Development and Marketing.

INTRODUCTION

In January 2002 Tourism Ireland, the new organisation responsible for marketing the island of Ireland overseas as a holiday destination, became fully operational. The company's primary role is to identify, anticipate and stimulate consumer demand for holidaying on the island of Ireland (Tourism Ireland, 2005). As a cross border initiative under the Good Friday Agreement (1998), the two national tourism organisations - the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) and Fáilte Ireland - work closely with Tourism Ireland, although it is important to note that both have retained their independence when it comes to product development and marketing domestic tourism in their respective countries.

The performance of Tourism Ireland can be gauged on the most recent tourism figures which show 2003 to be a record year with Ireland attracting 7.4 million overseas visitors. Tourism Ireland aims to increase this figure to nine million by 2008 (Tourism Ireland, 2005). This is an ambitious target given the recent trends in the international tourism market.

This paper examines the opportunities that exist for the island of Ireland in one of the world's fastest growing niche markets: sports tourism. A survey was carried out on a sample of overseas visitors to determine their awareness of the GAA. Given the positive response to the questionnaire the final section focuses on strategies that could be adopted by the GAA, Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to develop Gaelic Games into an attractive and marketable tourism product.

Irish Tourism in Transition

Given its turbulent past it is not surprising that tourism in Northern Ireland is now in a transition phase. After three decades of civil war, the industry has the opportunity to reap the rewards of peace. 'But peace alone will not guarantee tourism growth' (Devine & Devine, 2004: 174). The 'Troubles' resulted in a small tourism base in terms of receipts and visitors and unsuitable tourist development because of a poor economic and social image and a lack of suitable infrastructure (Wilson et al. …