3rd November 2003
by Matthew Clark
The Irish tourism industry must have a focused Internet strategy if it is to succeed in the long term, an industry leader had said.
According to Dr. Stewart Stephens, the managing director of Gulliver Ireland, a Kerry-based provider of tourism information and reservation services, the Irish tourism industry must embrace the Internet and must develop a clear digital strategy if it is to be internationally competitive. Dr. Stephens made the comments in the company's latest results, which showed a clear rise in on-line bookings.
Though the most recent figures show a 6 percent lift in visitors to Ireland from abroad during the second quarter, the Iraq war, the aftermath of 11 September and the global downturn have put a damper on the sector. The most recent figures also show that visitors tend to spend less in Ireland and stay for shorter periods, with many industry observers blaming this on the growing cost of a holiday in Ireland.
But the Gulliver Ireland MD argued that the Irish tourism industry can recover if it delivers a more "cost-effective, efficient and user-friendly tourism product." The Internet can help deliver this product, he said. "If it fails to do so, we will miss the opportunity of competing internationally and benefits from creating critical competitive advantage," he said.
The comments come at a time when the on-line channel is becoming an ever-stronger tool for companies in the travel and tourism sector. Ryanair, which on Monday reported a 16 percent year-on-year rise in adjusted profit after tax to EUR175.5 million and 28 percent rise in revenues to EUR596.4 million, now records well over 90 percent of its bookings from Ryanair.com. Aer Lingus, meanwhile, now takes about 35 percent of its booking over the Net and expects this figure to double by the end of 2004. Aer Lingus CEO Willie Walsh has said that the Internet has been a major factor in the company's turnaround.
For its part, Fexco-controlled Gulliver Ireland showed good growth in the nine months to 30 September with 95,000 bookings valued at EUR18.3 million, a 7 percent rise on last year. The company also said that on-line bookings in the first nine months of 2003 were worth EUR6.7 million, 60 percent higher than last year.
About 32 percent of Gulliver Ireland's total bookings in 2003 were on-line, compared with 20 percent in 2002 and 9 percent in 2001. The firm claimed that there have been more than 1.45 million accommodation searches on the Gulliver on-line booking system so far this year, with many of these leading to direct bookings. "So on-line booking volumes greatly underestimate the influence of the Web on booking patterns," the firm claimed.
In other parts of its results statement, Gulliver said its GoIreland.com portal visitor numbers have increased by over 70 percent and bookings by over 200 percent over last year. The site is expected to receive over 4.5 million visitors in 2003.
Gulliver operates a database of all approved accommodation providers on the island of Ireland and the system processes bookings for 9,000 member properties on the Internet, tourist offices and the international call centre. It functions as Ireland's national tourism information database and the firm also runs the Failte Ireland Web site and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board Web site.