Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar arrived in Toronto today for a business lunch event to discuss the growing tourism links between Ireland and Canada, and seek input from the travel industry about a range of pressing issues.
Addressing the assembled audience, Varadkar paid tribute to the work of the Canadian travel industry in marketing Ireland as a tourist destination, while also expressing his government’s aim to ‘double Ireland’s global footprint by 2025.’
Varadkar was joined at Toronto’s Park Hyatt Hotel by a host of prominent figures including Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, Jim Kelly, Canadian Ambassador Kevin Vickers and Niall Gibbons, CEO, Tourism Ireland.
Varadkar is no stranger to the travel industry, having previously served as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in the Irish government between 2011 and 2014. “I have visited Canada many times,” he told the assembled audience, “but this is my first time as Taoiseach.”
The prime minister hailed the ever-strengthening tourism links between Canada and Ireland since then, noting that he was astounded by the progress made – a testament, he said, to the sterling work of Tourism Ireland and those who work to promote Ireland as a tourist destination to Canadians.
Taoiseach na hÉireann Leo Varadkar in conversation with Alison Metcalfe, executive vice president – USA & Canada, Tourism Ireland and Niall Gibbons, CEO, Tourism Ireland.
Expanding Ireland’s footprint
Varadkar also expressed his government’s aim to expand Ireland’s global presence – an ambition that he said was a response to an ever-shrinking world as a result of globalization.
The plan would seek to double Ireland’s global footprint by 2025, with the end goal of encouraging stronger international investment in Ireland, increasing tourism and trade, and strengthening cultural links between Ireland and the rest of the world.
Brexit fears addressed
Varadkar assured the audience that despite growing political uncertainty about freedom of movement on the island as a result of ongoing Brexit negotiations, the Irish government remained fully committed to an arrangement that would cause as little difficulty for North-South travel as possible. “One thing that certainly won’t change,” he commented, “is free movement of people and individuals, North and South.”
Both Dublin and Belfast, he stressed, agreed on the importance of continued free movement across the island, whatever doubts remain about the future status of the border as an E.U. checkpoint.
Aside from the obvious political challenges caused by Brexit, the event gave members of the travel industry the opportunity to address other issues in their efforts to market Ireland as a tourist destination to Canadians.
Alison Metcalfe, executive vice president – USA & Canada, Tourism Ireland, said that the organization had made great strides in convincing Canadian travellers that Ireland was an appealing place to visit during the winter, and addressed worries about a shortage in hotel rooms in the country by noting that 1,500 rooms are opening in Belfast next year.
Metcalfe also highlighted the importance of direct air access between Canada and Ireland, with other guests agreeing that connecting flights through Toronto and Montreal to Ireland had increased travel to the country from other markets such as Western Canada – with many expressing a wish to see heightened access to the likes of Belfast and Shannon, in addition to Dublin.
Vickers: relationship is blossoming
Kevin Vickers, Canadian ambassor to Ireland, told PAX that the relationship between Canada and Ireland was growing stronger by the year – exemplified by burgeoning trade links between the countries, increasing investment by Canadian companies in Ireland, and the strong growth in tourism to Ireland over the past decade.
“Since 2012, every year, there’s been a 20 per cent growth in Canadians travelling to Ireland,” he commented, “[and] for the first time last year, there were over 200,000 Canadians that visited Ireland.” Indeed, the record year for Canadian travel to Ireland in 2016 moved the Canadian market into the list of the top 10 markets for Irish tourism.
Vickers pointed to the recent trip of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Dublin in July, in addition to the growing numbers of young Irish people securing work visas in Canada, as further evidence of the strong links between the two countries.
Varadkar’s three-day visit to Canada concludes today, as he flies back to Dublin this evening.
Further information about Tourism Ireland in Canada is available here.