If Etihad Airways and Tourism Ireland have it their way, holidaymakers bound for Europe could be seeing green this summer.
One year after Irish national carrier Aer Lingus opened up Ireland to the UAE, the destination is yet to prove popular with Arab holidaymakers, but the mixed appeal of the country's beautiful countryside, world-class golf courses, and the famous Irish hospitality are sure to charm Arab visitors by the end of 2007.
National tourism board Tourism Ireland has stepped up its efforts to promote the destination to the travel trade in recent months ahead of the imminent launch of a direct service from Abu Dhabi to Dublin courtesy of UAE national carrier Etihad Airways.
Tourism Ireland's man in Dubai, Leo Fewtrell is convinced the country has plenty to offer Arabic visitors: "Ireland will appeal because of its universal greenery, which is a balm to the eye used to the brown of the desert," he explains.
"USP's in Ireland can simply be defined as the people, who are friendly and hospitable - similar to the Arabs themselves; the place, which is unimaginably beautiful wherever you go, and the culture, which is one of the oldest and best preserved in Europe."
Fewtrell says the shortage of direct flights from the Middle East to Dublin to date has prevented Ireland becoming a popular destination. In addition, there was little awareness about the country before Tourism Ireland introduced part-time representation in Dubai ahead of Aer Lingus' entry into the market last year.
"The same can be said of many other destinations such as Australia and New Zealand," he says.
"Prior to Emirates starting direct flights [to Australia] there was little interest in travelling to that region from here. In July, Etihad will commence direct flights four times per week and Tourism Ireland will start full-time representation in this area to ensure much more knowledge is made available to consumers and the trade."
Etihad will provide an additional 800 seats per week from the UAE to Dublin when it launches its service on July 2.
Tourism Ireland plans to invest more in advertising and awareness campaigns as well as agent training to make the destination "more visible" than before, Fewtrell adds.
Aer Lingus and Tourism Ireland have already conducted fam trips for travel agents, who were amazed at the hospitality of the people and refreshed by the non-polluted air and cool rains, but the tourism board says visitors numbers from this part of the world are still negligible.
To make matters worse, Bahrain's national carrier Gulf Air is set to scrap its thrice weekly Dublin service, along with five other long haul destinations that the company claims are losing it money.
Aer Lingus' manager GCC, Ibrahim Menhem says that the carrier's load factors are around 80 to 85%, the majority of which is made up of VFR traffic.
"[But] some new visitors are coming on holiday packages with our travel partners like Dnata Holidays," he explains.
"This summer we plan to increase our market share buy pushing our connections to other cities throughout the UK."
The combined promotional efforts of Tourism Ireland and Etihad Holidays running up to the Abu Dhabi-Ireland launch this summer are unlikely to go unnoticedby the trade or consumers.
Ireland features prominently in Etihad Holidays' new summer 2007 brochure, with four pages dedicated to the destination. Nine hotels and one golf resort are featured.
The destination was one of the main focuses of the operator's brochure launch road show, which toured the UAE in April.
Hundreds of agents were introduced to Ireland through a series of presentations and prize giveaways, a sure fire way to grab the attention of any agent, according to Etihad Holidays' general manager Nick Wood.
"Over the summer months there will be a lot of traffic to and from Dublin, with the UAE-based customers eager to sample the many delights of Ireland," he says.
"Dublin is only seven hours from Abu Dhabi and offers a wealth of short break activities both in the city and in the countryside. We also anticipate a great deal of traffic from Australia with Etihad providing the fastest link between Sydney and Dublin."
The carrier will operate a three cabin Airbus A330-200 aircraft on the route, configured to carry 200 passengers, with 10 in Diamond Zone, 26 in Pearl Zone and 164 in Coral Zone.
Although it is a long-haul destination, Etihad is offering competitive introductory rates to help spread the word and encourage holidaymakers to try Ireland out for the first time, with prices starting from as little as AED 2300 (US $626) for a three-night package.
"Ireland offers a wide range of activities and holidays to suit all budgets and tastes," Wood adds.
"The Irish are renowned for being open and welcoming to visitors and when combining that with the rich culture and natural beauty of Ireland it is sure to be a very popular Etihad destination."
Wood also notes that Ireland is "a perfect destination" for a fly-drive holiday, allowing holidaymakers to explore the country at their own pace and get out of the capital to discover some of the remoter parts of the country.
A house in the country
Accommodation in Ireland ranges from the capital's five-star big name brands like Four Seasons, Conrad and Merrion, to independently-run guesthouses scattered around the country.
The latter can comprise anything from a 12-person traditional country house to an ancient castle for up to 90 guests, explains Mary Noone, business development manager, Manor House Hotels & Irish Country Hotels, which is responsible for marketing 63 such properties dotted around the Irish countryside.
Meanwhile, the Irish Hotel Federation has produced the "Be Our Guest Guide", featuring more than 1000 hotels around Ireland.
The brochure is divided into different regions and has separate sections for spa and golf. The guide can be viewed online at
, which includes the contact details of all the hotels featured, so agents can contact them directly if a customer asks for a specific property by name.
Back in the capital, luxury boutique hotel The Morrison is positioning itself as the coolest property in town, with an extensive list of pop stars and TV personalities who have graced its trendy rooms and suites since it opened in 1999.
Its star-studded reputation aside, the hotel is situated just "40-steps" from the popular Temple Bar district (home to the city's most bustling nightlife scene), according to Gillian Nevin, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.
"We're not yet getting any visitors from the Middle East, but the market is extremely interesting and we hope it will start this year when Etihad launches its flights," Nevin says.
"Why go to London when you can go somewhere with all the things London has to offer but is at the same time a new destination that is friendly and fun? It's a huge family destination."
Marriott recently took over management of The Shelbourne Dublin, which has reopened as a Renaissance Hotel after extensive restoration.
The property has 265 rooms and 19 suites, the latter named after famous guests who had a long association with the hotel.
For events and meetings, the hotel's ballroom has been expanded to include a spacious grand ballroom that can cater to up to 350 guests for dinner. Twelve other conference and banqueting suites are also available.
As well as shopping, spending the weekend watching horses at the racetrack with the family remains one of the city's favourite pastimes, and Ireland prides itself as a family orientated destination.
"It's a family day out; it's not just a men only affair with serious gambling. There is live music with bands playing and carnival rides and all sorts of attractions for the kids," Nevin explains.
Dublin's own tourism promotion board, Dublin Tourism has also stepped up its efforts to raise awareness of the city amongst Middle East tourists, joining Tourism Ireland in Dubai last month on its stand at Arabian Travel Market.
"We have excellent shopping; all the main brands are there," emphasises Sinead Barden, marketing and development executive, Dublin Tourism.
"There is an excellent range of hotels from one-star upwards, but there is a fantastic range of four- and five-star product."
Shoppers can find a mixture of top-end designer boutiques as well as discounted goods at wholesale prices in shopping outlets such as the Kildare Shopping Village in County Kildare.
Just outside of the city centre, the Dundrum Shopping Centre is undergoing major expansion, and set to double in size when work is complete.
For a city tour, Barden recommends Viking Splash Tours. The company offers 75-minute city tours on land and water in reconditioned World War II amphibious vehicles. The tour takes in Saint Patrick's Cathedral and Christchurch Cathedral; Trinity College, government buildings and Georgian Dublin before splashing down into the water for a trip around the new Grand Canal Docklands, but for many the highlight will be passing the recording studios of famous Irish rock band U2.
The Meetings Industry is also well catered to in Ireland; the country has some of the most spectacular locations for holding events and conferences in Europe, as well as more than 400 golf courses, many of which are world-class links courses.
Trade between the UAE and Ireland generated more than US$ 343 million in 2006, an increase of around 40% from the previous year.
"There is enormous demand for this new Etihad frequent service between these two rapidly expanding economies," said Kirk Albrow, regional general manager, Europe & Americas, Etihad Airways.
"Trade ties have increased considerably during the last decade and Etihad Airways looks forward to supporting further growth when our flights start soon."
As well as building on UAE-Ireland trade ties, the new Etihad Airways service will provide Irish business travellers with access to the airline's many onward destinations in the Indian subcontinent, Far East and Australia, Albrow adds.