A focused internet strategy could prove instrumental in helping the Irish tourism industry to recover, the reservations and booking firm Gulliver has claimed.
Speaking at the announcement of results for the first nine months of the year, Gulliver managing director Dr Stewart Stephens said: “The Irish tourism industry can recover and successfully address the challenges of recent years if it develops its online capability by building, investing in and implementing a focused internet strategy. If it fails to do so, we will miss the opportunity of competing internationally and benefit from creating critical competitive advantage. As a result, Ireland and the tourism industry will be left behind as tourists turn to other tourism locations thus impacting negatively on jobs and revenues here.”
Gulliver is one of the largest providers of tourism information and reservations and grew out of an IT system developed by Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. In 1997, financial services company Fexco acquired a majority stake in the company and subsequent investment transformed the Gulliver database into Ireland’s leading destination management system and one of the best of its kind in Europe. Some 9,000 destinations and properties, 60pc of approved accommodation in Ireland, are managed through the system and accessible through the internet, tourist offices and an international call centre.
The company reported that 600,000 so-called bednights were sold during the January to September 2003 period. This represents a total of 95,000 bookings processed by the company, which were valued at €18.3m. This is a 7pc increase on the value of bookings made in 2002 and a 17pc growth on 2001.
The bookings were made through the Gulliver Call Centre, the network of tourist information offices and the internet, which accounted for 17,000, 48,000 and 30,000 bookings respectively.
Online bookings to September 2003 were worth €6.7m, a 60pc increase on the same period in 2002. According to Gulliver Ireland, 32pc of total bookings in 2003 to date were made online, compared with 20pc in 2002 and 9pc in 2001. There have been more than 1.45 million accommodation searches on the Gulliver online booking system so far this year.
Despite the dramatic growth in online bookings, most people searching for accommodation online still book directly with the premises, so online booking volumes greatly underestimate the influence of the web on booking patterns, Dr Stephens said.
Gulliver Ireland also reported a strong performance for its GoIreland.com portal, www.goireland.com, which is an online shop window for Irish tourism businesses and a key consumer site for tourist information and reservations. The company said that visitor numbers have increased by over 70pc and bookings by over 200pc on the same period last year. GoIreland.com averages over 90,000 visits per week including 60 linked websites such as www.gokerry.com. GoIreland.com is expected to receive over 4.5 million visitors in the full 12 months.
Dr Stephens said: “This performance indicates that Gulliver Ireland is growing its business in the continuing difficult tourist market environment. We are particularly pleased with the volume of bookings made over the internet and anticipate that the proportion of online bookings will continue to increase significantly over the next number of years. Our online capability is an area in which we have invested significantly and we have big plans for the future.
“The Irish tourist industry has witnessed a sea change over the last few years in terms of how it engages effectively with tourists, be they from Ireland or abroad. Our own experience coupled with the feedback we are receiving in the market indicates that it is essential that Ireland Inc moves up the internet value chain by offering a more cost-effective, efficient and user-friendly tourism product,” Dr Stephens said.
By John Kennedy