Ireland, where we are based, is a very different market to the UK – consumers are different, their booking trends are different and their brand loyalty trends are different.
On the whole, when I hear UK companies talk about the Irish market, I truly feel they have very little understanding of what works well here versus in the UK.
The two have very different cultures and, now the UK is set to leave the EU next month, Ireland will become the only English-speaking country in the EU, which will affect how – and with who – the Irish consumer will book holidays moving forward.
Currently, there are less than 200 travel agents in Ireland, with the top 15 doing 80% of all the business in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The travel agents who develop a strong relationship with their clients are the ones to have stood the test of time. Tour America and Cruise Holidays has always prided itself on a certain level of brand trust, and our clients know they are in safe hands when they book with us.
The Irish customer returns year after year to those who have provided years of outstanding service to them. Our repeat business is more than 54% for bi-yearly bookings and 78% returning every year. So what is it in particular that makes Irish customers tick?
Being Irish-owned is of huge importance to Irish consumers, who traditionally prefer to “support Irish”. That’s not to say UK travel companies can’t succeed in Ireland, but a very strong local understanding coupled with a brand that is recognised and with a strong history is what delivers business.
Offering good value alone is not enough for Irish consumers: outstanding customer service, word of mouth and recommendations from friends are crucially important.
We have an office in Cork and our research is very clear – a client from Cork absolutely prefers speaking with a staff member who is also from Cork. They feel more secure knowing they are dealing with someone local.
And the same desire for local understanding applies to travel agents too. Take the cruise market, for example. The cruise companies who have local representation on the ground here in Ireland are the most successful. They can see the differences between our consumer trends when compared with UK counterparts. MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises are hugely successful here because of this presence.
Many UK companies have attempted to enter the Irish market in recent months, but with little impact on the agencies operating here. One of the key reasons for this is a lack of understanding as to how our consumer culture is so different to the UK.
Suppliers who assume we have the same trends as in the UK market will fail. My advice for Irish agents and UK suppliers trying to break into the Irish market is to build brand trust and get to know your audience.
Mary McKenna is managing director at Tour America and Cruise Holidays