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Presidential and Royalty Visits Generate Multi-Million Dollar Tourism Returns

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Visits from figures like US President Barack Obama and England’s Queen Elizabeth II generate publicity benefits that go beyond financial gain. (Photo: Kriss Szkurlatowski)
Visits from figures like US President Barack Obama and England’s Queen Elizabeth II generate publicity benefits that go beyond financial gain. (Photo: Kriss Szkurlatowski)

BUSINESS

  • Visits by royalty and heads of state generate great publicity and attract new visitor interest for tourist sites
  • Television and newspaper coverage amounts to millions of dollars in free publicity
  • Visits by celebrities help morale and have other intangible benefits beyond just tourism

Here’s a sure cure for slumping tourism anywhere in the world: have a US President or royalty family member make a visit.

The publicity generated by such visits produces television images worth millions of dollars and thousands of newspaper articles worldwide that often focus on the most attractive side of a destination.

Royal visits are front-page news for many Irish and UK newspapers, for which the price of a one-page ad can be over £99,000 (approximately $113,000).

The Irish Times was only being candid when it observed that the strict security regime surrounding Queen Elizabeth II’s visit “only masks its true purpose - to inform our nearest neighbors that Ireland is open for business.”

The visits of both US President Barack Obama and England’s Queen Elizabeth II generated the type of publicity money couldn't buy, according to Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons.

“Money couldn’t buy the exposure Ireland will get from the visits, and Failte Ireland couldn’t afford to pay for the media exposure we are going to get in our top two tourist markets. These are huge opportunities, and it is hard to quantify the return in visitor numbers that will result - it will be very big,” said Fiona Monaghan of Failte Ireland West.

“Not only are Queen Elizabeth and President Obama the Heads of State of our two most significant overseas tourism markets, they are figures who attract coverage from across the globe, in every marketplace,” said Michael Ring, Ireland's Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

The visits here of England's Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama have had positive results for Ireland’s hotel business, according to a survey by the website Hotels.com. Hotel stays at sites visited by the two heads of state went up sharply, with the survey showing that searches for hotels in Kildare during the visits went up by 191% and up 80% for Tipperary.

Tourism Springboard

But it is more than a monetary gain: “Major events have positive effects on people and will shift focus away from our current financial situation,” said Gina Quin, chief executive of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. “We view the event as the first big test for the jobs initiative and its focus on tourism.” She called it a “springboard for tourism and marketing” that can boost the economy.

“There is a lack of confidence among Irish consumers, and we are talking ourselves into a greater recession and depression,” said Richard Guiney, chief executive of the Dublin City Business Improvement District. The visits should help change morale in that country, he adds.

Immediate Press

There is also the question of image. “Good media coverage is vital in encouraging marketing and tourism from the UK and the US,” said David Brennan, director of the Dublin City Business Association. “We now have the opportunity to showcase traditional Irish hospitality and to get Ireland into the pages of international news,” he adds.

Ireland’s Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar told the Irish Times that he was confident the visits would jumpstart or spur growth for the rest of the year. “I don’t think anything could compare with the positive images of Ireland broadcast around the world. I understand well over 11,000 articles appeared in print and online media across the globe,” said Varadkar.

“The United States is a tremendously important market for us, second only to Britain in terms of delivering visitor numbers. Our focus is on maximizing the potential of this unique occasion and on promoting Ireland as a wonderful holiday destination to the millions of Americans who will come into contact with Ireland in the coming days and weeks,” Gibbons told the Irish business news website, Businessandleadership.com.

William and Kate

Then, there is California where Prince William and his new bride Kate visited in early July. “No matter where they venture in California, the royal visit will create a global postcard for the Golden State this summer,” says Caroline Beteta, head of the California Travel and Tourism Commission.

“Certainly at a time when international travel is leading the rebound in the industry, it is a pivotal time for California to be on the world stage with such a highly publicized visit by the royal newlyweds,” she told AFP news agency.

The trip comes as California - the most populous US state whose economy would make it the eighth largest economy in the world if it were a country - struggles to recover from the global recession.

Key Statistics – Tourism and Royalty

  • The US is traditionally Ireland’s second-largest overseas tourism market. In 2010, there were 935,000 visits to Ireland from US and Canada and, while overall 2010 numbers were down on 2009, the last quarter of 2010 saw a strong rebound, with the number of visits from North America up by nearly 14%, according to tourism officials.
  • After the announced visits to Ireland of President Obama and Queen Elizabeth, hits on Tourism Ireland's British website were up 40%.
  • The Rock of Cashel saw visitor numbers soar by 40% since it was announced some months ago that the queen would visit it.
  • A media website set up to assist international journalists seeking information about the visits of the two heads of state attracted 49,000 visits in its first few weeks of operation, according to tourism officials.
  • More than 5,000 articles in 95 countries were published during the first 24 hours of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II's trip to Ireland, according to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

By David Wilkening for
David Wilkening is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit and Orlando. He now specializes in travel and real-estate business writing.

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