Irish consumers are looking to beat the January blues by booking a holiday new research from Mintel reveals. Findings from the recently published show that holidays and in particular festivals, are still high on the agenda for Irish Consumers.

Indeed, Mintel’s findings indicate that the domestic tourism market is still quite buoyant, with 18% of RoI and 15% of NI consumers still planning to take a holiday or short break in Ireland over the next 12 months; yet competition for overseas tourism is strong with 21% RoI and 20% NI consumers planning to take a holiday abroad within the next 12 months. While the domestic market for Irish tourism continues to be relatively strong, the level of domestic visitors to RoI decreased by 4% between 2009 and 2010 to 8 million, as a result of cutbacks in spending among RoI consumers. Meanwhile in NI, domestic tourism experienced an uplift of 1% to 1.4 million. During the same period the level of overseas visitors to RoI fell by 11% and 8% in NI, as a result of the recession as foreign tourists stay at home to save money.

Brian O’Connor, Research Manager Mintel Ireland, said:

“The Irish events and festivals market is still going strong, which may come as a surprise as tourism has been hit badly by the recession. However, this has forced the tourism industry to adopt lower prices and become more competitive during this period of economic downturn. Festivals and events are a dynamic part of the tourism sector and appeal to a wide cross-section of the population due to the varied nature of the genres and interests that they cover. Festivals have a strong appeal for tourists, both domestic and overseas and between 2009 and 2010 there were 8 million domestic visitors to Ireland – many of which have been lured by the attractiveness of activities, events and festivals on the Irish calendar.”

The Irish love affair with food

Today, it seems the Irish consumer is showing a strong affinity for food. Some 39% of RoI and 28% NI adults rate eating well as the most enjoyed activity on holiday, followed by relaxing for 36% of RoI and 26% of NI consumers. Irish consumers are also becoming more diversified in their food tastes, with 60% of RoI and 50% of NI consumers agreeing that they like to try new food products. The widening Irish food tastes can also be seen, as over half (51% of RoI and 46% of NI consumers) state that they like eating foreign foods. Indeed the market for food tourism as very substantial for both RoI and NI and food festivals make up a core part of this – in 2011, 14% of NI and 11% of RoI adults visited a food event of festival.

Mintel’s findings also show tourism and festival related products are among the items most purchased online by Irish consumers, with 65% RoI and 60% NI consumers purchasing travel products or services such as flights, holiday packages etc. online, higher than any other product category over the past 12 months. Furthermore, 58% of RoI and 54% NI online consumers purchased hotel or overnight accommodation with 44% of RoI and 47% NI choosing products such as tickets for concerts and sporting events. Compared to other sources of information when planning a holiday, Irish consumers are much more likely to use the Internet to plan holidays, with 23% of RoI and 16% of NI consumers claiming to have used the internet when sourcing information for a short break.

Family affair

Family friendly events are also increasingly important as Irish consumers enjoy spending time with their family, 33% of RoI and 26% of NI claiming it to be a priority. In 2011, 15% of RoI and 11% of NI adults attended a family or kids festival event. Furthermore, shopping is also a top activity enjoyed by the whole family, with 27% of RoI and 18% of NI tourists enjoying shopping as a holiday activity, presenting opportunities for festivals to combine visits and shopping trips.

“Family friendly festivals are vital for the tourism market and linking food festivals with shopping is a key way to combine these core activities as more relaxed types of events to be more appealing to visitors. However, continued economic uncertainty presents a threat to both the domestic and overseas tourism market for Ireland and may limit the amount that Irish consumers are willing to spend on attending events, festivals and activities. High unemployment and low consumer confidence may be bad news for festivals, particularly given the fact that they are perceived as being expensive. Cost of living is outpacing growth in wages and salaries, leaving consumers less money to use for their leisure time” Brian O’Connor continues.

The appeal of festivals

Ireland has a wide selection of festivals and events, with Irish events and festivals drawing a significant amount of overseas visitors to areas that are not normally tourist hot spots. At the top are countryside fair/show (15%), family/kids (15%), rock, pop and dance (14%) festivals which RoI consumers visited this year. While in NI rock, pop and dance (17%), food (14%) and film (11%) festivals were most popular. Interestingly, traditional Irish music festivals were most popular among younger adults. Music is becoming more important to Irish consumers and indicates stability for the music festival market. Recent findings show that tourism and festival related products are among the items most purchased online by Irish consumers. 65% RoI and 60% NI consumers purchased travel products/services online i.e. flights, holiday packages, more than for any other product category in the past twelve months.

There is a strong agreement among RoI consumers that there is a good selection of festivals and events in Ireland with 57% of consumers stating so. This will help to prevent a high level of consumers travelling abroad for festivals and events. This sentiment is not felt by NI consumers with just 29% agreeing that there is a good selection of festivals and events in Ireland. As a result 17% of NI consumers are more willing to travel further afield for festivals and events such as RoI or GB. 72% of RoI and 60% of NI consumers find tickets are too expensive. Food and drink is also too expensive with 65% RoI and 47% NI consumers agreeing. RoI festival goers are more likely to take a day trip, as opposed to NI festival goers who are more likely to stay for two nights. 16-24 year-olds RoI are most likely to stay for multiple nights compared to 25-34 year old NI consumers. Onsite camping is the accommodation of choice for NI consumers, while RoI consumers prefer hotels.

Cost persists in being an issue for further growth of the festival market with 68% of RoI and 49% of NI consumers would go to more festivals if tickets were cheaper or if there was free entry. 50% of RoI consumers and 33% of NI consumers state that they would stay over in the area of a festival if the accommodation was lower in cost. Pricing is not the only issue, 43% RoI and 34% NI consumers say they would stay longer in an area if there were interesting sites or amenities. Furthermore, 34% RoI and 22% NI consumers said they would go to more festivals if there was more/better accommodation and better facilities as 54% of RoI and 37% NI consumers find facilities at festivals (such as toilets, camp sites etc.) to be poor.

The aging population will also have an affect on the market as we see older consumers showing a stronger preference for holidaying at home, with many younger adults (15-24 year olds) seeing festival going not simply as a short break but as more of a weekend activity. Over-55s are the largest segment of the RoI population and now represent 21% of the total population.

“The changing age structure of the population will mean that festival organisers will have to cater for older age groups and families; and while a significant amount of consumers regard festivals as being expensive, in terms of ticket price and food prices, the recession may further limit their ability to spend.”Brian concludes.

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