One hundred thousand “what the…?”s

I have been fascinated by this recent campaign from Failte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority. Broadly, FI’s mandate is to increase the contribution of tourism to the economy by supporting the development of the industry. Somehow the organisation has decided a key threat to future sales of its product “Ireland” is not a competitor, pricing, or problems with the actual product, but the Irish people themselves.

So what we have is a billboard campaign that asks people to, quite simply, be nice to tourists. “They’ve come a million miles for your smiles,” one ad in the campaign sings out. As a foreigner (or non-national as is the correct term), I am absolutely flabbergasted they felt this was necessary. Whatever their market research might be saying, the Irish reputation for friendliness and good humour is extremely well-established around the world.

This was first confirmed for me a few years back when my parents returned from a trip to Ireland raving about the friendliness and helpfulness of the locals. The key incident occurred in Kerry, when raincoat-less (bless them, they went in July and thought it would be summer) the “whole supermarket” got involved in helping them construct raincoats from black rubbish bags. “The Irish,” my mother claimed, “could tell you to f**k off and you wouldn’t be offended because they say it in such a friendly way!”. Tales such as this abound, so I would be interested to find out how and where Tourism Ireland did their market research. And also if they’ve received any feedback - I wouldn’t be surprised if the message insults rather than inspires their target market.

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