31 August 2008

The Failure of Fáilte Ireland

Elements among the Irish population are obviously of the opinion that as long as they can follow and understand certain things - regardless how unusual, complicated or weird they might be - everyone else will be able to do so, too.
This opinion is especially prevalent in the offices of various organisations in Dublin, and rarely do they make an effort to see things from anywhere further away than Dun Laoghaire (a nearby suburb on the Irish Sea).

Such attitude leads - to give just one prominent example - to the fact that Ireland's national tourism development authority, whose purpose is to attract new and more foreign visitors to the country, is named Fáilte Ireland. The word fáilte is Irish (Gaelic) and means 'welcome'. But how many foreigners, who of course do not speak any Irish, know this?

Despite being the republic's first official language and as such compulsory for the pupils in every school, Irish is even in Ireland used only by a tiny minority of people, most of which live in very remote parts on the west coast. Apart from a handful of specialist academics, no-one outside the island even knows of Irish and assumes that the national language is English. Which, in fact, is the case.

So when foreigners, most of whom do speak English, see the name Fáilte Ireland, they try to understand it through English. The nearest word they will come-up with in English is 'fail', and at that stage they usually give up on the matter.

In my humble opinion it is an absolutely daft idea to use a language no-one abroad understands or speaks to promote a nation's tourism. And the results, especially from last year and this year, speak for themselves. There is a drastic drop in tourist numbers in Ireland. As today is August 31st - traditionally seen as 'the last day of summer' - it is appropriate to draw a little balance.

The reasons for the drop in tourists are manifold, and not entirely linked to the enigmatic name of the agency. It is quite obvious that the extremely low value of the US Dollar has a major effect. In the past it was quite affordable - and at times even cheap - for Americans to come for a holiday in Ireland.
Not anymore. With the US Dollar at the lowest exchange rate to our Euro any European holiday is now an expensive luxury for US citizens.

The fact that Ireland is also one of the most expensive countries in Europe, with extra rip-off for tourists who don't know any better and have not much of a choice once they are here, Ireland's tourism industry has entered a state of self-destruction. According to statistics a third of all hotel beds in the country were permanently empty, even during the main season. But nevertheless it did not occur to our hoteliers that by reducing their prices they might actually get more people in and make more money. Logic, as it happens, is not one of the strongest traits of the Irish...

While the US Dollar is extremely low, Britain's Pound Sterling has also fallen quite significantly in relation to the Euro. This reduces the influx of tourists from the UK, who were traditionally still the main group of visitors to Ireland.

Combine that with bad service in the hospitality industry, extremely high prices for - at best - mediocre accommodation and often quite simple food (unless one goes to one of the hyper-posh food temples in Dublin where they charge easily a week's wages for one fancy meal) and you will have the reasons why less and less people coming to visit Ireland. The bad weather, which gave us totally washed-out summers for two years in a row now, does not help either, of course.

Fáilte Ireland, despite expensive analysis of the situation, has not developed new ideas. They still concentrate their main efforts on the UK and - most of all - the American market. Little to no ideas have been put into place to attract new visitors from the European continent or even from further afield, such as the now increasingly wealthy countries of Asia.

So perhaps the national tourism development authority carries her name rightfully. But I would suggest to make a small adjustment to the spelling and call it Fail thee, Ireland.

Or, perhaps Brian Lenihan, our new Minister for Finance, who is at present desperately seeking ways of saving government money in order to survive the recession we are in, could go a step further. He might as well close down the national tourism development authority, as it does nothing the name suggests, except fail. Nor deserves it any further public money just to produce ever more failure.

All hotels and tourist attractions have their own advertisement, promotional material and - by now - their own websites anyway. So what is the point in having a public body doing exactly the same, except that they are not really doing anything but sending out material with a misleading name on it to countries who don't understand it. Be sensible, Brian, and save us a lot of money!

The Emerald Islander

P.S. Looking at it from a purely linguistic point of view, the name does not even make sense as a statement. What it says is "Welcome Ireland", which would make sense if one would greet the Irish nation arriving somewhere abroad. (With concessions one could also use it to welcome the Irish national team of any sport - including our Olympic team - at any place, including in this case in Ireland.)
"Welcome Ireland" does not address any foreigners. If we would want to do that, it would need to be "Welcome to Ireland". I do wonder how many owners of empty brains in
Fáilte Ireland take home a full pay cheque every week, the money for which comes out of taxpayers' pockets...


Alex said...

Failte Ireland is the name used in Ireland only - if you'd done a modicum of research you'd know that Tourism Ireland is the agency to promote Ireland to overseas visitors using the 'Discover Ireland' tagline which is easy enough to understand I think. The Irish language has more than enough detractors without the accusation being levelled that it's responsible for a tourism marketing failure.


Well, Alex, I do my research quite thoroughly. And even though "Fáilte Ireland" might have been designed for use in Ireland only - where it does make no linguistic sense - it is used abroad as well (if by design or by accident, I don't know). But not only have I seen it used with my own eyes in a number of foreign countries, people from abroad visiting me came with a number of brochures that displayed the name as well.

In my own small way I try to bring foreign people to visit Ireland, and in particular the real Ireland that is not hyped up by touristic promotions of the wrong kind.
So far "Fáilte Ireland" has been no help to further these attempts, and in many ways their "efforts" have been counter-productive.

Whenever I raised valid points with them, all I found was ignorance, often wrapped in arrogance.
The main problem of our tourist development authority is that they see Ireland only with Irish eyes, and not with a foreign perspective.
Thus they simply cannot see where they go wrong.

And by the way, I am no detractor of the Irish language. Personally I am sad that it is not used more and in appropriate ways. But that is an entirely different matter, which I might address some other time in a separate entry.

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