Visiting Ireland a popular pursuit

Ed Forry

Is this the year to take that first trip to Ireland?

For many, the allure of a visit to the ancestral homeland remains strong, and the efforts of the Irish government to promote tourism to the Emerald Isle are showing promising results.

Statistics for 2016 showed record numbers – almost 9.6 million people came to Ireland from overseas last year, an increase of 10.9 percent from 2015

Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons hailed the success of its efforts, telling the Irish media, “Ireland now welcomes 10 percent of all American visitors to Europe, a number particularly noteworthy given the intense competition from other destinations. We have also seen record numbers arriving here from mainland Europe (+ 8.5 percent) and I also welcome the continued strong performance from Britain (+10.6 percent), our largest market for overseas tourism.”

The figures also show that visits from North America totaled 1.8 million, up 19.4 percent, an indication that many Americans found Ireland an easy-to-reach destination.

The attraction of travel to Ireland is enhanced by the strength of the US dollar to the euro. According to the financial website, “The euro to US dollar conversion tells you how many dollars the euro can buy according to its exchange rate. It compares the euro’s value to the dollar’s value. The euro was worth $1.05 on Jan. 6, 2017. That meant one euro could buy 5 cents more in goods and services than one dollar could. That’s low compared to three years ago when it could buy $1.37. That means your dollar can go further in the European Union than it could in 2014. That makes it a great time to take that European vacation.”

And travelers from Boston soon will find more options for airline travel to Ireland. Aer Lingus, which has claimed Boston’s Logan Airport as a “gateway” to Ireland, will increase its daily flights to Dublin and Shannon in the busy tourist season this spring and summer. And Delta Airlines will bring new competition with a Boston/Dublin service to begin in May. Delta’s daily flights will leave later in the day, in the nine o’clock evening hour, arriving in Dublin at mid-morning, a convenient time for business travelers at both ends.

Also developing this year, both Icelandair and low-cost WOW airline will offer increased one-stop service from Logan to Ireland with a change of planes in Reykjavik, with connecting flights to Belfast, Dublin, and Cork.

Meanwhile, a final decision by the US government was expected early in February on a license request from Norwegian Air International (NAI) for transatlantic routes to US cities from Cork and Shannon. The low-cost NAI has established a base in Ireland, and seeks permission under the EU-US “Open Skies” agreement. The license was approved in December by the Obama administration, but is being challenged by several American airlines and pilot unions.

If the NAI routes are approved, it is expected that new routes from Cork to both Boston and New York would begin as early as this spring. However, the NAI is a no-frills airline, and has been floating an initial one way ticket for as little as $69! But there will be significant charges made for such things as meals, snacks, beverages, and luggage.

It is also understood that, if approved, NAI will seek to avoid the landing fees at Logan, and use either Portsmouth or Manchester airports in New Hampshire, or TF Green in Rhode Island.

Other traditional alternatives for Boston passengers have been any of several airlines to London, and catching a second flight back to Ireland. That has been a favored route for traveling to Ireland’s Northwest, using Knock airport to travel to Sligo, Donegal, Derry, and the north.