Can the alure of Star Wars, Game of Thrones and direct flights get Chinese tourists flocking to Ireland?
Michael D’Arcy, minister of state at Ireland’s Department of Finance, hopes a new direct route between Hong Kong and Dublin will boost tourism and trade
A new direct flight between Hong Kong and Dublin could help attract more mainland tourists to visit Ireland, known to many as the setting for the Star Wars films and the TV smash hit Game of Thrones, according to Michael D’Arcy, minister of state at Ireland’s finance department.
The new Cathay Pacific flight to the Republic of Ireland’s capital will operate four times a week from June 2, and D’Arcy hopes it will bring China and Ireland closer together in terms of both trade and tourism.
“There are only about 40,000 visitors from mainland China each year, which is very small compared with other cities, which receive hundreds of thousands of mainland tourists. The lack of a direct flight may be the reason, and we hope the new flights from Hong Kong will change that,” D’Arcy said in an interview with the South China Morning Post when he visited the city last week.
It currently takes mainland travellers take twice as long to get to Dublin as it takes them to travel to New Zealand, D’Arcy said.
The new flight to Hong Kong marks the first ever direct route from Dublin to any Chinese city. D’Arcy hopes the flight links will be expanded to Shanghai and Beijing in the future.
Mainland tourists, expected by CLSA to make 200 million foreign trips annually by 2020, visit Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea and Japan in their greatest numbers. Dublin is not yet on their list of favourite destinations.
D’Arcy hopes the direct flight will appeal to some of the roughly 100 million people living in southern China, many of whom will have glimpsed Ireland’s dramatic scenery in the Star Wars movies and HBO television series Game of Thrones.
“Star Wars is the most successful film series in the world and Game of Thrones is the most popular television series, and they are both filmed in Ireland,” he said.
The multi-award winning Game of Thrones is loved by so many mainlanders that the Irish tourist office has used simplified Chinese language marketing materials to target mainland visitors.
Star Wars is becoming a harder sell in China though, as many younger viewers are not familiar with Luke Skywalker or The Force and audiences appear to be losing interest in Hollywood blockbusters that rely heavily on special effects. Walt Disney’s eighth instalment of the franchise, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is end its cinematic run in the mainland soon after taking just 259 million yuan (US$40 million) in ticket sales in 15 days, according to the Hollywood Reporter. In the US it has almost reached US$600 million.
D’Arcy said mainland visitors would also enjoy the good food and fresh air in Ireland.
The new flight route could also boost trade between China and Ireland, which climbed to €14 billion euro (US$17.1 billion) in 2017, double the amount in 2013, because of the many promotional efforts of the Irish government in Hong Kong and the mainland, he added.
Ireland set up a consulate in Hong Kong in 2015 to promote trade, education and tourism in the country and introduce the festivities of St Patrick’s Day and other important occasions.
Ireland is a member of the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). D’Arcy said it supports the many infrastructure projects of the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s master plan to establish roads, ports and other infrastructure projects in 65 countries along the ancient Silk Road.
“Ireland is located right at the end of the new Silk Road and we definitely have a role to play in the Belt and Road projects,” he said.