In 2011, Ireland’s government reduced the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate for tourism businesses from 13.5% to 9% as a stimulus to attract more overseas visitors. Although expected to legislate a return to the former rate this year, the government has instead extended the VAT rate, making Ireland still one of the most cost-effective meetings destinations in Western Europe.
“For the last few years, Ireland has had one of the lowest, if not the lowest, tax rates in the region,” says Marie McKown, manager of business tourism for Tourism Ireland. “To add to the value, the hotels looked at their pricing and they all dropped their rates, and complimentary WiFi is widely available. Those are some of the reasons why we’re winning back business.”
McKown says new “Literary Dublin” group tours have been created based on Ireland’s famous writers. One of the highlight stops is the Dublin Writers Museum, which provides an indepth look into the minds and hearts of Swift, Sheridan, Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.
Business is back in a big way at some of the most iconic Irish properties like the utterly gorgeous Ashford Castle, located in Western Ireland.
“We’re having our best year from the American market since 1999—it’s almost unprecedented,” says Paula M. Carroll, director of sales/marketing for Ashford Castle. “It’s almost like people aren’t even looking at the rates.”
The 13th century castle, the oldest in Ireland, was purchased by Red Carnation Hotels last summer, who embarked on a comprehensive renovation to be completed by March next year. The largest of the event venues seats 150 guests, and all 83 suites and public spaces offer WiFi.
Mary Rose Hickey, sales/marketing manager at Killarney Hotels, says business is also booming in southwest Ireland.
“2015 is looking incredible, we’ve had people asking for specific dates and we can’t accept them, we’re booked,” she says. “It’s been a long time since that happened.”
Killarney Hotels operates The Europe Hotel & Resort, with 187 rooms and suites, three 18-hole golf courses and the largest spa in Ireland. Hickey says a group of 300 could easily do something different everyday, including fishing, boating, horse riding and hiking in the national park. One of the most popular group events is at a traditional farm where attendees learn how to milk cows and make cheese.
At night, the town of Killarney has no less than 95 pubs and restaurants, so there’s a ton of options for dinearounds and sing-along pub crawls.
“Our groups can experience all of Ireland’s history, culture and traditions while staying in a five-star hotel,” says Hickey, adding that her hotel is about 30% corporate.
“The venue has a New York loft style which is pretty unique in Dublin,” says Costelloe. “We are looking at Ireland with fresh eyes, and trying to introduce cool local experiences with companies like the Rhythm Corporation, who offer Celtic dance teambuilding experiences.”
For more F&B events, Costelloe recommends the Fade Street Social restaurant and winter garden. It’s popular with locals who come for the modern vibe and dishes like lobster hot dogs and bacon/cabbage burgers.