By @SimonCocking

Mark Henry @Mark_J_Henry, Central Marketing Director of Tourism Ireland.

How was 2014 for you? Wins? 

Last year was the fourth consecutive year of leisure tourism growth to Ireland so that was great.  We have seen a 33% increase in holidaymakers visiting the Republic since 2010 and it was a record year for the number of holidaymakers visiting Northern Ireland.  (In Tourism Ireland we’re responsible for promoting both parts of the island overseas.)  We also retained our position as the European tourist board with the largest digital footprint – we’re only behind Australia and the USA globally now.

Anything you’d do differently?

Yes if we had more resources!  As we’re a government-funded body, our budgets are 40% less than what they were back in 2008.  That means we can’t invest as much as we would like in growing engagement with our social audiences.  We have to stay focused on a limited number of channels – predominately Facebook – and a limited number of campaigns throughout the year, but I know that there’s so much more we could do if resources permitted.

Goals in 2015?

To help make this the best year for overseas tourism that the island of Ireland has ever seen.  The first-half of the year has gotten off to a fabulous start so I’m very confident on that score.  In our digital marketing effort we’re on a crusade to grow our “nimbility”!  That’s our ability to be quick and nimble in responding to opportunities to generate word of mouth for tourism to Ireland.  When the same sex referendum was passed in May, we had a campaign targeting LGBT travellers live five minutes after the official result was announced.  There was three times more chatter about Ireland on Twitter that weekend then there was around the whole of Saint Patrick’s Day so it was a great opportunity for us.

How did you find PhocusWright event?

I believe that the next digital frontier for Irish marketers to conquer is the application of marketing technology, or “MarTech”.  The combination of consumer data and algorithmic software is delivering amazing capability to get the right marketing message to the right consumer at the right time in a dynamic fashion.  However this capability is developing so fast that it’s hard to keep on top of it.  Events like PhocusWright give me some of the insight I need to understand the application of this to travel.

What tips would you give to new entrepreneurs starting out today and in particular in the Irish tourism sector?

There’s never been a better time to start a business targeting the tourism sector.  It’s growing strongly and, after a few lean years, firms are now beginning to invest in themselves again.  It’s also a very tech savvy sector – think of the amount of air travel and accommodation that is booked online.  However it is very much an SME sector in Ireland so start small, focus on delivering business efficiencies and competitive advantage for firms, and once you’ve proven your worth then use the well-established industry networks to communicate your success and grow your customer base.

You’re active on twitter, why do you find it useful? And what tips would you give to others using it?

I find Twitter to be a great forum for sharing professional news and for engaging with the tourism industry in Ireland and overseas.  I use it as a shared virtual scrapbook for bookmarking interesting articles and for posting images of presentation slides that inspire me.  My main tip is to be active in posting value-added content as much as your own opinions – I find people appreciate the food for thought.  Check out @Mark_J_Henry.

What are you strategies for work / life balance?

I have a wonderful working wife, Ann, who is one of Ireland’s top intellectual property lawyers, as well as three kids under the age of 10, so achieving a degree of life balance is important to me.  That means being present at home at a reasonable hour most days of the week – even if that requires a late night at the computer when they’re all in bed.  And it’s also about a date night every weekend, with the mobile phones left to one side 🙂


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