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American Tourists Miss Ireland — and the Feeling Is Mutual

What vacationers can expect post-COVID-19 and how to see the Emerald Isle virtually

Cobh is a harbour town in County Cork, Ireland

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Cobh, Ireland

En español | When the pandemic eases and Americans start exploring again, Tourism Ireland is hoping the Emerald Isle will be at the top of their travel bucket lists. The United States is Ireland's second-largest source of visitors, after Great Britain: The country welcomed 1.7 million people from the U.S. in 2019 — up 71 percent from 2014. And those visitors infused nearly $2 billion into the economy.

"The U.S. market is Ireland's most important source of overseas revenue,” says Alison Metcalfe, executive vice president of Tourism Ireland for the U.S. and Canada.

Of course, just a few months into 2020, the coronavirus pandemic dramatically shut down global travel, including the hugely popular transatlantic route between the U.S. and Ireland. That meant countless vacations canceled or delayed. Andrea Del Vecchio, 56, and her husband, Rich, had planned to take their two teenage kids to Ireland for an eagerly awaited spring break trip last April. When the pandemic hit, they rescheduled for August of 2020. When that fell through as well, they were able to get a voucher from Aer Lingus that's good for five years, and are now planning for an eight- to 10-day driving vacation around Ireland in summer 2022. “We have our entire itinerary already planned,” Del Vecchio says. “We're locked and loaded.”

Current COVID-19 restrictions

The Irish government recently announced the extension of level 5 restrictions, which includes a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) travel limit for residents, through at least April 5. Nonessential travel inbound or outbound is still highly discouraged (in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also discouraging nonessential travel). Anyone currently traveling to Ireland must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of arrival (arriving without one can result in a fine of about $1,800 “or a prison sentence of up to 6 months, or both"), quarantine for two weeks and complete a COVID-19 Passenger Locator Form indicating where they'll be quarantining.

A view of Grafton Street in Dublin city centre during Level 5 Covid-19 lockdown

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Dublin, Ireland on January 18, 2021.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a level 4 travel health notice for Ireland — “Travelers should avoid all travel to Ireland” — due to COVID-19.

Pre-pandemic, there were 16 gateways and four airlines serving Ireland from the U.S. Now, with the country effectively closed to tourism, Americans can get there directly only from New York, Boston or Chicago by way of Aer Lingus.

Meanwhile, Ireland's hospitality industry — restaurants, pubs, hotels — remains closed. Prime Minister Micheál Martin said at the end of February that he didn't expect it to open before midsummer.

The grand Ashford Castle Hotel & Country Estate, a luxurious 800-year-old castle retreat in Cong, County Mayo, whose guests were mostly American, has yet to set a firm reopening date. But Paula Carroll, director of sales and marketing, says management is hoping for a return to something like normal by next year: “We are expecting a really strong demand in 2022.”

Adare Manor, a five-star stay in southwest Ireland's County Limerick, plans to reopen July 30 and is rolling out new incentives such as work-from-hotel packages and an outdoor picnic series to tempt American travelers to book a visit for this year. It also promises to have a COVID-19 compliance officer and COVID-19 response management team on hand to ensure a safe environment for guests.

Metcalfe says she expects that Ireland's reopening to visitors — when it eventually happens — will be cautious, with some of the current health precautions remaining in place for a while. “We don't want to have to close down again,” she adds.


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Whetting American appetites

Though visitors from the U.S. won't be cycling the Ring of Kerry or sipping Guinness at a Dublin pub before summer (at the earliest), Tourism Ireland is keeping the destination top of mind through inspirational digital campaigns — such as one starring Irish actor Liam Neeson, who reminds viewers, “As long as you have a piece of Ireland in your heart, you're always celebrating with us.”

And a virtual pub night, streamed live from three of Ireland's most beloved pubs, will be broadcast March 17, complete with performances from the Shamrock Tenors and two members of Riverdance.

There's also a virtual St. Patrick's Day festival airing from Dublin this week, “Awaken Ireland!,” with loads of cultural events you can stream online.

Jen Murphy is a columnist at The Wall Street Journal and a regular contributor to Travel + Leisure, Outside and Departures. She is the editor of Wildsam Field Guides: Hawaii.

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