Destination Ireland: The Women’s Rugby World Cup and beyond

Edel Mitchell, head of international events prospecting and bidding unit at tourism body Fáilte Ireland, tells SportsPro about bidding for and hosting the Women’s Rugby World Cup, and how it can help to attract further major events to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Destination Ireland: The Women’s Rugby World Cup and beyond

The summer of 2017 may be remembered by future generations as a turning point for women’s sport. The Women's Cricket World Cup in England and Uefa Women's Championship in the Netherlands both shattered previous records for attendances and broadcast viewing figures, with the high-quality displays throughout the two tournaments encouraging a whole new audience to get involved.

Next up is the Women’s Rugby World Cup, jointly hosted by the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The event will not just help to promote women’s rugby in Ireland, the UK and further afield, but, its organisers hope, also show off Irish cities such as Dublin and Belfast as first-rate hosts for major sporting events.

Event Ireland is the event hosting arm of national tourism body Fáilte Ireland, and worked closely with the Irish Rugby Football Union [IRFU] - which governs the sport in both Ireland and Northern Ireland and administers the joint national team - on securing the tournament. Edel Mitchell, head of its international events prospecting and bidding unit, spoke to SportsPro about the bidding process for the competition and how it can help to attract further major events to the two countries.

The Irish women's national rugby union team during this year's Women's Six Nations Championship

SportsPro: At what point does Fáilte Ireland get involved in the hosting process? Do you work with an international federation like the IRFU on identifying a bid, or would they come to you having already decided to bid for a World Cup?

Edel Mitchell: Ideally we’d come in at the very beginning. In general, when we’re working with a lot of the international federations and other sporting bodies, what we like to do is to be there from the start so in terms of the support and what we try to do there’s a lot of financial and practical support. A lot of those are aimed at the pre-bidding stage, so everything from feasibility to familiarisation trips to assisting people in going to see the preceding events so they have an idea that it’s an event that is feasible for them.

In terms of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, yes, we’ve been working with the IRFU on this since October 2014 and it’s been a very collaborative approach. There’s been a number of stakeholders involved in the process: everyone involved from the IRFU, Ulster Rugby, ourselves, our colleagues in Tourism Northern Ireland, the city councils in Dublin City Council and Belfast City Council, and obviously the venues themselves. We like to be involved from the very start to make sure we are working in tandem with everybody and that we have the shared objectives and long-term strategic outlook as to what our goals are for the event.

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity right now, when we’re very much at the fore and trying to put Ireland on the map of decision-makers

There’s a few prongs to our strategy. We work with stakeholders and ambassadors very early in the process of considering what types of events they’d like to bid for. With some of the sports we may work with them in bidding for junior events and then working toward larger-scale, world championship-type events in the longer term.

What are the initial goals for Fáilte Ireland when bidding for a major sporting event?

Event Ireland, which is my team, is a dedicated bidding team that fits within Fáilte Ireland. Our mission is very much about identifying, bidding for and ultimately securing events for Ireland. As a tourism body, our main objective is growing international visitation to Ireland via this mechanism. But also, within the Event Ireland team, our objectives are also about raising the awareness of Ireland as a host destination of choice for those international event rights holders and decision-makers.

In working with events ambassadors what we try to do is to make sure that the support that we have available for them makes that bidding journey as easy as possible for them. For us, it’s very much about collaborating and working in partnership where we have shared objectives with the stakeholders - we don’t do anything alone and we need all the other bodies to be in place to bid for an event.

In terms of the support we offer, it can be anything from the pre-bidding stage where we would work with people to look at the feasibility of potentially bidding for an event if it makes sense for them, seeing if it’s financially feasible. It can be giving them extra support around what the logistics of the event might involve, supporting them to travel to preceding events so we can get an idea of what’s involved there; we help in putting together the bid document, the bid collateral - really going beyond bidding for the particular event but really promoting Ireland as a tourism destination. From our perspective, the event acts as a hook - the motivation for travel - and we really try to encourage people then to extend their stay and perhaps return to Ireland as a leisure tourist destination further down the line.

Rory McIlroy's involvement with the Irish Open has helped to raise its profile significantly on the PGA European Tour

What represents a successful event for Fáilte Ireland?

Because it’s very much a partnership event and there’s lots of stakeholders involved, what we’ve done with the Women’s Rugby World Cup, working in partnership with the IRFU, is ensuring that our deliverables are clear from the outset. We work closely with Tourism Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland on this, working to make sure that the messaging around the event is very much about Ireland as a destination. We’re very keen to ensure that as many people as possible are encouraged to travel for the event. We’re really trying to work with the IRFU to make this the most successful Women’s Rugby World Cup ever.

Because it’s an all-Ireland event, a cross-border event, in marketing overseas it’s very much a ‘destination Ireland’ message and then when people are here, obviously we want them to experience as much of the destination as they can on the ground in Dublin and Belfast. UCD is a very fine venue, as are the venues in Northern Ireland, and we’re really working with our stakeholders to ensure that maximum visitation is there across the entire event.

You’re also bidding for the 2023 men’s Rugby World Cup. Can the women’s event be a platform to show off Ireland as a host nation?

It’s important to say from the start that we very much view the Women’s Rugby World Cup as an important event in its own right. But absolutely, it’s a great opportunity to drive awareness there. At the time when we were bidding for the Women’s Rugby World Cup, the decision to go for the 2023 World Cup would already have been made, but it does present us with a unique opportunity to showcase Ireland’s ability to deliver a successful World Cup and to really show that now is our time, this is our call to action for the supporters, the athletes and all of Ireland to get behind this event to create great memories and show the world how we embrace this and other sporting events.

We’re no strangers to hosting sporting events. We have a strong history of hosting these types of events. In recent times we’ve had the Giro d’Italia, the American football events, the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup - so sport and celebrating sport is very much in our DNA and we’re really going to use this opportunity to drive awareness of Ireland as a host destination.

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In addition to those events, Ireland will also host matches during the pan-continental Uefa European Championship, while the Irish Open has significantly grown in profile since 2015 when Rory McIlroy began hosting it. Has there ever been a stronger time for Ireland as a sporting destination?

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity right now, when we’re very much at the fore and trying to put Ireland on the map of decision-makers. We’re working very closely to identify more cross-border events we can put on with Tourism Northern Ireland and we have a lot of new infrastructure coming on board with the recent opening of our indoor arena, which is a multi-sports facility that can cater for over 20 different sports in various configurations and is very much the jewel in the crown and the home of many of our national sports.

It’s about continuing to promote that message that we’re open, we’re ready for business and that Ireland should be seriously considered for future events.