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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 March 2008, 08:46 GMT
Virtual world for virtually Irish
By Arthur Strain
BBC News

Second Life is hosting a St Patrick's Day parade.

The world likes to drown the shamrock at this time of year, and for the first time plastic paddies can really get in on the act.

Tourism Ireland is hosting a virtual St Patrick's Day parade on Sunday in the internet world of Second Life (SL).

Featuring 20 Irish and Celtic themed floats, the parade is the high point of a three-day advertising blitz.

Festivities include a treasure hunt around recreated landmarks like Trinity College and the Guinness Brewery.

The virtual cruise ship, the SS Galaxy, will visit Dublin during the festivities and host an onboard digital exhibition of Irish artists' work.

A Second Life Pipe and Drum Corp - from a virtual Scotland - will also be playing in the parade and there will be a real world simulcast of traditional Irish music festival.

SL is one of several online games known as "massively-multiplayer online games" which allow people to inhabit alternative virtual worlds as a character of their choosing.

Kids World SL float
Once they have experienced the simulated Ireland, we hope these potential visitors will come and see the real thing
Mark Henry
Tourism Ireland

The game was launched in 2003 by Linden Research Inc but exploded in popularity in 2006 and currently has 12,808,255 users, called residents.

Users interact with each other through motional avatars to explore SL, socialise, create and trade items and services from one another, using the Linden dollar.

Mark Henry is the Central Marketing Director of Tourism Ireland and will be attending a number of events over the period.

His avatar has a presence at the virtual parade, but on the day the real Mark Henry will be present at festivities in New York City, which will include a Snakes and Ladders festival of new Irish music, to be simulcast into SL.

He said the purpose of the online campaign was to get people who visit the Second Life Dublin to come to the real Ireland.

"We are very excited about the world's first virtual St Patrick's Day parade - it's an innovative and interesting way to present the island of Ireland as an attractive holiday destination to a new audience," he said.

"Once they have experienced the simulated Ireland, we hope these potential visitors will come and see the real thing."

Dublin in Second Life is a well-established destination - frequently making the Top Ten list of the most popular places to visit there.

The move reflects a growing trend to advertise tourist destinations online, Tourism Ireland has doubled its digital marketing spend over the past three years.

This year they plan to spend close to a quarter of their entire marketing budget - approximately 7m - online.



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