March 17, 2013 at 12:36 PM ET
Travel most anywhere in the world this weekend and chances are you’ll see your favorite destination in a new light. Green, to be precise.
This year, for the first time ever, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx in Egypt will be illuminated green on St. Patrick’s Day. So will the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the “Welcome” sign in Las Vegas and the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark.
They’re joining a growing list of famous landmarks to be bathed in green light on St. Patrick’s Day thanks to the dogged efforts of Tourism Ireland, which has been encouraging destinations around the world to “go green” for the last several years.
Each time, officials try to push the boundary a little bit more, said Bernard McMullan, a spokesman for Tourism Ireland.
“The reason we do it is to create a buzz and to spark interest, to celebrate the unique nature of what it means to be Irish. To make people smile and to make them think of Ireland around March 17,” McMullan told NBC News.
“St. Patrick’s Day is our one day when we are front and center in the world’s consciousness and we’re very, very lucky in that respect ... we try to make sure that we maximize that from a tourism and cultural perspective.”
The Sydney Opera House, the London Eye and Table Mountain in South Africa were among the first landmarks to come on board, McMullan said. These days, the long list of famous sites going green each year also includes the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy; Burj al Arab in Dubai; the Prince’s Palace of Monaco and the Empire State Building in New York.
Turning a landmark emerald usually requires little more than placing a green filter over its existing lighting system, though some people think the process is much more elaborate.
The announcement that Niagara Falls would go green prompted a number of visitors to ask: “how much dye is that going to take? Are residents going to be happy with that? And where is the green water going to flow to?” McMullan recalled.
Some sites also need additional hardware. The “Welcome” sign in Las Vegas, for example, requires different colored light bulbs, said Courtney Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The sign will stay green for about a week around St. Patrick’s Day.
“Las Vegas is a place where people like to come and party and celebrate, and have a great time, and it fits really nice with that holiday,” Fitzgerald said.
To encourage landmarks to go green, Tourism Ireland sends prospective destinations a brochure touting the benefits of the project, including taking part in a “compelling visual spectacle” and drawing the attention of the world’s media. This year, officials also invited Buckingham Palace to take part, but the Queen declined.
“Received a lovely letter from Buckingham Palace. While not lighting green on 17 March, The Queen's 'special affection for Ireland' noted,” tweeted Niall Gibbons, the chief executive of Tourism Ireland, on March 1.
That snafu aside, officials are particularly giddy about the Pyramids joining the campaign this year, calling it “a major coup for Irish tourism.”
The wish list for next year is under wraps but likely to include more big gets.
“From our perspective, it’s a wonderful endorsement of Ireland and the relationship we have around the world,” McMullan said.