I move that the Tourist Traffic Bill, 1938, be read a Second Time. The aim of the Bill before the House is to make better provision for the organisation and development of the holiday traffic and for that purpose to establish a tourist board vested with the requisite powers and to provide for the necessary funds for dealing with every phase of the problem. Subject as everything nowadays must be to the developments in the international position, it is considered that the time is opportune to develop in a systematic way the holiday resorts of the country and to reorganise the business of catering for holiday-makers. It is believed that by these means considerable benefits can be obtained for the country—for all sections of the people, including the farming community and for those interested in transport concerns, as well as for those engaged in catering and similar business more directly dependent on the expenditure of holiday-makers. Furthermore, the holiday habit has grown considerably amongst all sections of the people, and it is desirable from every point of view that they should be encouraged and facilitated to provide themselves and their families with suitable holidays in this country.
There is also the important business of attracting holiday-makers from other countries to visit this country and the provision of suitable and adequate accommodation for them, if our efforts in that direction should be successful. The tourist industry is one of great potential importance as a factor in the national economy, more particularly from the point of view of its effect upon the balance of international payments. That fact, while recognised on the Continent for more than a generation, has awakened relatively little interest in Ireland up to very recently, or even in Great Britain. Since then, something has been done in this country to repair the ill-effects of that indifference, but the measures taken have proved inadequate, and, with the phenomenal growth of the holiday habit in recent years, it is apparent that something more must be done if Ireland, with its great natural advantages as a health and pleasure resort, is to reap the harvest it might reasonably expect from that rich source of invisible income.
The figures relating to tourist traffic must be quoted with great reserve, but, on the best information available, it would appear that the annual value of that traffic is in the neighbourhood of £2,500,000, while the annual expenditure of our nationals holiday-making abroad is estimated at about £2,000,000. The net gain revealed by these figures can only be regarded as very unsatisfactory. The history of State intervention for the promotion of tourist industry dates from the enactment of the Local Government Act of 1925. Under that Act a local authority was empowered to strike a rate within prescribed limits and to expend the proceeds, either alone or jointly with other local authorities, in advertising their health and pleasure resorts. Alternatively, a local authority, subject to the approval of the Minister for Local Government, could contribute all or part of the proceeds to an association formed with the approval of the Minister for Industry and Commerce for the purpose of advertising Irish tourist centres. The funds contributed by local authorities could be expended by the approved association only on schemes sanctioned by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. These schemes were restricted by the Act to advertising in its commonly accepted forms. It was considered that the funds could be expended most advantageously by a central organisation and, in practice, only one such body, namely, the Irish Tourist Association, was approved.
That association, which was incorporated as a public company in 1925, has, throughout its career, been hampered by lack of adequate funds, even for its strictly limited programme. The association's position was strengthened, however, when the relevant section of the Act of 1925 was replaced by the Tourist Traffic (Development) Act, 1931, which is still in force. That Act, however, aimed at little more than the repair of the obvious defects of the earlier legislation. It gave the Minister wider powers in the expenditure of moneys contributed by public bodies by enabling the association to expend the money in such manner and on such objects as the Minister for Industry and Commerce might approve. It also aimed at securing a more stable income for the association by obliging local authorities which strike a tourist rate to contribute the proceeds in full to the association, except in exceptional circumstances, and by empowering local authorities to contract with the association for a contribution of the proceeds of the tourist rate for a period not exceeding five years.
Apart from what has been done in the ordinary way of commercial enterprise and by sporadic and often unsystematic local effort, the Irish Tourist Association remains the only organised machinery for promoting the development of the holiday business. The total annual revenue of the association is about £18,000, made up of £14,000 subscribed by local authorities and £4,000 received from other sources, mainly advertisements and subscriptions from hotel and transport interests. Its activities, in the main, are confined to advertising and hotel inspection. It is obvious that such an income is totally inadequate for publicity purposes alone and, in point of fact, no money has ever been at the disposal of the association for newspaper advertising in important countries, such as the United States of America, Australia and other countries where we have racial goodwill. In that connection, I might mention that I understand that the amount spent in the aggregate by the Irish Tourist Association and other interests on publicity work, for the attraction of visitors to Irish resorts, is comparatively less than the corresponding figure for any country that recognises the national importance of the tourist industry. It is probably less than the aggregate amount spent on behalf of any one of the larger British resorts.
Increased publicity must, however, fail in its purpose unless holiday-makers are adequately catered for, and it is in that connection that our holiday industry displays its greatest weakness. The accommodation is entirely insufficient and, to a large extent, out of date. In the matter of ordinary amenities and essential public services, Irish holiday resorts are, in many instances, lacking, and no effort has been made to repair the deficiencies. Local authorities, in some places, have no borrowing powers to meet the necessary capital expenditure, while, in most of the resorts, there is no local authority, except a county council or county board of health, which is naturally concerned with more general problems.
The holiday habit which has become such a marked feature of our time has received a new impetus from recent legislation giving workers holidays with pay. There can be no doubt that in the future there will be almost unlimited scope for the devlopment of holiday traffic in view of the fact that so many workers are now enjoying holidays with pay who never before enjoyed such a privilege. Those people will require information as to how and where to spend a holiday and what the approximate cost will be, and naturally more accommodation will be necessary to receive them and more attractions to secure their patronage. No effort has been made to cater for that class of traffic from urban centres at home which, under existing conditions, is likely to gravitate to such places as the Isle of Man, or has any attempt been made to attract or provide for, the volume of similar traffic which under proper organisation, might possibly be expected from Great Britain or other countries.
The Government has reached the conclusion that it is opposed to the public interest to allow existing conditions to continue and that the time is ripe for the introduction of more effective machinary for the promotion of this important industry, having regard particularly to the holiday facilities required by our own people, but keeping in mind also the situation abroad, and the specially favourable position of this country from the point of view of the holiday-maker After a full examination of the problem, the Government is convinced that in view of the extent and complexity of the work to be done and of the expedition desirable in its completion, the best possible prospect of recovering the leeway that has to be made up lies in the creation of a board vested with wide statutory powers and having sufficient funds at its disposal.
The Bill outlines the machinery which, in the Government's opinion, is best calculated to place the industry on a satisfactory footing. It provides for the creation of a board, having for its objects the registration, grading and certification of hotels, guest houses, holiday hotels and holiday camps, the improvement of such premises, the improvement of holiday resorts and publicity work calculated to develop holiday traffic. Part II of the Bill deals with the establishment and general powers of the Irish tourist board, which will be a body corporate, with power compulsorily to acquire, hold and dispose of land. The board will consist of not more than five members, appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the consent of the Minister for Finance. A member will hold office at the pleasure of the Minister for five years and will be eligible for reappointment.
Section 14 empowers the board to build, establish, equip or operate, or to assist in building, establishing, equipping or operating hotels, guest houses, hostels and holiday camps and to provide, or to assist in providing, services, sports, amusements and other facilities calculated to improve holiday traffic, to improve and maintain amenities and conditions likely to affect holiday traffic, to engage in publicity and tourist agency work and to prepare and publish guide books and other holiday publications and to provide, or assist in providing, for the training of persons to do work in connection with holiday traffic.
Sections 15 and 16 deal with State contributions towards the fund of the board, the contributions consisting of a non-repayable grant, not exceeding £45,000 per annum, to cover administrative and other expenses and advances, not exceeding in the aggregate £600,000, to be applied to works, investments or loans under the Act of a profit-earning character, save as may be otherwise provided by the Minister for Finance on the recommendation of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The annual grant is intended to supplement the normal revenue of the board, and the fees payable for the registration of hotels, etc., and will be devoted to administrative and publicity expenses, estimated roughly in the proportion of £20,000 and £25,000 per annum, respectively.