I am fairly convinced that we are over-pricing ourselves out of the tourist market. It is well known that hotels are charging as high as £50 per night in some parts of the country for bed and breakfast. What visitors will they attract? I would hope that something could be done to abolish VAT on hotel charges or to reduce it considerably. This would be an added incentive to tourists. When tourists book into a hotel and get their terms, 75 per cent of them do not realise that they will be saddled with a very high percentage of VAT charges and service charges.
We can see what other countries, favoured with better weather conditions than we are doing to attract tourists. We should endeavour to embark on the right road to earn our share of the tourist industry in western Europe in particular. Tourism is an industry of great importance to our economy. In Ireland we are only skimming the surface. We are not exploiting the economic benefit this great industry could be to us. A booming tourist industry would provide much-needed job creation, especially for our youth.
Seasonal employment in hotels kept many of our youth happy and gave them their first opportunity to earn a few pounds after leaving school. It is impossible for the hotels and guest houses in the seaside resorts to continue to exist if they are to be unpaid tax collectors for the Revenue. It would be far better for the Irish nation if we could stimulate the tourist industry and give an added incentive to hoteliers and managers of hotels and guest houses to take on extra staff. The price of drink and food is exorbitant.
To save the Irish tourist industry a new national policy is urgently needed. This policy should be on these lines. The industry must be enabled to retain reasonable competitiveness in a high inflation period through the abolition or reduction of VAT charges which are now crippling hotels and guest houses.
Secondly, Bord Fáilte and the regional tourist organisations must be restructured and streamlined to meet the present crisis in this industry. New marketing strategies are urgently needed, especially in Europe, where there is enormous goodwill for Ireland and where the surface has merely been scratched. Thirdly, the role of Aer Lingus and the shipping companies in the Irish tourist industry must be re-assessed with a view to cutting transport costs to a minimum during the present crisis. It is cheaper to travel from London to New York by certain tour companies than it is to travel from London to Dublin. How can we expect to attract tourists from our biggest customer, Great Britain, or to attract tourists from the Continent, if that is the case.
The industry must be encouraged and assisted to offer the most attractive and competitive holiday packages possible. The marketing strategy employed by Bord Fáilte since we joined the EEC has failed to develop the European market to the full. It is proper that we develop that area. In 1972, 51 per cent of our tourists came from Great Britain and in 1982 that figure fell to 46 per cent. In 1972 Northern Ireland accounted for 30 per cent of our visitors and in 1982 that figure fell to 24 per cent. In 1972 the United States of America and Canada accounted for 18 per cent of our visitors and in 1982 that figure fell to 14 per cent. In 1972 continental Europe accounted for 9 per cent of our tourists and in 1982 that figure increased to 14 per cent. Those figures prove we did not attract as many visitors from Britain in 1982 as we did in 1972. Naturally the main reason for this fall is that we have not made our package tours attractive enough.
Our tourist industry earned a total of £747.3 million in 1982. Total revenue in that year from out of state tourism amounted to £487 million and in 1972 it was only £91.4 million. Of that £487 million the Cork and Kerry region were responsible for collecting £131 million, almost 28 per cent of the total revenue collected. What did we get in return from Bord Fáilte or Aer Lingus? It is clear that that area has proved to be a most attractive part of Ireland for tourists. Yet we are threatened with a pull out by B & I, leaving us with no direct link from Cork to Britain. If that happens a death knell blow will be dealt to the Irish tourist industry. This Government must ensure that this service is maintained. If B & I do not wish to operate this service, why not offer it to other operators? As Deputy Coveney said, other people seem to be interested in providing this service. It is of paramount importance that that link with Britain be maintained. In 1982 the Shannonside area accounted for only £50.4 million of the £487 million out of State revenue. The western area accounted for £81.2 million, the Midlands £44.4 million, the Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo area £55.7 million, the eastern area £63.4 million and the south-east area £71.6 million. Also, 2.25 million visitors came from abroad. I believe this figure could be increased considerably but to do so there must be proper planning and greater attention given to problems.
Irish tourism, faced with the inevitable decline of the British market in recent years, has failed to formulate and implement the new dynamic marketing strategy which is necessary if we are to reach our tourist potential in Western Europe. This State gave Bord Fáilte £25 million a year, to promote tourism: now that figure has been increased to £30 million a year. Are we getting a good return for that money? This is a question we must ask ourselves. This is a considerable amount of money and I hope it is being spent in the right direction. The Minister should take the onus on himself to ensure that we get good value for that money.
Aer Lingus received £45 million in subsidies and grants over a three year period, beginning in 1982. As far as I can see, the airline's mandate is not to promote tourism but to operate a commercial service. In short, the Government find themselves simultaneously subsidising activities which are at odds with one another. Thankfully, Aer Lingus have announced that there will be no increase in promotional fares on the North Atlantic route in 1984. This is some relief for Bord Fáilte, hotel owners and tour operators, who depend so much on Aer Lingus. It was not until March of this year that Aer Lingus were able to give a figure for the fares on the North Atlantic route. How can tour operators and hotel managers offer package deals without having that information? It would be more appropriate that Aer Lingus would tell Bord Fáilte, tour operators and hotel managers in October or November, certainly no later than December, of their intentions and fares for the coming year.
1982 was the best ever year for American tourists visiting Ireland. When the current year ends we will have been visited by approximately 296,000 North Americans, constituting a 6 per cent drop on the 1982 figure. I am amazed at this drop particularly in view of the favourable position of the dollar vis-á-vis the IR£. Surely there could have been a major contribution bearing this factor in mind? Additionally a charter service was operated by Old Country Tours from New York, Boston and Chicago to Shannon during 1982. That company offered an introductory return fare of $399 which proved to be immensely popular with the American public. That company used Pan-American Airlines. Aer Lingus contended that, at a rate of $399 return per tourist, they were impinging on the Irish market. Is it not far better to fly in tourists in their hundreds and thousands than be crossing the Atlantic with half empty planes? We must remember that other countries endeavouring to attract tourists — perhaps with more favourable weather conditions than ours — have actually flown them in from Scandinavia, Germany and America in Jumbo jets packed to capacity. We must ask ourselves what is wrong that we have failed to capitalise on that kind of market here. We have some of the finest scenery in western Europe and perhaps in the world. We have unpolluted air and water and a lot of other natural attractions. We have many mountains, lakes and rivers.
I hope our future planning laws will take into consideration the preservation of the natural amenities this country possesses. There are many countries today who would dearly love to have the attractions we can offer to tourists. What is wrong when one sees so much money being given to Bord Fáilte, Aer Lingus and others to promote tourism here over the years? Some serious thought must be given to this aspect. It is a well known fact that American tourists love to come here but, when they do come, they should be met with generosity and receive fair play.
Much more can be said about the tourist industry. It is important that the area I represent, south-west Cork, in conjunction with south-west Kerry, gets its fair share of the cake. I am not a believer in Bord Fáilte giving hundreds of thousands of pounds for the building of grandiose hotels around Dublin; the reverse should be the trend. I have great sympathy for the family-run, or small company-run hotel, for the guesthouse owner endeavouring to eke out a living from the tourist industry along our south-west seaboard. I believe firmly that not all conferences or seminars should be held in Dublin. It is very difficult for individuals and small company hotels along the south and south-western seaboard to continue in business with a very limited tourist season. In order to lengthen that season surely it should be possible for the different Departments, in regard to seminars and conferences being arranged by other bodies, to distribute them around rural Ireland? We have in Bantry a major hotel called the West Lodge Hotel. Does it receive its fair share of conferences? One can be sure it does not. It must be remembered that a hotel employing between 20 and 50 people constitutes a major asset for any small town. These people should receive some kind of incentive, be promoted by Bord Fáilte, given as much assistance as possible, so that they receive their rightful share of the cake.
It is also of vital importance that our fishing industry, our lakes, rivers and deep sea be developed and assisted as far as possible. How can one expect an industry to thrive or develop when there are not the facilities available to attract tourists? We have some of the finest rivers, lakes and deep sea fishing in the world but we have not capitalised on those assets. We should be tapping that market in Europe. I am sure we would get a generous response if attractive terms were offered to that type of visitor. Mark you, that type of visitor would be of immense value to the industry as a whole. In order to build up that end of the tourist trade you need decent piers and slipways. A service needs to be provided. I would almost go so far as to ask Bord Fáilte to give some incentive to deep sea angling. It is very popular in that area. I would ask the Department of Fisheries to restock our rivers and lakes with trout. Trout and salmon fishing is a major tourist attraction.
Again, Irish people are deeply conscious of the advantage of taking their holidays at home. Last year the number who did so was quite considerable. The impact of the home tourist in the Cork and Kerry region was very satisfactory. Were it not for the home tourist the figures would not have been as good as they were in the south-west generally in the last few years. I sound one note of warning: I appeal to the Minister, to Bord Fáilte to hotels and guesthouses not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg by pricing themselves out of the tourist market. If that is done we shall destroy a major industry in our economy.
Serious consideration must be given to the area in which we can expand tourism. The only way we can expand it is by building up the industry as much as possible. The tourist when he comes here comes to eat well, to drink well and to enjoy himself. If he finds he is debarred from these things because of over-pricing he will not come again. We have some of the dearest drink prices in Europe. In fact that industry cannot afford to take any more increases. If any more increases come, the industry will be crippled. In order to ensure a bright future for tourism — that is, if there is going to be a future for it — we must ensure it is put on a sound footing.
Finally, the Minister comes from one of the most scenic spots in Ireland and he knows what tourism means. He was born and bred with it. He saw it thriving right from its infancy to its present position. We are very happy to have Deputy Michael Moynihan responsible for this major industry. He has the capacity, the courage and the initiative to tackle the problem. He will not be slow in making decisions, I am sure, which will advance this major industry and when next we are considering this matter I am sure that the Minister, Deputy Moynihan, will have left his mark on the industry, an industry which can prove so beneficial if we nurture it in the right way, give it a chance to survive and do not price ourselves out of the market.
It is up to everyone, both Opposition and Government, to ensure the country pulls out of the present crisis. To do that we must have a very secure tourist industry because every tourist generates badly needed revenue. It should be our ambition to bring them in in their hundreds and thousands. Above all, we must ensure that our State-sponsored bodies play their part in a proper fashion to ensure we get the maximum benefit from this very valuable industry.