Tourist Traffic Bill, 1983: [Seanad] Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

As the Minister said, the tourist industry is very important from the point of view of the development and growth of the economy generally. This is really an administrative Bill and I welcome its provisions. Capital is being provided to develop further a very important and significant growth industry. I appreciate the importance of tourism. I appreciate the value of foreign currency. It is most important from the point of view of the economy and any foreign currency that can be garnered is vitally important to the development of all our resources.

We have an unemployment problem. The level is very high and tourism is an area which has shown a greater level of growth than any other industry over the years. Perhaps we do not give it the attention and financial input it really deserves. Nonetheless significant improvements have been made and Bord Fáilte are to be congratulated on the significant improvements they have brought about in the industry.

In regard to the development of accommodation there has been a significant increase in costs and when costs become too high there is a disincentive to the tourist to come back again. The main objective of visitors is the high level of costs. That is what prevents them from coming back again. There has been a significant increase in the overall income in the last ten years. In the last two years it has been in excess of £500 million. It should be supported in every way possible. Much of the investment in Bord Fáilte has been directed towards established tourist sectors. Admittedly American tourists generally want to visit a few important centres. Here I want to speak particularly for some inland centres, particularly centres in my own county of Kilkenny. Tourist attractions in the county have been developed with the help of Bord Fáilte but the archaeological and historical background of the city is not publicised enough. Three major hotels were opened there recently and that is an indication of the big increase in the number of tourists to inland centres.

Although some small inland centres have been publicised to some extent many tourists do not know of them. I should like to refer to the Barrow Valley and Inistioge areas of County Kilkenny and point out that I do not think it is possible to find more attractive areas for visitors. Such areas should be given assistance to develop further. Some thought should be given to the development of old castles and the provision of walks through our forests. Many Members have expressed concern about the extent of the pollution of our inland waters. The Central Fisheries Board and Bord Fáilte should highlight the pollution problems and seek to have them remedied.

Our road network leaves a lot to be desired. Having spent my holidays in recent years in Ireland — I do not see any reason why I should go abroad because I do not think it is possible to find beauty to equal that in Ireland — I am in a position to comment on the condition of our roads. The standard of accommodation is first class, although there are people who are in the business for a quick profit. Bed and breakfast institutions have sprung up overnight and are doing damage to those who depend on the tourist trade for a livelihood. Significant incentives must be given to ensure that the standard of accommodation is high.

Many visitors come to Ireland on angling holidays. Sadly, many of our rivers and lakes are polluted and I have no doubt that in time many of our seaside resorts will be affected. It is time we embarked on a programme to educate the public, industrialists and local authorities about the dangers of pollution. We should do everything in our power to keep rivers and lakes free of pollution. In some seaside towns there are eyesores in the form of badly planned caravan parks. We are all anxious to promote reasonably priced holidays, particularly for our people at home, but we must ensure that the quality and standards are acceptable.

I had occasion recently to consider the railway network in the south-east region where an important link line may be closed. That line links Rosslare, a major port, with places like Cork and Killarney. Many package holidays from Europe depend on our railway system and we should not allow it to be run down because of a lack of State investment. The Minister should have consultations about our rail and road network with all the agencies promoting Ireland.

Tourism is vitally important for the country and its growth in relation to investment has been significant. If there had been investment in the tourist industry on the same scale as has taken place in other industries, I have no doubt that we would be considering a greater increase than the 15 per cent we have had in net terms. I wish the Minister every success in his work to promote this vital industry. I hope he will work to improve all historical centres. He should advocate the improvement of old castles, many of which date back to Norman times. Every effort should be made to encourage tourists to visit the centre of Ireland where they will find real hospitality.

I should like to congratulate Members who contributed to the debate. The thoroughness and sincerity of their contributions demonstrate their interest in this immense national industry. All Members indicated their confidence that there will be a substantial expansion in the industry and listed the opportunities for this development. I am in complete accord with the view that Irish tourism has a tremendous growth potential that must reflect itself in the country's wealth and employment. There are three overriding factors that must be looked at seriously and accepted as the basis for growth. Our promotional activities overseas must be expanded. That is important. The access facilities to Ireland must be equal to those of our competitors in the tourism world. Every country is our competitor so far as tourism is concerned. It is vital that there be co-operation and discussion between the different groups involved. If suitable access facilities are not available, money spent on promotion, development and investment will not have the return it deserves.

There must be a sense of responsibility among our people at home who are directly and indirectly involved in the development of the tourist industry. Here we have the greatest opportunity. As other speakers have pointed out, we have the advantage of good scenery, the absence of pollution, open roads, mountains and lakes and good fishing. If we do not give value to the tourists the industry will die. That is why I attach so much importance to showing hospitality and courtesy to our visitors. For many years Ireland has been renowned for its friendliness, hospitality and courtesy and people here who may be motivated by greed and selfishness will do a great disservice to the tourist industry. I am convinced that the points I have raised are vital so far as the tourist industry is concerned and will lead to massive expansion in that sector.

Our best ambassador is the satisfied tourist. If we do not give value for the money spent by him, all the work of Bord Fáilte and the injection of money will not be worthwhile. We must have access facilities comparable to those in other countries. Until we achieve this we will not get the expansion the industry deserves, which could make a major contribution to the economy.

We are continually looking for additional finance. I am sure that Deputy Flynn who previously had responsibility for this matter realises that while the Department can and will look for substantial finance the decision rests with another Department. The returns from tourism in respect of the current year show a 5 per cent increase in respect of British tourists. Traditionally this has been the backbone of the industry and we are very pleased about the improvement in this sector. Promotion is of vital importance for this market. Britain is the country nearest us, its citizens have constituted the major percentage of our tourists in the past and we have had long-standing relationships with that country. The European market is also showing a definite improvement. Traffic from Germany has increased but, because of the financial situation in France, there has been a substantial drop in the number of tourists from that country. Deputy Daly and others asked that immediate discussions be entered into with the French Government in an effort to have the financial restrictions on French tourists discontinued. The Government have got a full commitment that the restrictions will end in December and I am confident that guarantee will be upheld.

The development of fishing and angling competitions has been raised. Bord Fáilte are engaging in a considerable promotional campaign in Britain and on the Continent to invite tourists who have an interest in fishing and angling. These tourists usually come for one or two weeks, and usually come in groups. I can assure Deputies that the promotion of fishing, whether it be coarse fishing, river fishing, trout, salmon or deep-sea fishing will be continued.

Questions were raised regarding non-accommodation grants. I will give the House details of expenditure over the 1979-82 period. This was in respect of a wide variety of investments which include: cruising on the Shannon, where the grants structure provided for £1,042,000; waterway developments, £286,000; regional tourist offices, £934,000; recreational facilities, such as swimming pools, tennis courts and so on in various centres, £844,000; national and forest parks, £445,000; developments in angling, £534,000; sailing and other water sports, £300,000; historical and cultural developments, £929,000; great houses and gardens, £727,000; environmental community projects, £229,000, and horse-drawn caravans, £111,000.

Is that over the past five years?

Yes. Deputy Flynn spoke about greater co-operation between the Departments and I agree with him. There is scope for improvement here. I have asked my Department to examine this matter in detail. At this stage I am contemplating the establishment of a permanent committee on which relevant Government Departments would be represented. This would be used to ensure that all Departments work together in improving tourism. It may be possible to extend this to include all State bodies to co-ordinate, for example, the promotional activities of Aer Lingus and CIE.

What Departments are included in the committee?

The relevant Government Departments which would be the Department of the Environment and the Department of Transport at least in the first instance.

I ask the Minister to include also the Department of Education.

I would see such an inter-departmental body working in full co-operation with Bord Fáilte, especially in relation to access routes to Ireland, the amenities and facilities at ports, the development of tidy towns competitions and the expenditure of public moneys in relation to that matter.

Deputy Flynn asked about the responsibility of Fóir Teoranta in relation to hotels in difficulties. Responsibility for Fóir Teoranta rests with the Minister for Finance. There have been discussions between this Department and the Department of Finance on this matter. At present the Act relating to Fóir Teoranta limits assistance to concerns engaged in industrial activity and the legislation would have to be changed if assistance were to be given to hotels. The Minister for Finance is still considering this matter.

I know that. I want the Minister to use his good offices to get the extension I asked.

I ask the Deputy to allow the Minister to continue without interruption.

Deputy Begley asked that the matter of gambling casinos be investigated. That is a matter for the Minister for Justice.

He is sitting beside the Minister. Why not ask him?

Deputy Begley asked about the position of loans from the ICC. I am glad to advise him that this has been taken up most enthusiastically and at the moment up to £10 million has been invested through that body. Deputy Gallagher raised the question of amenities. The expenditure by Bord Fáilte of an expanding amount of money on access roads and so forth has been part of the Bord Fáilte policy but in some areas where those applications come in they are mainly for local community benefit rather than for the tourist's benefit. With the limited resources which are available to Bord Fáilte, which are so urgently required for the major promotional development of the board and bringing tourists here it is considered that the work should be undertaken by the Department of the Environment rather than by the Department of Tourism.

A very important point was made about the utilisation of our national heritage in music, song and dance, old houses and other things. I have discussed this feature with Bord Fáilte and I have asked them to involve themselves at regional level in the recreational activities for tourists. We have very good voluntary bodies such as Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and dancing groups who I believe are not being utilised to the extent they are prepared to co-operate for the benefit of tourism. I know that demonstrations of song, dance and music are features that live very well in the memories of tourists and the aspects that are referred to at a later stage.

The development of hotels versus guesthouses, town and country homes and bed and breakfast, has emerged as well as caravan and camping grounds. While the hotels must always form a major part of the tourist industry and have been the subject of millions of pounds of investment, there is a changing atmosphere in the whole field, in that at this point only 17 per cent of tourists coming to Ireland get their accommodation in hotels. This has demonstrated to Bord Fáilte and people with an interest in tourism that they have to meet a changing situation and changing circumstances. It is because of that that new emphasis is being placed on the self-catering industry, which is a new development, camping and caravanning, town and country homes and farm guesthouses. These have become major attractions for tourist communities and, as such, we have got to meet the situation to ensure that they are promoted and that they meet the requirements laid down.

Deputy Coveney mentioned the B & I service to Cork and the car ferry service to Cork. He can rest assured that Bord Fáilte will support that at all times. Deputy Foley mentioned the necessity for increasing the accommodation aspect and the non-accommodation aspect. When this Bill is passed we will have approved additional funds in respect of both of those. So far as the accommodation side of it goes, this is limited at the moment to the provision of bathrooms in existing hotels. The point has been clearly made by a number of Deputies that no consideration would be given at this time to the investment of money in new hotels. We have a problem to upgrade all the existing hotels to meet modern requirements. This is in progress. In addition to that, a new assessment has been undertaken by Bord Fáilte to establish what will be the major accommodation requirements over the next five years. We expect to receive that report within the next two months and it will indicate in their opinion what the involvment of any new hotel development will be. Up to that point there is no estimate that any additional money that is available will be expended on the promotion of new hotels. The idea is to support the existing structures and bring them up to as high a standard as possible.

Do I take it that the Minister is saying he will introduce renewal and improvement grants for existing hotels?

There is an improvement grant for bathroom installation.

Will those be introduced?

When the report is received and when we see what the total situation is in relation to accommodation.

Is the Minister favourably disposed to this?

Yes. Fire regulations are a very important point. We have raised this matter with the Minister for the Environment with a view to taking account of the situation regarding the upgrading of hotels and the new registration of existing hotels. This matter has been favourably considered by the Department of the Environment. Deputy Flynn raised the question of the retention of CIE hotels. This is a matter for the Minister for Transport. My Department would like to see these hotels retained.

The question of drink prices in hotels was raised and strongly criticised. I want to make one point on this. Unlike licensing bars hotel prices are not subject to control by the National Prices Commission and, as such, they are exempt from control. I believe I have dealt, although very briefly and sketchily, with all the different points raised. I would like to assure all Deputies that I am conscious of the tremendous responsibility placed on me and my Department as well as Bord Fáilte to ensure that the country benefits to the fullest extent from the tourist potential which we feel is not fully exploited at the moment. We will spare no effort, within our competence and capacity, to ensure that it is promoted and developed with a responsible approach from all the segments within the country to ensure that it can bring full benefit to the community.

Question put and agreed to.