Ceisteanna — Questions.

Tourism Statistics.

Jack Wall

Question:

1 Mr. Wall asked the Taoiseach if he has received information regarding the number of tourists who have visited Ireland since 1 January 2004; the way in which this compares with the same period in 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10648/04]

Information regarding the number of tourists visiting Ireland is published on a quarterly basis in the tourism and travel release. This release includes details of the number of visits to Ireland, classifies them by reason for journey into the categories of business, holiday-leisure-recreation, visiting friends and relatives and other, and also gives information on expenditure and average length of stay. It is expected that results for the first quarter of 2004 will be published in June.

The CSO has introduced a new monthly overseas travel series. This release details the total number of overseas trips into and out of Ireland classified by area of residence. It does not identify why these trips are made. Results for January 2004 show there were 347,300 overseas trips to Ireland — an increase of 3.7% on the January 2003 figure of 334,800. Irish residents made 332,800 overseas trips in January 2004 — an increase of 13.3% on the figure of 293,700 for the same month in 2003.

I thank the Minister of State for that information. Will she give a breakdown of the visitors coming here or the trips they are making? Are they tourism related, business related or people returning to Ireland? Given that thousands of non-nationals have been employed here it is important to know the breakdown of these figures.

Within the quarterly release there are the results of two sample surveys: the country of residence survey and the passenger card inquiry. The country of residence survey gives information of all arriving and departing passengers and, on selected sailings and flights, the country of residence of a sample number of passengers. The type of information available from the survey is quite selective. However, the second survey, the passenger card inquiry, is much more detailed. It gives the purpose of the journey, ticket type and the country of residence for all passengers. It also details the expenditure, length of stay, fare payment details, all of which is recorded for Irish passengers on incoming routes and overseas passengers on departing routes. The type of accommodation used is also detailed. This would, obviously, allow us to ascertain why foreign residents are travelling to the Republic and whether they could be categorised as tourists. The four categories for reason of journey are listed as: business, holiday-leisure-recreation, visiting friends and relatives and other.

If that is the case will the Minister of State tell the House how many of these people attend a maternity hospital here to have a baby, during their visit to Ireland?

That does not arise under the question.

It is a journey.

I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, it does.

The information that is requested of people is to list the reason for their journey under the four categories: business, holiday-leisure-recreation, visiting friends and relatives and other. It is up to people to determine which category they wish to put it.

The Minister of State said accommodation was also listed. Accommodation includes a stay in a maternity hospital. How many of these people have declared that they stayed in a maternity hospital, which would indicate that they probably had a baby while they were here? How many stated they had accommodation in a maternity hospital, according to the information sought by the CSO?

The type of accommodation used is detailed for overseas passengers on departing routes and is listed specifically under hotels, guesthouses, bed and breakfast, rented houses and apartment, caravan or camping, hostel, friends and relatives, and other.

What is "other"?

For 2003, the number of overseas nights spent in Ireland by non-residents, defined as at least one overnight in Ireland, classed by type of accommodation listed for 2003 as "other", were 4,446.

Why was the information not sought if this is such a severe problem that we are about to amend the Constitution?

That is a separate question.

Since, according to the Government, this has been an issue for a number of years, why has the Minister not ensured that this information——

The Deputy has made her point. That matter does not arise under this question. It is a statistical question and is quite specific.

That is correct. It is a statistical question relating to the form of accommodation that non-nationals use while they are in Ireland.

The accommodation they use.

I am perfectly within my rights to ask this question. Why is it that the Government did not ensure, considering the pending constitutional referendum, it had information about an important issue which it maintains is so important that we have to amend the Constitution to deal with it? Why was it not sufficiently important for the Government to ensure it had the information on which to base its argument? I would like the Minister of State to reply.

The question is quite specific. It is a statistical question asking the Taoiseach if he has received information regarding the number of tourists who have visited Ireland since 1 January 2004; the way in which it compares with the same period in 2003 and so on. I suggest the Deputy submit a question along those lines.

It is totally within the question.

It could not be within the question.

It is something the Government keeps talking about and it does not know what it is talking about.

This is a statistical question. The statistics are as I have outlined to the Deputy. She may be interested to note that in 2003 when 4,446 people indicated their place of accommodation was other than those specifically listed, that was an increase of 420 on the previous year which was 4,020. The type of information being collected by the CSO is comparable to that used by Europe and has been used for many years to give us information to enable us pursue our policies on tourism and travel.

Given that the Minister of State said the quarterly figures will be available in June, I wish to refer to the related issue of the 2003 figures. In Britain, our nearest neighbour, there was a drop in visits to hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast accommodation and an increase in the numbers staying with friends and relatives. That raises an issue of whether they are staying with friends and relatives because of our rip-off tourism mentality. Are there any plans to widen the survey to ask why people stay in bed and breakfast accommodation, guesthouses, and with friends and relatives as opposed to other forms of accommodation?

On the issue of statistics, when the CSO is carrying out its survey and the "other" slot is filled in, is there a "please specify" option? In that case, would information be available as to what "other" actually entails and, if so, would the Minister of State be prepared to provide a detailed breakdown to Deputies on what it means?

The information as I have given it is published by the Central Statistics Office in its tourism and travel bulletins. The information as gathered is listed under the headings I have outlined. Therefore, "other" is not broken down into other types. The figures for 2003, unlike those for the rest of Europe, showed a 5% increase in the number of overseas visitors coming to Ireland. The numbers coming to Ireland, exceeding the peak figure for 2000, shows how buoyant and durable the tourism industry is in Ireland. My colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, answered questions on this matter. On the issue of guesthouses and so on, he also answered questions yesterday indicating that the revenue from each of those areas has shown an increase. None has shown a decrease whether it is camping, bed and breakfast, or staying with friends and relatives. The reason one is chosen over another goes into the realm of speculation.

Will the Minister of State acknowledge there is a net outflow of €58 million in terms of expenditure?

That matter does not arise under this question.

Given that there is now a single tourism promotion agency on the island of Ireland, would it not be appropriate to ensure that the Central Statistics Office would combine with the corresponding agency in the north of the island to give holistic, in the round figures in regard to real tourist numbers? As many who access the island of Ireland as a tourist destination use the port of Larne, Aldergrove Airport and Belfast City Airport, would it not be appropriate, given that many of those make their way throughout the island of Ireland, that we should have a more accurate reflection of the tourism business coming to this island by combining the figures North and South? This would be a natural outworking of the common tourism promotion effort as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. Will the Minister indicate whether she has taken any steps, since the last time I addressed this deficiency to her, to have the matter raised with the CSO or other responsible bodies or offices?

The responsibility of the CSO covers the Republic of Ireland only. Obviously, the figures it collates are comparable to figures which are collated by similar bodies, including those dealing with Northern Ireland. While it is not possible to collect figures for the island of Ireland, it is possible to use the figures from both sides for promotional purposes, as has been done on an all-island basis.

Will the Government encourage that?

Will the Minister confirm that US troops disembarking from planes and re-boarding after a short period at Shannon Airport were included in tourism statistics last year as visitors to our island?

No. I understand the figures apply only to passengers staying overnight.