I propose to take Questions Nos. 26, 32 and 87 together.
I have no direct responsibility for individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned. These are, at present, day-to-day functions of the State tourism agencies.
Fáilte Ireland, in response to a recommendation in the tourism action plan set out in the report of the tourism policy review group, towards the end of last year commissioned PriceWaterhouseCoopers, PWC, to conduct a major study of regional tourism structures, as it sought to determine how best to carry out its new development mandate countrywide. The report has been published and is available on the Fáilte Ireland website. This work was supplemented by a short engagement facilitated by a small independent group, chaired by Mr. John Travers, with the relevant parties to satisfy interests in the Dublin region that the mechanisms of consultation were complete.
The PWC report highlights the need for a much wider brief for regional tourism, playing a strategic rather than administrative role and inputting more directly into national policy. It recommends a greatly increased emphasis on targeted marketing, product development and enterprise support. It suggests establishing an integrated linkage between regional tourism strategy and national policy and exploiting avenues to leverage increased resources.
At the end of July, I indicated to Fáilte Ireland that I was satisfied it should proceed with the proposed revision of regional tourism structures on the basis of the PWC and Travers reports. An implementation group has been established to assist Fáilte Ireland in implementing the recommendations. Mr. Finbarr Flood has agreed to chair this group. It has already begun its work and Fáilte Ireland expects that changes on foot of its work will be seen in the regions by the middle of next year.
National tourism policy has been evolving in recent years, with a particular emphasis on putting policy measures in place to achieve a wider spread of tourism business arising from the New Horizons policy review. The development of good quality direct access to the regions has been a major impediment to growth in the past. Fortunately, this situation has improved greatly in recent times and this summer has seen the greatest ever number of air seats to Ireland, particularly servicing the west. These new routes from Britain, mainland Europe and the US continue to be promoted heavily by Tourism Ireland to optimise their tourism impact.
Visitors cannot be forced to go to a particular location against their will. The responsibility primarily lies with the individual communities and operators in the regions to present and market compelling attractions, facilities, accommodation and experiences that deliver value for money and quality service. However, at a time of overall national tourism growth, I remain concerned that the issue of regional spread should be proactively and energetically addressed. In that context I am pleased that the programmes and initiatives being operated by the State tourism agencies and the action plan set out in the report of the tourism policy review group fully reflect this objective.
Such programmes and initiatives include: the strategic investment in the sustainable development of tourism capital infrastructure in underperforming areas through the tourism product development scheme, which aims to match the quality of the product available on the ground with ever greater consumer expectations; the differential levels of support offered to regional tourism authorities for marketing purposes; an expanded domestic tourism marketing campaign; the use of predominantly rural imagery in the advertising and promotion of Ireland, both at home and abroad; the regional coverage with respect to visiting media; the specific focus on achieving a wide spread of visitors with regard to access transport policies.
In total this year, Fáilte Ireland is investing of the order of €27 million on developing regional tourism, from supporting local festivals to building capability and strengthening the tourism product itself. As regards the promotion and development of tourism by the regions themselves, Fáilte Ireland is channelling in the region of €7.4 million directly into the regional tourism companies to strengthen and enhance their operational and marketing capabilities this year. This investment is designed to ensure both a high quality visitor servicing experience at key tourist information offices and also a strong overseas promotional effort.
In their programmes for 2005, both Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are rolling out a number of innovative approaches which should heighten the regional impact of Ireland's marketing activities both nationally and overseas: all regions will feature prominently in the full range of marketing activities; a dedicated marketing fund for tactical co-operative initiatives with the regional tourism authorities and their members is available for 2005; a region to region approach is being adopted in Britain which is capitalising on direct access links to the regions; specific marketing campaigns involving joint co-operation activities by the regional tourism authorities and other regional interests have been launched for both the western seaboard and the north west this year; a sponsor a region approach has been adopted in Europe whereby each market office is focusing attention alternately on a particular Irish region to enhance the awareness of the local trade of what that region has to offer; an enhanced consumer website with increased functionality and a strong regional input is providing for more dynamic and up-to-the minute packages to entice the domestic traveller; and a strong focus on event based holidays is being complemented by a more streamlined and targeted festivals and cultural events fund which will continue to favour the lesser developed regions.