The High Level Strategy of my Department in relation to Tourism is "To support the sustainable growth of the tourism industry and to help it address the competitive challenge through the development, implementation and influencing of a range of policy actions and programmes which optimise the economic and social benefits of the sector".
Under the influence of the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy, the principles of Sustainable Development are increasingly permeating public policy and programmes including those related to Tourism. Sustainable Development incorporates the three principles mentioned by the Deputy — Social Cohesion, Economic Prosperity and Environment — or the three Ps, , as they are more popularly know — People, Profit and Place. Each one of these applies to the Tourism sector.
These principles are incorporated in the current guiding Vision for Irish Tourism which is set out in the New Horizons Report on Irish Tourism. That Vision reads as follows:
Ireland will be a destination of choice for discerning international and domestic tourists which:
provides a tourism experience that exceeds customer expectations in terms of friendliness, quality of environment, diversity and depth of culture
has a range of high-quality, world-class, competitive products and services widely distributed throughout all the regions of the country
is a vibrant source of foreign and regional earnings throughout the year
respects the natural and built environments and supports their conservation and enhancement
provides attractive career opportunities in tourism for people with a range of skills and employment needs
provides the opportunity for people working in tourism to enhance their skills through experience, training and life-long learning
respects and supports Irish culture in all its diversity
provides a positive international profile of Ireland".
The tourism industry has a wide geographic distribution. In some, otherwise undeveloped areas, it is the main source of development and employment. The Government has a strong regional tourism policy which guides the activities of the Tourism Agencies in the formulation and delivery of their programmes. Fáilte Ireland, works closely with the sector, through its own training initiatives and the education and awareness programmes that it supports, to help improve the quality of training and also to encourage the industry to provide good conditions and career prospects to its employees.
Tourism is a generator of wealth with a high indigenous component. It is one of our major economic sectors. The physical environment is one of the core tourism resources and the sector is becoming increasingly conscious of that. The tourism sector is increasingly proactive in addressing sustainability issues. The overarching challenge for the tourism sector is to remain competitive while also embracing sustainability, recognising that in the long term competitiveness depends on sustainability — including environmental sustainability. I would note that there is no evidence from environmental surveys over the years that the Tourism sector is a significant polluter of the environment. It is clear, however, that Tourism is a sector that will suffer from environmental damage through the undermining of Ireland's clean green image.
Under its Agreed Programme, this Government is committed "to develop our tourism industry and provide it with sustained support and investment". To this end, the Government will, among other things, place much greater emphasis on the protection, conservation, interpretation and access to Ireland's natural and built heritage.
At the operational level, Fáilte Ireland has re-embraced its environmental remit with great vigour and is working with the industry, the local authorities and a wide range of partners to promote a balanced and sustainable approach to Tourism development. I am advised that Fáilte Ireland has recently published its Environmental Action Plan for the period 2007-2009. The Plan sets out what Fáilte Ireland will do to help meet the environmental challenges facing Tourism.
Of course, ultimately, it is the tourism industry itself that must meet the challenges and seize the opportunities generated by the sustainability agenda, at sectoral and enterprise levels. National Tourism Policy recognises that competitiveness is the number one challenge facing Irish Tourism. Ireland is not a low-cost economy and tourism businesses are under strong cost pressures. The introduction of more efficient use of resources like energy, more recycling and better environmental management generally, provides an opportunity to significantly reduce the running costs of tourism businesses. This has been shown through initiatives such as Fáilte Ireland's Performance Plus programme and the Irish Hospitality Institute's Greening Irish Hotels scheme.
In conclusion, I would also note that my Department and the tourism agencies take an active part in a wide range of groups and fora focusing on sustainability and the environment, providing the tourism input into consideration of a wide range of policies and activities.