It is hard to believe it is five years since I was last before this committee. A number of familiar faces are here, including Senator O'Mahony. I am delighted to be back. In the five years since I took over as chair of Fáilte Ireland, and I assure the committee that this is entirely a coincidence, revenue from foreign tourists has grown by 78%. I do not take any personal credit for that. I just want to review where we are. The number of foreign visitors has reached almost 10 million. Revenue from domestic holidaymakers and holidaymakers from Northern Ireland grew by 26% in that period. Revenue from business tourism - conference and incentive business which is critical for us because these visitors come back as genuine tourists if they have a good experience - increased by 90% in the past five years. In some parts of the country, we are having what one would class as high-class problems in terms of capacity restraints and constraints and we are working through those as well.
Tourism is the biggest industry in this country in terms of employment. It supports 260,000 jobs. Unfortunately, it is viewed in some sectors as the poor relation as a career choice for school leavers. We are working diligently to improve its profile. It is a service industry and, ultimately, we will be judged on the quality of the people we have and the quality of the welcome and service they give our visitors. We have to fix that problem in the long term and Fáilte Ireland is working strenuously with career guidance teachers at second level and third level institutions to provide courses that will be attractive. For example, we are focusing on the entrepreneurial aspect of setting up one's own business for young people who may have a hobby in activities or hospitality. We are fostering that as possibly another way of making the career an attractive option for them when they leave school or college.
It is interesting to note that 23 cent of every euro a visitor spends goes to the Exchequer. It is a financially intensive revenue stream as far as the activity is concerned. There is hardly another industry that has a corresponding financial or labour intensive profile. The industry now generates €8 billion in revenue and, as I said, supports 260,000 jobs. Last year, 2018, was a record year for Irish tourism with 9.6 million overseas visitors. We expect it to be close to 10 million in the current year even though, as Rose Hynes said, there was a reduction at Shannon Airport. There has been an increase in Dublin Airport but it is less than was expected, also because of the Boeing 737 MAX situation. We would have expected it to surpass 10 million this year but, we will probably be just short of it. Hopefully, next year will be a further record year.
We support the industry not just financially but in many different ways. We have an extensive capital grants scheme of both large and small grants. I will talk further about that momentarily and give the committee some examples of what we have been doing. We also support the industry through management education. We have hundreds of courses and put 25,000 people in the industry through courses every year. They range from revenue management for hotels and restaurants to concierge services to tourist guides, for whom we have given certification qualifications to elevate the status of that profession within the industry.
Everybody who comes to Ireland tells us, and this is a little like motherhood and apple pie but we should never lose sight of it, that our people are the most important resource we have. The interaction with our people gives us a major competitive advantage over competing countries. People obviously do not come to Ireland for the weather, although it is a bonus when it is good, but for the welcome, the activities and, above all, the interaction with the people. We should never lose that. It is something that is innate in us but it is also something that can be taught. That is why we spend so much time educating people about their interaction with people, the knowledge they bring, the stories they tell and the legacy of what we have to offer to people who are essentially looking for authentic experiences. There are thousands of them in this country and we must harness them and present them well. That is what Fáilte Ireland does.
Some of the strategic investments and initiatives we have carried out between 2015 and 2019 are worth mentioning. Everybody is familiar with the Wild Atlantic Way and the brand in the east of the country, Ireland's Ancient East. These capture the activities that are the focus. Our research tells us that foreign visitors are not interested in visiting a country per se, but in what they can do, see and experience in a country. The brands we have made capture that. The "Wild" in respect of the Atlantic gives a true picture of an authentic experience which walkers, bikers and other outdoors people want to experience. Similarly, Ireland's Ancient East, built principally on the concept of ancient in Dunboyne, Brú na Bóinne and Newgrange down to the castles and medieval buildings in places such as Kilkenny, Waterford and so forth, has been an area we have tried to explore and combine with storytelling, which is a very important part of it. One must bring the bricks and mortar to life with good storytelling. Anybody who has taken a guided tour of Kilkenny Castle, for example, will know what a phenomenal experience it is, in contrast to just wandering around it alone. That is good but it is not as good as being shown around and told the stories related to it.
We have instituted another brand, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. It is essentially on the Shannon and centred in Athlone. It has unique characteristics that attract both domestic and foreign visitors. We have instituted the Taste the Island programme this autumn. One of the key objectives of Fáilte Ireland is to extend the season. For many businesses in rural Ireland, the season lasts 12 weeks, which is too short to run a viable business. They are supported by family members who are often not being paid an economic wage. We must extend that season. Taste the Island is one of the big initiatives to extend it. It is running until the end of November. In addition, we have instituted a new Hallowe'en festival called Púca, which is starting in the Meath and Louth region at Hallowe'en. Similarly, the Bram Stoker Festival was a new festival at that time of the year in Dublin. It has been phenomenally successful. We will support, and bias our expenditure towards, regionality and seasonality. Dublin is the centrepiece for the country, but it needs less support than other parts of the country. Obviously, we will continue to develop it.
We have an apprentice chef programme. We also have a China ready programme. There are over 130,000 visitors from China, both those based in Europe and those who have come on direct flights and indirectly via London and other hubs in Europe. It is a growing tourism market. It is the biggest outbound tourism market in the world and it is a growing one for Ireland. We must be ready for Chinese visitors. They have particular requirements - dietary, protocol and customer behaviour, frankly - that some people in the sector have found difficult, but we cannot ignore the requirements of the customer. We are getting people fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese. We are building up an expertise in the country that will be able to give a pleasurable experience to the customer. Customers will go home and, hopefully, generate a multiple number more visits as access improves and the reputation of Ireland spreads in that important market.
Obviously, our biggest market continues to be Britain. Everybody is aware of the threat there. We see the threat from Northern Ireland already arising in Donegal and the Border counties. Access from Britain is slightly up this year so we are not too worried about tourism from Britain in the current year. The growth will be flat to modest. However, next year it may be down. The number of people who drive from Northern Ireland to Donegal, where traditionally there has been a big influx of people in the holiday season, is significantly down this year, particularly with the burden of a weaker currency. Donegal and the north west is an area we have been trying to promote. While it had a number of good years, this year is the first in which it will see a decline.
As regards the future, I mentioned that the key issues for us are regionality and spreading the good news, as it were. There was a report on "Morning Ireland" this morning about the increased concentration of air access into this country through Dublin Airport. It was less than 80% and has now grown to 85% of the people who come into this country by air. Some 91% of tourists who come to this country from abroad, apart from Northern Ireland, come by air. It is a critical issue for us. It is successful for Dublin, but it is a challenge for the rest of the country because we need to get people out there and staying overnight there.
What breaks my heart is to see people taking day trips from O'Connell Street to the Cliffs of Moher and then returning. It is a bad experience. They leave at 6 a.m., spend a couple of hours there and do not leave any real added value. There are hotels in Ennis and other places in Clare, charging half the price of what these people are being charged in Dublin, that could do with the business. We are working diligently with inbound tour operators to build a package. One cannot have the sole attraction of the Cliffs of Moher but a general proposition that will keep people there for the full day or a couple of days. We are working on that but it is not something that will be fixed overnight.
We are spending a lot of money on our large capital and small capital grant schemes. We have given grants to every single county, although not by design when we invited applications. There are some phenomenally successful projects. Last week the authority held a meeting in Kylemore Abbey which was a school up to approximately 20 or 25 years ago. It now attracts 550,000 paid visitors every year, which is a phenomenal number. It is very well managed which is the key to its success. It is very well marketed abroad. We have twice given grants to it and are delighted by the outcome of our support and its efforts.
I have outlined our priorities. There are plans for a variety of visitor experience development plans in key towns. We are developing a master plan for the River Shannon, for example, as well as a for number of other regions, with which we will incentivise people through grants to develop in the way we believe is appropriate for tourism and tourists want.
I pay tribute to the staff of Fáilte Ireland. Members know that I originally came from Ryanair, an organisation that has had an interesting relationship with the public sector. I had no previous interaction with Fáilte Ireland, but I have found its staff to be superb. They are enthusiastic, energetic and thoroughly professional. They have only one thing in mind, that is, to develop a sustainable tourism product, grow employment and use tourism as a vehicle for increased economic and social development across the country. I commend the staff. It is a privilege for me to work with them.