The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for increases in the statutory limits governing Exchequer grant aid towards tourism capital developments so that the Government can, through Bord Fáilte, continue to encourage developments in this area. The statutory limit on grant expenditure on non-accommodation tourism capital development will be reached in the latter part of this year. It is necessary as a matter of urgency to increase this limit to permit Bord Fáilte to make full use of their capital allocations for 1983. In addition, the statutory limit on Exchequer grant assistance for the development of tourism accommodation will be reached in 1984 and it would seem appropriate at this stage to increase that limit. The opportunity is also being taken in the Bill:
(i) to increase the level of fines for infringements of the Tourist Traffic Acts,
(ii) to provide for proceedings in the Circuit Court to prevent the unauthorised use of protected titles,
(iii) to remove statutory maxima on the level of certain fees provided for under the Acts,
(iv) to provide statutory backing for Bord Fáilte's involvement in overseas consultancy work.
(v) to provide for the establishment of a register of holiday apartments,
(vi) to provide for the display of certain information in registered premises,
(vii) to provide for the appointment of persons, who are not ordinarily resident in Ireland, as members of the board of Bord Fáilte Éireann,
(viii) to provide statutory authority for Bord Fáilte to pay death gratuities and spouses' and children's pensions, and
(ix) to provide that remuneration, allowances, terms and conditions of employment of Bord Fáilte staff be determined by the board with the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service.
Firstly, I would like to remind Senators that the present limits provided in the Tourist Traffic Acts for capital development were last raised by the 1979 Act, which increased the limit on grant expenditure on non-accommodation development to £10 million. These limits are now nearly exhausted and there is a need to increase them to permit Bord Fáilte to continue to provide grant assistance towards this type of tourist development.
In the period 1979 to 1982 the Government provided through Bord Fáilte nearly £9 million in grant assistance for the development of holiday accommodation. This grant expenditure stimulated total investment of nearly £33 million in expanding and upgrading our accommodation stock. Initially emphasis in the accommodation grant area was on the hotel sector but capacity in that sector is now considered adequate and the number of hotel bedrooms with bathrooms has been increased from 60 per cent to 79 per cent of total stock in the period 1979 to 1982. More recently grant assistance has been channelled towards other areas of holiday accommodation such as self-catering cottages and caravan and camping parks which have become increasingly popular. In addition, grant assistance was also provided for the upgrading of town and country homes as well as farmhouses. Some moneys were provided to An Óige to improve and expand the network of youth hostels.
Senators may recall that the National Economic and Social Council in the report on tourism policy published in December 1980 was critical of the idea of permanent blanket type grant schemes. It suggested that future policy should concentrate on stimulating the upgrading of accommodation outside the hotel sector. To a significant degree these recommendations were already reflected in changes in grant policy introduced prior to the publication of the NESC report and have been reflected in all schemes introduced since 1979.
Following the NESC report, my Department undertook an extensive review of tourism policy. This exercise included an in-depth assessment of accommodation grant schemes. There has been a tendency in the past to look upon grant schemes as the panacea for all the ills afflicting the tourism industry. The introduction of new schemes has too often been seen by the different sectors of tourism as the ready-made solution to their individual problems. The findings in my Department's review indicate that the implementation of schemes as originally conceived seems not to have had sufficient regard to changing circumstances between their launching and the final undertaking of some of its projects aided. The review has underlined the need for a more critical approach to possible future assistance in this area as a means of ensuring that the State obtains a worth-while return from any investment made.
With future development in mind I have asked Bord Fáilte as a matter of urgency to prepare a detailed assessment of current and likely future holiday accommodation capacities to establish whether supply over the next four to five years will match demand. When this assessment is available it should be possible to identify to what extent, if any, there is a need to expand or upgrade any particular segment of our accommodation stock and to consider if grant schemes are the most suitable means of stimulating any developments thought desirable.
By the end of this year the aggregate amount of grants issued by Bord Fáilte for accommodation development under the Tourist Traffic Acts will have amounted to £24,228,000, leaving only £772,000 remaining before the statutory limit of £25 million is reached. I propose that the statutory limit be raised from £25 million to £30 million. This should be adequate to cover existing accommodation schemes as well as allowing some leeway for the introduction of new schemes if this is found necessary.
As I have already mentioned, I do not intend to make any decisions on future grant schemes until I have had an opportunity to look at the assessment of future accommodation needs currently being prepared by Bord Fáilte. This is not to say that in the intervening period I will be unresponsive to the needs of the accommodation sector. Present policy tends to favour non-grant assistance in the form of concessionary finance provided through the Industrial Credit Company. The up-take of loans by the accommodation sector under these schemes has been most encouraging and I would intend to keep this type of financing under close review to ensure, in so far as possible, that sufficient funding continues to be available to the sector.
I will turn now to non-accommodation grant expenditure, which is used to encourage the development of tourismrelated facilities and amenities. The existing statutory limit on grants of this nature is £10 million and expenditure up to the end of 1982 amounted to £9.3 million. The provision in the 1983 Public Capital Programme for this type of grant expenditure was £929,000. The statutory limit must, therefore, be increased at an early date if this year's programme in tourism non-accommodation capital development is to be completed.
Since 1979 the Government, through Bord Fáilte, have provided £5.7 million in grant assistance for the development of tourism amenities and facilities in the non-accommodation area. This expenditure has been allocated to stimulate the development of a wide variety of projects, ranging from cabin cruiser projects on the Shannon, which received £1 million in grant assistance, to the upgrading and replacement of tourism information offices throughout the regions on which a further £1 million was expended. A similar amount was spent on developing recreational facilities in holiday resort areas. Other areas of major grant expenditure included angling development, water sports, equestrian centres, historical and cultural sites, parks and great houses and gardens.
This particular grant scheme, over which Bord Fáilte exercise considerable discretion in the matter of allocating grant assistance to specific projects, was examined in the course of my Department's review of tourism. The review disclosed that the scheme has to a significant extent been responsible for stimulating very desirable amenity development throughout the country which in many instances might not otherwise have taken place. However, the review was critical of the direction in which certain grants had been channelled. It suggested, for example, that while specific projects assisted may have enhanced general amenities in particular areas their direct impact on the generation of additional tourism traffic had been negligible. In addition, it questioned and was critical of the involvement of Bord Fáilte with Government Departments. local authorities and other bodies in the provision and improvement of amenities for the general public where these particular Departments and bodies had the primary responsibility for such works.
I find it difficult to disagree with these conclusions. I can readily accept that Bord Fáilte have a role on an ongoing basis to ensure that account is taken of tourists' needs when schemes of this type are being planned. However, as the public at large and not tourists specifically are by far the main beneficiaries of such development, I fail to see why Bord Fáilte should be expected to carry a considerable proportion of the costs involved. Funding available to Bord Fáilte is limited, particularly in these present recessionary times, and should in so far as practicable be used to further the board's primary role, which is of course the promotion and generation of tourism traffic.
It would be my intention in the future generally to confine assistance provided under this scheme to aiding and stimulating projects where there is likely to be an identifiable return in the form of additional tourism revenue generated. To this end my Department will be having discussions with Bord Fáilte with a view to agreeing guidelines for the future operation of these grants. It will, of course, be desirable that Bord Fáilte still maintain discretion in the day-to-day allocation of these grants, but I would envisage this being balanced by an annual requirement that agreement be reached in advance between my Department and the Board on the broad direction of expenditure for the following year.
I would expect that the new procedures which I have outlined will result in this scheme becoming more cost effective As I have mentioned already, the statutory limit covering this area of expenditure will be reached shortly and I am accordingly proposing that the limit be increased from £10 million to £14 million.
Turning now to other aspects of the Bill, I would like to deal with the question of fines imposed under the Tourist Traffic Acts. As Senators will be aware, the Acts contain penalties in the form of fines for specific infringements of the legislation. Maximum fines for the majority of such infringements were set out in the Tourist Traffic Act, 1939. The impact of inflation in the intervening period has meant that these provisions are no longer realistic. The Bill proposes, therefore, to increase all fines ten fold which will bring them to a more appropriate level.
The Tourist Traffic Acts also provide for the protection of certain titles and prescribe penalties for unlawful or misleading use of these titles. The title "hotel", for example, can only be used legally by a premises registered with Bord Fáilte in their register of hotels. The unlawful use of this title can have serious implications for other competing premises which are legally registered. While the Acts make provision for fines in respect of offences of this nature, the actual processing of such fines can be unavoidably slow and can to a considerable degree be circumvented by the offending party. In order to improve the existing situation the Bill proposes to make it possible for Bord Fáilte to obtain an order in the Circuit Court to prevent the use of registered titles by premises not properly registered with Bord Fáilte. This additional provision would be without prejudice to the existing provisions which allow for the imposition of fines in cases of illegal use of registered titles.
The opportunity is being taken in the Bill to make it possible to update specific fees charged by Bord Fáilte for particular services. At present the Tourist Traffic Acts permit fees to be charged for a wide range of services. In all cases the fees are prescribed by the board of Bord Fáilte subject to the consent of the Minister. However, in four particular cases the legislation precludes the board from setting fees above certain maximum levels. These maxima, which were set in 1939, vary from 2½p for a certified copy of an entry in a register maintained in accord with the Tourist Traffic Acts to £2 for application for registration. These charges are no longer even remotely adequate to cover the cost of the services being provided. For example, the registration application fee of £2 at most covers about 2 per cent of the cost of processing an average application. In accordance with general Government policy on the question of charges, it is intended that these fees be raised to more realistic levels. The Bill, therefore, proposes to remove the statutory maxima so that in future these particular fees can be prescribed by the board of Bord Fáilte with the consent of the Minister without being constrained by statutory maxima as is the case with all other fees charged under the Acts at present.
Intermittently over the last few years Bord Fáilte have undertaken a limited number of consultancy assignments in developing countries. The work involved has generally been in the nature of preparing tourism development plans or undertaking some form of studies as part of aid programmes. Countries assisted have included Zambia, Tanzania and the Seychelles and in many instances the studies were funded as part of a European Community aid programme.
As Senators can appreciate, this type of overseas consultancy work brings certain benefits and can make a positive contribution to Bord Fáilte, both in terms of staff development and revenue receipts. I should stress, of course, that there are no plans to expand Bord Fáilte's activities in this area and, as has been the practice in the past, Bord Fáilte will only undertake overseas consultancies when their staffing resources permit and when there is absolutely no possibility of such activity restricting the board's capacity to fulfil its overriding roles in the promotion and development of Irish tourism.
In recent years some doubts have been expressed about whether Bord Fáilte are properly empowered to engage in consultancy work. On the recommendation of the Attorney General the opportunity is now being taken to remove any doubts in the matter by inserting an appropriate provision in the Tourist Traffic Acts. A similar provision was made in respect of consultancy services to be provided by the ESB in the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act, 1979.
A noticeable trend in recent years has been the growth in popularity of self-catering accommodation. In this area Continental holiday resorts have seen a dramatic growth of tourism self-catering apartments. Bord Fáilte have advised that the holiday apartment concept, which is still relatively new to Ireland, could be an important factor in revitalising traditional holiday resorts in this country. To encourage this type of development and to ensure that high standards are set and maintained, I am providing in the Bill for the establishment of a register of holiday apartments to be maintained by Bord Fáilte. It would be the intention that only holiday apartments meeting Bord Fáilte standards would be allowed to use the registered titles applicable to this type of accommodation as listed in the Bill.
I have on numerous occasions in the past emphasised the need for, and desirability of, providing the consumer with adequate information. Specific provisions of the Tourist Traffic Acts make it possible for Bord Fáilte to exercise a certain influence in this area. Under the Acts, the board may require the proprietors of registered premises to display lists of charges for rooms, meals and other services provided and may also require proprietors to display external signs as supplied by Bord Fáilte. I now wish to extend the existing provisions to provide for a wider range of consumer information.
I should say that in the matter of providing consumer information the holiday accommodation sector has a better track record than many and I would like to compliment the sector on its performance in this area. Nevertheless, there are some establishments that could undoubtedly do more in this regard and whose reluctance to do so can reflect unfavourably on the sector as a whole. In the Bill I am making provision to ensure that there would be a standardised arrangement in all registered premises for providing certain specific information to the consumer. What I envisage is a standard type notice displayed in all bedrooms and in a prominent position in reception areas. Bord Fáilte would have the power to determine the type and scope of information to be provided in these notices. Included would be information on such matters as the grade of premises, meal times, the safety of property and the rights of guests generally.
I would draw the House's attention to the Hotels Proprietors Act, 1963. This Act sets out the duties, liabilities and rights of hotel proprietors. For example, the proprietor of a hotel is duty bound to receive at the hotel as guests all persons who, whether or not under special contract, present themselves and require sleeping accommodation, food or drink and to provide them therewith, unless he has reasonable grounds of refusal. I suspect that the general public are not fully aware of their rights in this area and I think that the provision now being made in the Bill could effect a useful improvement in this area.
The Tourist Traffic Act, 1939, provides that, if and whenever a member of the board of Bord Fáilte ceases to be ordinarily resident in Ireland, he shall be disqualified from holding and shall cease to hold office as a member of the board. Effectively, this section precludes the possible appointment of a non-resident to the board. In my view, this prohibition is over-restrictive and does not take account of the international nature of tourism. In certain circumstances there could be strong arguments in favour of appointing a non-resident if, for example, a particular individual who had acquired a wide knowledge and experience of tourism internationally became available. Such an appointment would clearly be beneficial to the board, particularly in the matter of deciding upon and implementing promotional and marketing strategies abroad.
In the course of preparing this present Bill it was found that the existing wording of sections of the Tourist Traffic Acts dealing with superannuation might not adequately allow for the payment of death gratuities and spouses' and children's pensions in respect of employees of Bord Fáilte. To remove any doubts in the matter a suitable amendment to the relevant sections of the Acts has been provided for in the Bill.
The Bill also includes a provision regarding remuneration, allowances, terms and conditions of employees of Bord Fáilte. This is to update existing provisions in the Tourist Traffic Acts relating to these matters in order to bring them into line with standard provisions being inserted as the opportunity arises in the legislation governing other State-sponsored bodies. The proposed amendment, therefore, provides for the remuneration, allowances, terms and conditions of Bord Fáilte staff to be determined by the board of Bord Fáilte with the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service.
Before concluding my speech I would like to make a brief reference to the tourism prospects for 1983. At the start of the year Bord Fáilte had set themselves a target of 5 per cent growth for 1983. To support Bord Fáilte in this aim the Government have provided the board with a current expenditure allocation of £21.25 million — an increase of £3.131 million over 1982. In addition the VAT reduction for holiday accommodation announced in the Finance Bill should improve our competitiveness.
While it is still too early to provide any reliable estimate of tourism performance for the year there are a number of positive signs. Reaction to Bord Fáilte's promotional drive this year in the main markets abroad has been good and the level of advance bookings is encouraging.
Bord Fáilte have undertaken a three year promotional programme in Britain aimed at raising awareness and improving the image of Ireland and I understand it is quite successful. Earlier this year Bord Fáilte won two awards from the British Institute of Marketing for this advertising campaign. Provisional estimates on traffic from Britain in the period January to May indicate an increase of nearly 3½ per cent.
Germany is our largest market in continental Europe and Bord Fáilte are confident that there will be growth in this area. Our other major market in continental Europe is France. The imposition of strict currency restrictions by the French Government may hamper traffic from France in 1983 but the latest indications are that it will not be as severe as originally feared. Bord Fáilte were very quick to adjust their marketing campaign to take account of the currency restrictions and this should be of benefit in maintaining numbers from France.
Last year the number of North American tourists visiting Ireland reached a record level and I am confident that we can maintain this record level in 1983. I would point out that an increasing proportion of our visitors are non-ethnic in that they do not come from an Irish background. This is an encouraging sign showing that we attract tourists on our own merits without having to rely on ethnic ties.
Overall there is strong reason to be optimistic about the tourism prospects for 1983.
I have pleasure in asking the House to support this Bill.