I welcome the Minister to the House for this debate on tourism. Tourism is most important to this country and it is an area which we can grow. It is in our own hands as to how we promote the tourism industry. To some degree, I was heartened by the Minister's speech. The Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport and Bord Fáilte have been lazy in recent years. From what the Minister outlined today, new initiatives are being put in place, the Department is getting its act together and we will probably see growth in this area in the coming years.
If anyone ever made the case for getting rid of the travel tax, Senator Cannon made a great one. He spelled out in some detail the benefits of getting rid of the tax. My party has always said it is against the travel tax. As Senator Mooney said, this is an island nation. There are only two ways to get people in and out of this country, by sea or by air. While the €10 travel tax may seem very small for someone coming to this country on holiday, it could prevent people from coming. When people work out their costs, they will see they could visit a destination which has no travel tax. For people on the Continent who have access to bus and rail travel, the €10 tax may well be very off-putting for them.
I have said on numerous occasions that we have never had a better product. We have fishing, golf, mountaineering and cycling. We have never had better airports and air and sea access. Recently, I travelled on some of the Irish ferries and they are very comfortable and provide a magnificent service.
We have never had better hotels but, sadly, the number of hotels built in recent years has been at the expense of the great bed and breakfast facilities. The bed and breakfast sector is in serious decline because the hotels have taken over. We must keep those hotels, however, which means we must sell the product and fill them. There is no reason we cannot fill those hotels. Westport or Killarney, from where Senator Coghlan comes, are not particularly large towns. Killarney has a huge number of hotels. Westport has a small population of 5,000 but has 12 magnificent hotels. The reason these hotels can stay open is that they market themselves, I am sure in association with Bord Fáilte. There is no reason hotels in difficulty cannot be marketed and filled.
As Senator Cannon said, the travel tax is an imposition on some people coming to this country. What incentives are being provided by Bord Fáilte? Spain gives special deals to people over 55 years of age, including hotel accommodation, access to and from airports, bed and breakfast accommodation, golf outings and so forth.
I refer to marketing. A number of years ago I was involved in a company called Mayo 5000 to promote Mayo as a destination. That was back in the 1980s when it was mainly travel agents who promoted the country. One gave the product to the travel agents who promoted it. I am sure there were tourism conferences to which these travel agents were brought. Nowadays most people book their own holidays and this is where Ryanair, Aer Lingus and all the airline carriers come into play, and that is why it is very important the travel tax is abolished in the budget and I am delighted the Minister has made representations to the Minister for Finance in this regard.
The majority of people book their own holidays. What role do Bord Fáilte and the agencies promoting Ireland as a destination play in reaching out to them? How do they access them? Do they access them through Facebook, the Internet or otherwise? People book cheap holidays on-line. In the past, people went to the travel agent who might have said Ireland was a very good destination and he or she could do a good package. These are the people to whom we must reach out. The likes of Mr. Michael O'Leary and Aer Lingus have a major role to play in reaching out to those people. They state that they can do a special deal to Ireland through Shannon, Galway, Knock, Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Killarney or wherever, and perhaps we should give them the incentive, as well as taking away the tax. The Minister, Deputy Hanafin, might inform Members how we can reach those who book the destinations through the Internet because this is a growing area.
We have many facilities and there are many activities to do in Ireland. We have inland fishing and deep sea fishing. Deep sea fishing is an area that could be promoted widely along the west coast. We also have great golf courses. We have by far the majority of the golf links courses in the world and many want to play links golf. In the 1980s Bord Fáilte was very much to the fore in promoting not only big international golf championships such as the Irish Open but also amateur golf competitions such as the West Coast Challenge, the Black Bush in the North and one in the south in the Dungarvan area. These are areas in which Bord Fáilte should get involved again. It should bring the golf courses in those areas on board and promote a package where a number of golf courses arrange competitions together. This would bring people from Canada, the United States and the UK. The last of these is our nearest neighbour with 60 million people right on our doorstep, and there are 50 million in France. These are the people to whom we should be appealing.
I welcome the opportunity and hope the Minister might answer some of the questions I raised.