Tourism Sector: Statements (Resumed)

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.

I have a number of specific questions and instead of dealing with the gambit of areas, I thought I might ask the Minister some pointed questions on the issue.

Following on directly from what Senator Burke said about the golf tourism strategy, the Minister might elaborate on that. Something of significant benefit would be to develop the amateur angles. Senator Burke said this was done in the case of several tournaments, but the south of Portugal, for example, is promoting that angle in developing amateur golf tournaments. The Irish Open is a considerable boost to any town. Last year it came to Baltray in County Louth and this year it was in Killarney, and it provides a significant boost to the local area as a once-off event. If we adopted a multi-pronged approach to amateur tours and even an amateur tour which included Ireland as a location at different times of the year——

Modelled on the Black Bush, as has been said. Senator Carroll is correct.

——that could be an innovative approach. Mr. Dan Flinter is heading up the golf strategy. There are Members with many different ideas and we might get an opportunity to deal directly with him to link up our various ideas and look at what Portugal is doing in this specific target market.

In my own area, the Louth Economic Forum has developed a nine-point plan for economic regeneration in Louth, a key plank of which is tourism. Mr. Ray Carroll, who was general manager of the K Club during the 2006 Ryder Cup, chairs this panel. I encourage the Minister, if she gets an opportunity, to meet him, or the group as she will visit County Louth soon, or perhaps I could get them to visit Leinster House. It would be a great opportunity to meet this group to see what it is doing for a county in the north east and how this could be used elsewhere, but obviously not to the detriment of County Louth. The group is bringing together experts in the area to develop a number of different strategies.

I was heartened to see within the past two weeks the official opening of the new tourist office at the Tholsel in Drogheda, at the junction of West Street and Shop Street, which has serious potential to draw people in to the heartland of the town. Within 400 m of the new tourist office, there is St. Peter's Church which contains the head of St. Oliver Plunkett, St. Laurence's Gate, and the mace, which in many respects people felt was a symbol of British occupation in Ireland, which lay hidden for many years but which has recently been brought out to the public. This is all within 60 seconds' walk of the new tourist office in Drogheda.

There are developments in local communities and the people realise that the Minister cannot come along and, with the sweep of her pen, solve the problem to bring an extra million visitors to the country. It is up to various communities, local forums and local authorities to come up with the ideas and take their own small measures. Obviously, the Minister needs to develop the policy on a macroeconomic level, which brings me on to my next point.

A number of speakers raised the issue of the travel tax. Senator Mooney articulated well the plan of Mr. Michael O'Leary who said that if the Government cut the travel tax, he would get millions of people to come to the country. It is not as simple as that, as the Minister stated previously, because Mr. O'Leary has a range of issues behind that. If the Minister cuts the travel tax, he also wants her to look at other airport taxes and then at Terminal 2. There are a number of problems he wants solved. Perhaps looking at getting rid of the travel tax could be an option, whether for a six-month or 12-month window, to see whether there is a direct correlation with tourist numbers.

Personally, I do not know whether it makes that much of a difference. For any of us who have been abroad in the past two or three years, the €10 travel tax is not the key factor. The key factor is the overall price of flights, accommodation and travel between flights to one's final destination. It is when one gets the whole package that one sees the final figure and decides whether to choose that destination. It is a little ironic to hear Mr. O'Leary say this because often he uses airports that are not exactly in the heartland of the cities he brings us to. It is difficult to analyse directly and see what difference the €10 travel tax makes because there are so many variables, such as whether the economy is buoyant or depressed, but I still think the Minister should look at removing it for a six or 12-month period and at getting rid of it.

The next major issue I wonder about is the strategy for the London Olympics in 2012. In my final year in UCD as president of the students' union, we passed a levy to allow the building of a new 50 m swimming pool on campus in Belfield. At that time, the London 2012 Olympics had just been announced and we said that it could provide a great opportunity for us to draw in the serious athletes from the four corners of the world who, realistically, would not train at home and come straight into London, and who would look for a base in Ireland. There were a range of other factors. There will be competitors from the continents of Australia, Asia, Africa and America who will want a running track in conditions similar to those that occur in London, and that is where Ireland really could make the most of it. One might not necessarily get a long-term gain out of that but if people want to use it as a base coming up to 2012, there could be benefits subsequently in utilising those services. We should move towards that.

From her own perspective, the Minister has talked about different inexpensive projects that we should start looking at, such as walkways and other low-cost tourist initiatives. Something we should look at for all our towns and villages are earphone tours where, for example, a person would pick up headphones at a local shop and there would be eight, ten or 12 points around the town to inform him or her about the history of those iconic locations. For the walled towns around the country, this would be a fantastic small initiative and would cost relatively little.

The model used for the dublinbikes scheme involves a private operator, JCDecaux, paying substantial capital costs in return for a commercial gain. This novel approach could be used in other ways. For example, if branded, low-cost earphones were used for tours, it would be much simpler for a project to become established.

On the issue of walks, we need to promote our beautiful scenic coastline. Last summer, during a week long visit to the Aran Islands and west coast I saw thousands of people cycling. This should be replicated elsewhere, for example, in the north east. In Clogherhead, which the Minister kindly visited in the summer to launch the prawn festival, we have some of the most magnificent views in the country and many small country roads. As Senator Cannon noted, the National Roads Authority has launched an initiative for cycle tours. We need to focus on small enterprises in areas such as this which could create one, two or five jobs.

I am heartened by the Minister's initiative and the goodwill she has shown towards many projects. I look forward to her response to my questions.

I welcome the Minister and apologise for my absence during her speech, which was caused by a meeting I had with one of her Cabinet colleagues. However, I have had an opportunity to read her speech and will make a number of comments on it. I am grateful to have an opportunity to discuss the issue of tourism with her and appreciate her presence in the House.

As the Minister will be aware, the Labour Party recently published a policy paper on tourism. I am grateful to my party colleague, Deputy Mary Upton, who developed our proposals. I will refer to some of the points made in the paper and give some examples of areas which present challenges and opportunities for the tourism industry.

We all welcome the Government's strategy and action plan and the work done by the tourism renewal group. In view of the difficult economic times and falling visitor numbers, it is important we work in accordance with an overall strategy to increase the number of people employed in tourism, visiting the country and holidaying at home. As the Minister noted, Fáilte Ireland's holiday at home promotion has been highly successful. This is a growth area because when budgets are tight people are more inclined to stay at home.

Holidaying at home is also a demographic issue. As a parent of young children, I prefer to holiday at home because it is easier than travelling abroad. From my personal experience of tourism in Ireland, I have concluded that parents with young pre-school children form a specific market, almost a subcategory of families, because they can holiday in September and are not restricted by school holidays. This flexibility allows them to obtain better value, which is a major issue when one holidays in Ireland.

As Members will be aware, hotel and self-catering accommodation costs can be high. One of the problems with trying to book self-catering accommodation, particularly during school holiday periods for people with children, is the absence of an overall rating system by which one can establish in advance what standard or quality will apply to a specific holiday home. In Ireland, one tends to establish such information through word of mouth, trial and error or knowing the area in question. While this is fine for Irish people, it is difficult for visitors from abroad to try to establish through some central mechanism what are the best quality holiday homes and what holiday homes are accessible for children and so forth. This is an area on which Fáilte Ireland could do more.

A second issue for those holidaying at home with children is the problem of where one goes in the evening. The former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, tightened the law on children in pubs and while he did so for valid reasons, the measure has had an unfortunate side-effect. It is often difficult for those holidaying in a rural area who wish to dine out with their children to find an establishment other than a pub which will not kick everyone out at an early hour. From my experience of holidaying in countries such as Spain which are very welcoming of young children and actively accommodate them in restaurants in the evenings, such destinations tend to win out in this area and people will travel to them because this aspect of holidaying can be much easier than in Ireland where it is often difficult to find places to go in the evening.

On the issue of access to Ireland for visitors from abroad, as the Minister stated, the tourism review group recommended abolition of the area travel tax. The Labour Party also favours abolition of the tax and I am pleased the Minister will speak to the Minister for Finance about the issue. The tax has become a focal point for protest from the tourism industry which perceives it as an obstacle to people coming here.

An argument is also made for developing tourism on our offshore islands by increasing ferry services between the islands and marketing them as a package. We must be positive about unique selling points such as our islands. On all my visits to the islands, especially those on the west coast, I have been struck by their incredible beauty and how under-visited they are by Irish people. One tends to meet more people from other European countries than from Ireland on the Aran Islands, for instance.

With regard to regional travel, the Labour Party proposes extending free travel to anyone aged over 66 years who visits Ireland. We also propose marketing the idea of a golden trekker, which would target a specific demographic market. This proposal has significant potential as those aged more than 66 years, like parents of pre-school children, are not confined to travelling at peak times. They could contribute to filling excess capacity in our hotels during off-peak periods.

Integrated ticketing for public transport in Dublin is an important element of a transport strategy to improve tourism. Such a system has been promised for many years and is long overdue. Will the Minister indicate integrated ticketing will be introduced? I understand it will be launched in 2011, although we have heard many times that it will be introduced within a year.

Signage and interactive mapping are other areas which we need to improve. People from abroad who come here on driving holidays often complain about signage. We should try to ensure signs at specific sites lead people to other local attractions. For example, tourists visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral could be directed, through signage, to the antique district on Francis Street, which is a unique part of medieval Dublin and one which is often overlooked by tourists travelling from St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church to the Guinness Storehouse. The idea, therefore, is for people to be mapped or signed through urban centres and rural areas.

On-line resources also need to be improved. I will cite two examples of interesting, small-scale initiatives in Dublin which have great potential. The first, in which friends of mine are involved, is the Dublin culture map, which can be found The Minister may be aware of this clever idea, which is a simple cultural guide that provides information in map format on galleries, art spaces, theatres and other locations of cultural interest. Ideas of this nature can generate interest in Dublin’s cultural sites and attractions among tourists and indigenous visitors to the city. This type of low level initiative should be supported by the Department.

A second initiative, which a friend informed me about at the weekend,, a Dublin franchise of a weekly newsletter and website which provides an alternative culture guide for different cities. While the idea is new in Dublin, the Barcelona-based newsletter and website covers London, Madrid, Istanbul, Moscow, Lisbon and Budapest. I understand Vienna and Paris will be covered soon and the project is in development for Dublin. This is a small initiative being taken by a couple of individuals with a background in arts and event organisation. It is a good idea because it sets out to market Dublin as a cultural attraction to different groups who search on-line rather than through more traditional routes such as travel agents, brochures and so forth.

We must also examine how we harness technology for tourism in other ways, for example, creating cultural audio tours for MP3 devices or as podcasts, which could be downloaded free of charge on-line. Famous individuals — Bono immediately springs to mind — could do the narrative. I recall visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing on a visit to China many years ago and being stunned to find that Roger Moore was providing the commentary on the English language audio guide for visitors. It was surreal to be guided through this ancient Chinese attraction by his voice. However, it lent a certain additional element to the visit. Using prominent figures in the arts and music world, in particular, as icons for the Irish tourism industry, if they were willing to do so, would be a really good idea and attract a new type of visitor.

The Labour Party document refers to the concept of niche tourism and my specific interest lies in trying to develop cycling tourism, in particular. Amateur cycling events have become a major crowd generator in Ireland. During the summer I was involved in a minor way with others who participated in the Sky Ride in County Clare. This huge event, which started and finished in Ennis, attracted more than 1,000 cyclists and closed roads in west Clare for a day. It brought a huge number of visitors to Ballyvaughan and its environs. It was an excellent example of how visitors could be attracted. The scenery was magnificent, happily the weather was good and I understand the event will take place again next year.

Other speakers have mentioned the dublinbikes scheme which also has been an important way to promote tourism in Ireland. However, when trying to build tourism attractions for cyclists, Ireland has fallen down in the provision of rail transport services. I have taken up the issue with the Minister for Transport and should have forwarded my correspondence to the Minister who is present in the House. It arises from my experience in trying to take bicycles from Dublin to locations such as Clare, west Cork or County Kerry. Ireland has some brilliant and well developed cycling routes such as the Kerry Way which one can complete in a number of days. However, the difficulty is that Iarnród Éireann has changed its policy on carrying bicycles on its trains. I have raised the matter in the House previously, with the Minister for Transport and Iarnród Éireann directly, but I have been told the policy is not going to change any time soon. Unfortunately, because Iarnród Éireann's trains no longer have guards' vans, it cannot guarantee in advance that it will be able to carry more than three or four bicycles on each train. This means that if one has a group of eight or nine friends coming over from England, France or Spain to participate in a major cycling event, as one might often do, they must arrange their own transport through the bus network or hire cars, which for many cyclists is not what they want to do.

The Senator has one minute remaining.

I have much more to say. However, we must consider how we can adopt a holistic approach to developing cycling tourism, one niche which offers great potential.

The Labour Party document contains many more ideas. Cultural tourism could be a major draw in Ireland, as we are uniquely well placed to take advantage of it. One idea brought forward by Deputy Upton is to hold Culture Night more than once a year because it could act as a major draw. As the Minister is aware, there is a huge array of highly successful festivals nationwide. I refer, in particular, to the Festival of World Cultures in Dún Laoghaire, with which the Minister is familiar and which grew from very small beginnings involving a couple of individuals who were supported by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It has now developed into a major draw for people from many other countries and throughout Ireland who come to Dún Laoghaire every August and has been a huge success. We must consider the promotion of festivals in a holistic way, as well as promoting niche markets of the sort I have mentioned.

In addition, we must perceive and promote the arts sector, for which the Minister also is responsible, to attract tourists. The National Campaign for the Arts has made the case successfully for the promotion of cultural tourism as a genuine growth industry in Ireland. In its recent survey Fáilte Ireland has stated cultural tourism, both domestic and international, is worth more than €2 billion to the economy. While I have seen other figures suggesting it is worth up to €5 billion, it is clear a large number of visitors come here because they are attracted by particular aspects of Irish culture. This must be promoted both within Ireland as part of the domestic tourism campaign and externally.

I welcome the Minister and wish to be associated with the remarks made by previous speakers on her good work in the Department.

Previous speakers have alluded to hotels and the crisis faced by them. As a crisis should be an opportunity to do something positive which should not be wasted, it is good that we are having this debate. When discussing hotels, one is inclined to refer to the major chains. However, a hotel in receivership in County Donegal was put up for sale for €500,000. As one would not have been able to buy a house for that amount a couple of years ago, that is telling. There should, therefore, be greater emphasis on small family run hotels which are unique, as one appreciates when one travels abroad to countries such as France where they are quite different. Many hotels in Ireland and other countries operate on the same model, are all decorated in the same fashion and do not differ from one another.

On road signage, a bugbear of mine, it is a case of a lot done but more to do. When travelling around the country, I often remark to myself that I do not know how tourists ever find their way around. Some signs are obscured by trees. This has been true for years, particularly in the midlands. While I will not reveal their specific locations, other signs have been pointing towards ditches for years. I recently attended a conference and getting in and out of the town in question was an absolute nightmare. It took four hours and I never again want to return to the place. In addition, there should be less emphasis on taxing goods, beds and so on and a greater emphasis on taxing detrimental environmental influences such as pollution.

I refer to the village of Howth, located in the area I represent, to provide examples of where much more should be done. It is probably one of the nicest villages in Ireland, let alone Dublin, but it only has one hotel. As there are very few facilities there to attract tourists, I ask what can be done. Marine tourism could be developed and great ideas have been presented by the local community council, as well as by fishermen such as Mr. Brian Doyle. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Connick, held a very positive meeting with them. Moreover, in common with all harbours nationwide, many small buildings have lain empty for years in the village. The leases expired and people did not renew them. In the context of marine tourism, they could be used for home industries such as jam making or similar activities. A lot of assistance could be provided in this regard.

Another area with potential is marine and ship maintenance. I accompanied fisherman from Howth and representatives of its local community council on a visit to Kilkeel Harbour last year to see how it operated. We found that it was absolutely booming. One of the biggest aspects of its business was the field of marine repairs and maintenance. When I asked from where it drew its clients, I was informed that they came from southern Ireland and Howth. When I asked what was the reason for this, I was informed that it was 25% cheaper to use its facilities. When I raised the issue with the Department responsible for marine affairs, I was told there were matters with which we had to comply in the Republic. We should get rid of them and do business in a more competitive manner to create jobs. That is the way forward.

There is too much bureaucracy and too much bickering about small things. For example, discussions on the location of a monument in Howth continued for two years on foot of objections. My point is that this is not simply the responsibility of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport, other Departments also are involved. I refer to the Departments of Education and Skills and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which has responsibility for marine affairs, as well as the local authorities, all of which should be brought together. While Howth has a tourist office, no one knows its location. It is situated at the end of the harbour and there is no signage for it. Despite this, 7,000 people visited the office in a recent quarter. These are small things that could be done but which have not been.

In addition, we must engage in upskilling. For example, nets used to be made in Howth. The old traditional skills, such as cheese making, must be promoted and facilities provided for people to upskill in these businesses. People are now willing to do anything or go into any type of business. The other day, I received a card from a former engineer who is now painting and doing up houses. People must be given the assistance and encouragement to take up new skills.

Senator Bacik mentioned ticket integration by Iarnród Éireann. That should be done. There is a great public transport service to Howth. The DART goes there. I would go further than Senator Bacik recommended. A tourist in Cork, for example, should be able to buy a ticket in Cork that would take them all the way to Howth.

We had a great angling industry, with people coming from England, France, Germany and other countries. I do some fishing myself and I have good knowledge of the fishing in our rivers and lakes. That business has gone. It provided terrific business for bed and breakfast establishments. Bed and breakfast providers should be supported, even more than hoteliers. We are inclined to think they do not matter and are old-fashioned and outdated. This is not so. There is still a great deal of business for bed and breakfast providers. I was in a bed and breakfast house in Donegal recently. I met a fellow guest who comes from Belgium every year and stays for three months in the same house. The woman of the house asked if I could explain why he did that. I could not, except that he was a man of 80 years of age and nursing homes in Belgium might be expensive. We should not forget about the bed and breakfast business. We should support it.

When we market tourism we should emphasise the fact that this is not "rip-off Ireland". This is not being done sufficiently. One political party put this slogan on posters. What a welcome for people driving into an Irish city from an airport to see a placard saying, "You have now entered rip-off Ireland". I hope that party never goes back to that campaign. It did an amount of damage.

I will pursue the rip-off Ireland slogan and tourism facilities in Howth with the Minister. Many good people in Howth are doing very good work. We had very productive meetings with the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, who has responsibility for marine matters. I have some ideas on the subject and I ask the Minister to consider them. We may work in conjunction with each other and bring all the interested groups in Howth together. They are splintered and not united, through no fault of their own. People need guidance, courage and assistance. This is a very important industry which employs a large number of people.

The National Employment Rights Authority is torturing employers. Its staff go around at night querying employees and wasting time. They should be redeployed to do some meaningful work.

I compliment the Leader on making this debate possible. On the Order of Business, Members regularly request a debate on tourism. We also like to think of this as being on an ongoing basis. It should not be a once-off debate. It is important that we keep up to date with developments.

The tourism industry has met challenges over the years. Bord Fáilte did a fantastic job of work with very limited staff and exceptionally dedicated people. In the local regional tourism organisations and tourist offices amazing work was done by a small number of people. With the new development of Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland we are able to reflect the progress we made with the Good Friday Agreement. In the context of tourism, that agreement should not be underestimated. The Troubles in the North were one of the biggest challenges we met in Ireland. Those of us who travelled abroad at that time, especially to America, met numbers of people who asked us if Ireland was safe to visit. After an exceptional and costly marketing campaign by Bord Fáilte an incident might take place which would be reported throughout the world. That was an amazing challenge. Even before the Good Friday Agreement we could see improvements, although we saw many setbacks. The establishment of Tourism Ireland has meant that marketing the whole island is much easier. There are interactive attractions on both sides of the Border. It is important that they be highlighted.

Yesterday, I met a delegation from Derry. They are interested in holding the Fleadh Cheoil in Derry in 2013, when Derry will be the UK city of culture. They made the point that people are now visiting the North to see where the various events unfolded. There is a message for us here about the historic sites we have. Excellent infrastructure has been put in place. We talk about the recession, but we should not ignore the fact that the Government did the right things at the right time when it had the money. Development at tourist attractions, man-made and otherwise, is central to our tourism industry.

In the past eight or nine years, there has been a tendency to focus more on Dublin than on the rest of the country. I remember a time when large numbers came in to Shannon Airport and virtually remained in the Shannon region. Five or six counties used benefit from that business. That is changed, to some extent. I do not suggest an anti-Dublin marketing campaign but we need to restore the balance that existed previously.

Many discerning tourists come to Ireland. Some tourists come in very large groups but others come with very specialist interests. Those people in particular could be guided to other parts of Ireland, because there are things there for them. The other day I met a couple from St. Louis. The lady was the former chancellor of the university in St. Louis. She was absolutely beaming because she had free travel in Ireland. I compliment the Minister on this. These people would not be caught for a dollar but the mere recognition delighted them. They were heading to Killarney and they telephoned me from there. While I state an individual case, one can multiply it many times over. It indicates that peripheral things will often bring people to realise that Ireland is a country worth visiting. I thank the Minister for the free travel initiative. I have no doubt that when the couple I met go home, they will become part of our marketing campaign because they will talk about their free travel to their friends in St. Louis.

Senator Brady referred to bed and breakfast accommodation. We are particularly lucky that hotels are now learning to compete. That was vital. Prices now seem much more realistic, not just for visitors to Ireland but for Irish people holidaying at home, who are also important to the industry. Everyone is pleased at what hotels are offering, but there is a danger that the bed and breakfast sector will suffer in the process. Much work and investment has been put into bed and breakfast establishments and people of a certain age group have paid considerable personal attention to them. One will not find younger members of the family staying at home waiting for the telephone to ring but the people who generated that business in the past were very important. We should try to relieve the bureaucracy they face. I accept the need for health and safety regulations but the level of bureaucracy and its consequential costs are more than a person running a bed and breakfast establishment can handle. Perhaps the Minister would order a survey of the bed and breakfast industry. While I am aware of the difficulties that can arise, would it not be nice if bed and breakfasts establishments could avail of some form of licence to sell intoxicating liquor? That is one of the great challenges for the sector. An individual bed and breakfast establishment will not sell a large volume but it would be more than a service and it might generate further business. Hotels can be impersonal places to stay, particularly those which are not family run and we should not underestimate the public relations value of staying in somebody's home. I do not want to see bed and breakfast establishments disappear but I would not be surprised if statistics showed that up to 30% of them closed over the last two years. This is happening not just because of the recession but also due to challenges like bureaucracy.

We continually speak about the 1980s but the tourism sector has encountered challenges in every decade. I can hardly remember the recession of the 1980s but it was very different in many ways. We now have an infrastructure which is second to none. My friends who came from Derry yesterday noted that they look for the good roads in the Republic, whereas it was the other way around 20 years ago. We have a good rail system and great roads, hotels and attractions. We have much that we can build on.

Given tourism's decentralised nature, it can do more than any other industry to lift the spirits of the people. Even the remotest of places attract tourists. Any resurgence will lift the morale of communities throughout Ireland.

The Minister has spoken eloquently about cultural tourism on many occasions. She was completely correct to note that we will be 50% ahead if we can market a product to which we have exclusive rights. What we have is distinctive to us and well presented and because of our antiquity and connection with civilisation, there is much we can do with it. The mere fact of the richness of our cultural tourism gives us a head start. The Minister and her Department have been helping the industry to promote this area and it should be put centre stage in any future debate on tourism. Ag an deireadh, traoslaím leis an Aire. Tá sár-obair déanta aici agus spreagadh tugtha aici do gach éinne a bhaineann le cúrsaí turasóireachta. Le cúnamh Dé tiocfaidh feabhas ar an scéal diaidh ar ndiaidh.

Ba mhaith liom mo buíochas a ghabháil leis na Seanadóirí uilig a labhair ar an ábhar seo. Taispeánann siad cé chomh tábhachtach agus a cheapann siad atá an turasóireacht mar thionscal sa tír. We are all agreed on the importance and value of the tourism industry to every corner of Ireland. Whether small bed and breakfast establishments, large hotels or exciting visitor attractions, it facilitates a wide geographic spread and provides employment for people with a variety skills and backgrounds. We see great potential in the industry's development and this is why we have included it in our overall jobs and investment strategy.

Senators have noted the difficulties that the industry is experiencing. Senator Coghlan focused on the specific issues of our important British market and, not surprisingly, the value of Killarney, which is one of the jewels in the crown of the industry. The Senator correctly pointed to the success of the Irish Open when it was held in Killarney. I personally see value in bringing it back to the town but any such decision would have to be made in conjunction with the sponsors and Fáilte Ireland.

All we need is the Minister's blessing.

A number of Senators raised the issue of the air travel tax. I met the airline operators to discuss this tax. The initial estimate was that the tax would earn €125 million for the Exchequer. That is a significant sum of money, particularly in the current environment. In light of the decrease in tourists and travel experienced this year, the figure will probably be smaller but it will nevertheless be substantial. We will not know the precise figure until closer to the end of the year. If we do not charge a travel tax, that money will have to come from elsewhere. The central issue in my discussions with the airlines was not so much what the passenger pays as what routing decisions the airlines make on the basis of the tax. As several Senators have noted, it is unclear whether €10 will make a significant difference to the individual traveller when he or she is already paying for their bags and other charges. It does, however, appear to have an impact on airlines' decisions. Senator Cannon was incorrect to claim that Ryanair has offered thousands of extra seats and hundreds of thousands of visitors solely in return for the removal of the air travel tax. As Senator Mooney pointed out, that airline is also seeking the reduction or removal of charges at Dublin, Shannon and Cork Airports, as well as changes in respect of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport. If I am to present a case to the Department of Finance, I need to find out what exactly the airlines can offer in return for the removal of the air travel tax.

In terms of Ireland's marketing strategy, it is critical that we can present ourselves as an island at peace. Both parts of the island benefit from being marketed as one unit and for this reason Tourism Ireland is jointly funded on a North-South basis. There is nothing lovelier than to promote Ireland in New York, Frankfurt or London with the Giant's Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher on the same banner. We are thereby able to present Ireland as a small but beautiful island. Tourism Ireland uses the entire range of modern media to promote Ireland and it is represented on 41 websites and in 19 languages. It use social networking media, such as Facebook, to market the quality and value of our product. However, the message about value for money will not reach its audience until next year because we only began offering good value this year. Both those who stayed at home and visitors to the country found good value this summer but that message will reach a wider audience by next year.

The golden trekker and free travel offers were a huge success. We have not yet reached agreement on repeating these offers next year but I am hopeful that we will do so. The silver surfer programme, which offered two-for-one deals to senior citizens, was also successful.

Golf tourism has significant potential. I will take on board Senator Carroll's advice on amateur competitions. As Senators will be aware, Padraig Harrington is our golf ambassador and he has generously given his time and name to promoting the country. The title of our promotional campaign is "Time to Play" and it markets the concept of leisure and relaxation while playing on one of our 400 golf courses. The idea of attracting people to the country for a range of activities is critical. Senator Bacik referred to cycling. The programme for Government noted the difficulty with carrying bicycles by rail, on which we are following up. We have developed cycle routes and cycle hubs in places like Killarney and the Mayo Greenway, as well as walking routes throughout the country. Working in conjunction with Coillte, the Irish Sports Council and the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, we are seeing huge progress in this regard, including the development of playgrounds for children in villages and towns and the effort to ensure facilities are available for children, for whom we are always anxious to have more facilities developed.

Fishing was referred to. Senator Brady spoke of the importance of villages such as Howth, and the same is true of Dún Laoghaire, in trying to get yacht clubs, county councils, local businesses and politicians to work together in the interests of a town. This is happening. I opened and attended a number of festivals during the summer and made a point of ensuring it was not just the big festivals in Galway or Killarney but also what I thought would be smaller festivals, such as the Clogherhead prawn festival, only to find there were 2,000 people at the opening in Clogherhead and only 200 at some of the bigger festivals. This shows the initiative that towns are taking to generate interest and attract people to their areas, from which businesses benefit greatly. This will encourage the authorities to ensure important issues such as access, signage and ticketing are co-ordinated.

Building on other events taking place, we see potential in the 2012 Olympic Games and have launched DCU, UL and UCD as potential training places for teams coming to the Games. To date, we have had confirmation that the United States synchronised swimming team will use the National Aquatic Centre as its base on three occasions. To have a team of that status will bring great publicity to the sports facilities in this country. We know the economic value for tourism of having, for example, Ireland playing France in rugby here or hosting the matches which took place in Thomond Park in Limerick. This type of sports tourism gives a significant boost in terms of business and accommodation in the towns involved.

I met the chamber of commerce in Donegal in regard to Derry being designated the city of culture as I believe Donegal can benefit from that. The year 2012 provides a further opportunity, as Senator Mooney said, in regard to An Tóstal and the idea of people coming home and coming together to organise different events. I have asked Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to progress this very quickly because I see significant potential in this regard.

As was rightly said in regard to cultural tourism, as we has exclusive rights to our culture, it gives us an added edge. People come to Ireland for its natural beauty and the friendliness of the people but also because we have a distinctive culture and visitors know they will have a very different experience from that in any other country they visit. We have been building on that in regard to capital infrastructure to be able to support visitors but also in regard to developments such as the census on-line facility. We have had 9 million unique visitors on the website of the 1901 and 1911 censuses and 240 million hits, which shows the interest. The next message to all those users is not just to look at the website to see about their grandfather, great grandfather and other ancestors but also to take this to the next stage and come to visit Ireland. We are building on that also.

In the coming weeks, there will be much interest in the budget and related difficulties. At the same time, we will be undertaking strong marketing. We will attend the World Travel Market in London to promote Ireland and go to New York for Farmleigh Mark II and to promote Culture Ireland's activities in the United States — only for a day in each case, let it be said. Next year, there will be a focus on branding Ireland and we will also meet the media markets in Paris. We discussed previously the importance of the French market to us. In addition, we have visited Frankfurt to meet market representatives there. One of the great points about the way the tourism marketing budget is organised is that it is no longer spent over a whole year but seasonally, which means it is possible to identify new issues that have arisen. I know all in the industry are hugely committed to doing this.

I thank the Senators for their genuine interest and for their many suggestions which we will certainly follow up. There is an acceptance among us all that tourism is a vibrant, resilient industry which has the best interests of the country at heart. That is something I am very proud to market on its behalf.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At noon on Wednesday, 27 October 2010.

The Seanad adjourned at 1.45 p.m. until noon on Wednesday, 27 October 2010.