Group spokespersons have eight minutes and all other Senators have five. I invite the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, to open the debate.
Sustainable Tourism: Statements
I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad on sustainable tourism. The importance of tourism cannot be overstated. It is one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in the global economy and makes a significant economic and social contribution to many countries, cities and regions. Tourism has become a vital industry that benefits every part of this country. Maintaining our recent success, while at the same time mitigating negative impacts on the environment, on our communities and on the long-term viability of the industry itself is the ultimate goal of sustainable tourism.
The tourism sector has experienced steady growth for the past eight years, culminating in overseas visitor expenditure of more than €5 billion in 2018. Overall, the sector was worth almost €9.4 billion to the economy in 2018 if domestic tourism receipts and the fare receipts of Irish air and sea carriers are included. Fáilte Ireland estimates that for every euro spent on tourism, domestic and overseas, 23 cent is generated in tax, thus highlighting the importance of tourism as a business sector for the economy.
Fáilte Ireland also estimates that tourism now supports the employment of in excess of 260,000 people in our economy - more than 11% of total employment. It is a significant employer and particularly important in those communities that rely heavily on tourism revenue and jobs.
As Senators may be aware, the tourism sector continued to perform at a high level in the first half of 2019, even though it had not maintained the growth levels of previous years. While this performance is a fantastic achievement by all involved in the sector, we must be open to change. We must be adaptive and resilient to maintain this progress. Both public bodies and private enterprises must continue to ensure that social, economic and environmental sustainability is central to our tourism offering to maximise the future competitiveness of Ireland as a visitor destination. It has never been more important to base the safeguarding and successful growth of the tourism sector on a sustainable and balanced approach. Environmental protection, economic competitiveness, community and visitor awareness and involvement all play a part in successfully achieving and benefiting from this approach.
Internationally, tourism is an expanding sector, with rapidly developing economies such as China and India driving global tourism growth. The rise of globalisation and technological advances in recent years have led to cheaper air fares and more accessibility, allowing people to make their own travel arrangements, with travellers increasingly sharing their own experiences through social media. Tourism is becoming one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors in the world economy. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that tourism generated more than 122 million jobs globally in 2018. At the same time, there is growing recognition that tourism growth must be sustainable. In 2015, the United Nations, UN, published 17 sustainable development goals that address the global challenges we face as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UN's sustainable development goals call on countries to develop and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.
Ireland's national implementation plan sets out how the State intends to implement these goals through the development of actions and targets around each goal. It is incumbent on all Government agencies and Departments to ensure these actions and targets are adhered to and that each sector contributes to Ireland's realisation of the goals. The Government's tourism policy statement, People, Place and Policy: Growing Tourism to 2025, commits to placing tourism as a key element in its economic strategy, with development in the tourism sector reflecting the highest standards of environmental and economic sustainability. This policy is implemented by way of a series of tourism action plans, which are developed and monitored by the tourism leadership group appointed by the Government. In December 2018, along with the Minister, Deputy Ross, I launched a tourism action plan for 2019 to 2021 that identifies the key actions to be progressed during this period to maintain sustainable growth in overseas tourism revenue and employment.
One of the first actions identified in the new action plan provided for the establishment of a working group to review international policy and best practice in sustainable tourism and propose guiding principles for sustainable tourism development in Ireland. This working group is chaired by my Department and includes representatives from the industry and the tourism agencies. Its work will be informed by the overarching policy and strategy identified in the Government's framework for sustainable development for Ireland, Our Sustainable Future, and the Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2020. The work of the sustainable tourism working group help us to achieve the tourism-related targets in the sustainable development goals.
As tourism continues to expand and diversify, it is important to assess and recalibrate our long-term targets to ensure they remain robust in terms of the ever-changing tourism environment. In 2018, following several years of strong growth in the sector, the Government's tourism targets were reached ahead of schedule. In July this year, the Minister and I agreed to adopt revised tourism targets out to 2025. These targets have an increased focus on revenue generated by overseas visitors ahead of overseas visitor numbers to support a more sustainable approach.
Part of the answer in respect of making tourism socially and economically sustainable is to ensure a greater spread of tourists and, in addition, increase the proportion of tourists who visit outside the peak season. This will also help us to grow without putting further pressure on existing hotspots.
The Department is committed to strong regional dispersal in tourism, through the tourism agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. In line with the Tourism Action Plan 2019-2021, the agencies are focusing on initiatives to improve regional and seasonal performance.
As provided for in the tourism action plan, and as a result of the increased funding we have provided to the agency this year, Tourism Ireland has delivered a new global brand campaign, its first in seven years, in more than 20 key markets around the globe. This campaign, "Fill your heart with Ireland", has been designed to drive continued growth to the regions and to encourage visitors to travel all year round through the promotion of less-visited attractions and locations around the country. In addition, Tourism Ireland will increase funding for the regional co-operative marketing scheme next year, which supports direct access to regional airports and seaports by overseas visitors.
Fáilte Ireland has also developed initiatives in line with this policy. For example, this autumn, its new food event, Taste the Island, is promoting the island of Ireland's extensive catalogue of food and drink experiences to domestic and international visitors. It also recently launched its platforms for growth capital investment scheme, which will drive growth in the regions. Major new visitor attractions of scale will be developed and existing attractions greatly enhanced under the €150 million programme, which falls under the Government's Project Ireland 2040 strategy.
Over the summer, I launched Tourism Ireland's GB Market Review and Strategy for Growth, which was drawn up in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland and the industry. Britain remains one of our most important markets and British visitors are pivotal to achieving our regional growth and season extension objectives. One of the key priorities of this strategy is creating hub experiences with compelling reasons to venture beyond our main attractions.
When we launched the strategy for the future development of national and regional greenways last year, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport demonstrated just one of the many ways we are dedicated to the development of sustainable tourism in this country. Sustainability is one of the key components of a greenway built under this new strategy. In June, the Minister, Deputy Ross, and I announced €40 million of funding for ten new projects in nine counties around the country to be constructed between 2019 and 2021. These projects will mark the beginning of a wider network of greenways to be built across this island under the greenways strategy. We are dedicated to growing greenways and, alongside Fáilte Ireland, activity tourism as a whole in this country over the coming years. Not only is it a great form of sustainable tourism, but it will have a positive effect on the economy of this country and the health of its people. It will also help spread tourism into areas that are not currently benefiting from tourism as much as they could and deserve. A total of €23.5 million has been made available for greenways in 2020, which includes an additional €4.5 million from the carbon tax fund. This is a 75% increase over expenditure in 2019.
Remaining competitive is a key part of economic sustainability for tourism. There are a large number of factors that determine competitiveness but for the visitor it comes down to value for money. If we do not provide value for money we will suffer reputational damage and this will impact on our ability to be successful. Capacity plays a part in determining our competitiveness, particularly in terms of accommodation. Accommodation costs have been an area of concern in recent years. Increased demand led to increased room rates, particularly in the main tourist destinations and especially Dublin, as supply did not expand at the same pace. However, a number of new hotels have opened over the past year and there are a number of other projects in various stages of development. This increase in supply should help to address concerns that our accommodation prices are becoming uncompetitive. Of course, accommodation providers also have a very important role in this.
I am conscious there are other costs that can impact the sector. We have heard much discussion of insurance costs in recent times. This is a matter of concern across our economy, not just for tourism, and it does impact on tourism enterprises. As Members know, there are many aspects to this problem but it is one on which the Government is committed to making progress.
Budget 2020 is another positive step towards ensuring the development of sustainable tourism in Ireland and that growth in the area continues. The funding in budget 2020 will allow the tourism agencies to develop new campaigns, growth strategies, and high-quality sustainably-managed visitor experiences, all with an emphasis on regional growth and season extension as provided for in the Tourism Action Plan 2019-2021. Furthermore, extra resources are being provided to support the industry at the end of this year, primarily to support accelerated tourism marketing initiatives aimed at mitigating the impacts of Brexit.
There is a growing consumer demand for sustainable products and destinations. Sustainability practices are becoming the new normal and I believe Ireland is ready to embrace them. I am very keen to hear the views of Senators on this topic. I thank the House for its time.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The tourism sector is important to our county of Kerry. The Minister of State spoke about a number of issues regarding the sustainability of the tourism industry. One of the key factors is the issue of the supply of qualified staff. As the Minister of State is well aware, the lack of chefs in the restaurant industry is a key concern. People in my town, in Killarney and throughout Kerry and Dublin must try to get staff from abroad, as far away as Bulgaria and Romania, for the summer season because there simply is not the level of trained staff. This is the case not only with chefs but also in other areas of management and throughout the entire tourism industry. If we are speaking about sustainability from an environmental point of view, we must also look at the fact that we simply do not have enough people to keep the sector going at full capacity.
The Minister of State touched on the fact that other issues affect competitiveness but insurance is affecting the entire sector because it increases costs. There is also the issue of rates. These affect the sustainability of businesses. An initiative introduced during the downturn and supported by the Government is Ireland Reaching Out, a project to bring tourists to lesser known tourist destinations and to every town and village in the country. It is based on the idea of connecting with the diaspora, whereby communities and parishes look at who has left and where they have gone and invites them back. The culmination of this was in The Gathering in 2012 and 2013. People who had attended schools, been members of clubs, involved in organisations and all sorts of community groups in towns and villages got involved and people were invited back. Ireland Reaching Out, which is based in Loughrea, has suffered from a lack of funding and support from the Government. Everywhere from Roscommon to Kildare and places that do not get tourists per se are able to invite people who had left from among the 40 million people in the US and the 75 million around the world. They could find out where they had gone and bring them back. Not only would they come back but future generations would also return once the connection was made. It brings people to the community. It is something that would bring sustainable tourism because it would involve regions that do not normally get tourists and future generations would also come. It should be part of the regional policy.
Many of the initiatives put in place during the downturn, when we needed more tourism and engagement, have been abandoned by the Government. This includes something done here once by Jimmy Deenihan when he was Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora. Legislators who had Irish heritage were invited here. It was a unique form of tourism I must admit. It was not for tourism, it was because once we engage with people and bring them back we are then able to ask them for support and help in future. That initiative was abandoned. Ireland Reaching Out is something with which every parish can get involved in the same way as parishes have success in TidyTowns. When parishes are supported and empowered it means the entire community benefits. Ireland Reaching Out was not mentioned in the Minister of State's speech. It is something that will bring sustainable tourism and not just in areas such as Kerry, Cork, Clare and the more well-known tourist destinations.
It would be of benefit to all of them. We talk about the fact that cheaper air fares are a benefit for tourism but they also mean we do not have sustainable environmental policies.. Transportation was kept out of the Paris accord. The fact is that we are allowing so much in terms of transportation that is cheap but it is also impacting on our environment. That is key to sustainable environmental policy. We want more tourists to come in via cheap air fares but, at the same time, we are affecting the environment we wish to protect.
The Minister of State has outlined many of the issues and there are many action plans but I refer to the more practical issues. One matter that comes under sustainable tourism and on which I know the Minister of State receives representations in respect of Killarney and other places is rates. Killarney previously was under the town council but is now being affected by the difference in rates between the old town council and the county council. It is affecting the sustainability and viability of tourism. I would be grateful if the Minister of State would address those issues and if his Department would review Ireland Reaching Out, which was a great initiative. For approximately €6 million in the long term, every parish on the model of the Tidy Towns would be able to benefit from tourism whereas this plan would not.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his work on tourism both domestically and internationally as an ambassador for the country. It is timely that these statements are being taken. Within my own region, significant work is being done on development of the Ireland's Hidden Heartlands brand, which is being led by Fáilte Ireland. We hope that it will have a significant impact on ensuring that we have sustainable tourism offering that will rival the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. As Senator Mark Daly mentioned, areas such as Roscommon and east Galway have often been overlooked in respect of tourism. We are not willing to tolerate this any more because we have great untapped potential with much to offer. Tourism can have a significant impact as a major economic driver for the region. The Minister of State will be aware of the National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park, which he will visit shortly. He will be aware of the Rathcroghan heritage site in Tulsk, Clonalis House in Castlerea, the Battle of Aughrim site in east Galway and the Arigna mines in north Roscommon. They are just a sample of the tourism attractions in our region. We strongly believe they are untapped and there is a lot of potential to expand. They are not just of national importance but also of international importance.
As we approach Halloween, I refer to the Púca festival, which was launched last year in the ancient east. I would argue strongly that the roots of modern day Hallowe'en can be traced back to the Rathcroghan site in Tulsk. We would look for the Minister of State's support for recognition of this role. One of the 240 archaeological sites that comprise the Rathcroghan landscape is a place that our ancestors believed to be one of the chief entrances to the underworld, accessible at a certain point in the year, which was Samhain. It is from there that Halloween was developed. We strongly believe that there is significant history and heritage in this area. That is just another example.
The Beara-Breifne way is a walking and cycle route between the Beara Peninsula in County Cork and Blacklion in County Cavan. It is based on the route of O'Sullivan Beare in 1603. This is a project in which I have invested a lot of time, as much of the route travels through east Galway and Roscommon. The Minister for Community and Rural Affairs, Deputy Ring, allocated almost €1 million to the development of this route a year and a half ago. Locally, it is important because it will link the Suck Valley Way, the Lung Valley Way, the Miners' Way and the Hymany Way in east Galway. In his opening contribution, the Minister of State referred a lot to how being active in nature is important for the delivery of sustainable tourism. That is one of the key pillars within the Hidden Heartlands and what the Beara walk strives to offer by way of active tourism and ensuring that there is access to coastlines, bogs, woodlands, picturesque villages and very much the best of what Ireland has to offer. I have attended a number of workshops at which Fáilte Ireland has been supportive in terms of the Beara-Breifne way but I ask for a continued focus on its development and ensuring that it can reach its full potential.
I have been working hard, as the Minister of State will be aware, towards the development of the Dublin to Galway greenway. There has been progress in that Westmeath County Council has become the lead council for delivery of this. A public office is to be secured in Ballinasloe along with the appointment of consultants for this project in the coming weeks. The forthcoming code of best practice is essential to the development of this new greenway. It is important that we engage with all stakeholders and, as I have said to the Minister of State and officials in Westmeath County Council, this must, and can, be done without the need for compulsory purchase orders, CPOs. There is great concern among the farming community regarding the potential use of CPOs. It is very much about engaging with farmers and communities to achieve a route that meets the needs of all involved. We all know about the great successes of the Mayo and Waterford greenways. The Dublin-Galway greenway has the potential to reach even greater heights because it will be part of the EuroVelo pan-European route and will allow for major international attraction. As the Minister of State rightly said, it is a form of sustainable tourism, which is what we need to encourage and work towards.
I thank him for his work. I am looking for him to take the points I have made with regard to the untapped potential in our region, the need for a sustained, constant focus on development of the Hidden Heartlands brand and ensuring that the Beara-Breifne way is properly supported in terms of promotion and marketing along with the Dublin-Galway greenway being developed in a way that meets the needs of all stakeholders and works with farmers to ensure the best outcome is achieved without any need for CPOs to be used.
It is nice to see the Minister of State. If we are discussing sustainable tourism, it is fair to say that people must able to make a living in the industry. It is disappointing that, in a very good and varied speech of 2,000-odd words, he made no reference to the terms and conditions in the sector, yet we know from CSO data that people working in the tourism industry, and the hospitality sector in particular, are three times as likely to work on the national minimum wage as an average worker. This is the minimum wage that the Government froze in last week's budget.
I am familiar with the sector, as I worked as a trade union official for the best part of ten years trying to help workers in it. I am afraid that conditions have not improved. I wish to focus on this issue. Enough Members will discuss the other issues and, therefore, I will focus on those working in the industry, the poor rates of pay and the poor working conditions. New research that has been published emerged at a joint committee hearing last week, although the Minister of State may not have had an opportunity to read it. Dr. Deirdre Curran of NUI Galway conducted research in which she found shocking levels of bullying, harassment, intimidation and assault. They are commonplace in the hospitality sector. Some 76% of workers in the sector reported verbal abuse by managers; the level of physical abuse is just 15%. Let us consider that one in ten workers in the hospitality sector is suffering abuse. Some 88% said they earned at least the minimum wage but many complained that they were not fully paid for the hours and overtime they worked. Some 52% did not get their break entitlements. Almost one in five, 16%, said they received no regular wage slips or that when they did, they lacked important details. A total of 43% did not receive a written statement setting out their terms of employment when they commenced the job.
I refer to some quotes from people in the industry contained in the survey, as they put the matter in context. Some were quite direct but it is important to put them on the record of the House. One said:
There is no respect in the industry. It is a dog-eat-dog environment. You will be kicked out the door faster than you walked in with no pay, holidays etc.
Another said the general manager was a complete tyrant who regularly physically and verbally abused his staff. An example was when this person could not find a water jug, the boss grabbed them by the arm and forcefully dragged them across the kitchen, yelling that if they pulled their head out of their arse and actually looked for one, they would find it. According to another:
I myself was very badly bullied in my workplace ... I was ignored, not given rest breaks, but worst of all his wife would come in with little notes of things she had seen or heard happening, accuse us of them, and make us sign off on the answers we gave ... All this from a guy who would not allow me to go home the day my partner had a miscarriage as 'he had nobody to cover me'.
Let me stress that these are not isolated examples. This is empirical research from NUI Galway. It has been taken so seriously that the Low Pay Commission has asked Dr. Curran to meet its members this week. Anyone familiar with it knows the reality of the sector. I could not put it better than Patricia King of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions when she said earlier this year that the policy of employers in these industries is to work people as hard as they can for as little as they can.
I ask the Minister of State how we can have a sustainable tourism sector when this is happening Surely people who work for a living should be entitled to earn a living. At the heart of this, which I raised this on this morning's Order of Business, is the fact that the two major employer bodies in the sector - the Irish Hotels Federation, IHF, and the Restaurants Association of Ireland, RAI - refuse to engage with the joint labour committees, JLCs, that were set up to try to establish a floor of decency for everyone in the sector. They take pride in saying they will have nothing to do with JLCs or having to speak to trade unions. I put it to the Minister that in 2019 that is not acceptable. I would like him to be very clear in agreeing with me in his response that it is not acceptable for hotel and restaurant bosses to ignore the industrial relations machinery of the State was set up by the previous coalition. I give credit to the Labour Party for getting that done.
Only last week an IHF representative appeared before an Oireachtas committee and took pride in saying that a service charge has nothing to do with the employees who provide the service, that it is the business of the bosses of the restaurants and hotels what they do with that charge and that it should not go to the workers unless that is what the bosses decide. That comment has gone viral on Facebook. We could have a sustainable tourism industry if we put a decent floor on conditions and pay. It has happened in the contract cleaning and security sectors where there are agreements between employers and unions. Those industries have not fallen to pieces and, instead, have gone from strength to strength. People are better paid and have better conditions. However, there is no way hotel or restaurant bosses will agree to anything similar. The nub of the issue is all we have from the Minister of State or the Government is silence. They should say to them that if they want more money from the Government and supports for Brexit, they should talk to their workers and the trade unions and use the industrial relations machinery of the State to establish a floor of decency for everyone in the sector. My colleague from Kerry mentioned chefs. I know what the problem with chefs is because officials from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation told the same committee that the bosses will not pay decent wages and, therefore, the chefs have voted with their feet and are going to other countries where they will be paid a decent wage.
There was a significant omission in the Minister of State's speech. He should have mentioned the rights of the workers in the industry. There are 180,000 workers in the industry, most of whom are on the minimum wage with many on precarious work contracts. The Minister of State has the power to do something about it. It will not be easy. He will find resistance from the employer bodies but he could send a signal today by condemning them unequivocally for refusing to engage with the JLC process and by calling on them to do so. He could also send a message that if they do not engage, they cannot expect unbridled support from this Government. There will be enough Members speaking on behalf of the bosses and what they need. Sinn Féin will stand up for the workers.
I also welcome the Minister of State. He is a credit to his Department. I have been in embassies around the world where he has spoken, and officials speak highly of his knowledge of the industry and his enthusiasm for ensuring it becomes sustainable. Sustainability is about how we progress the industry into the future. We cannot always benefit from events that took place in the past. The Wild Atlantic Way was a Fine Gael initiative, which has been successful and other initiatives have flown from it. We speak of sustainability, but this has given communities access to tourists who would never have called otherwise, as they had always been bypassed. Tourists now go there regularly. One problem in Kildare is that we have two of the best motorways in the country, the N7 and N4. Everyone who stays in Dublin then rushes through Kildare. Over the years we have found people and buses passing through the county to be a problem.
In fairness to the sector in Kildare, the people concerned have worked extremely hard to gather some of the tourism money that has been coming into the country regularly. I acknowledge the amount of work that has been done in the racing sector in Kildare and what the industry has done across the world in bringing people to Punchestown, Naas or the recently redeveloped Curragh. I also recognise that the food sector in Kildare has dramatically improved. There have been a number of events. I recently attended the Naas Wild Food Festival, which started some years ago as a small local initiative and which has now become more national. I am grateful for the funding provided by Tourism Ireland and the food section within Tourism Ireland in that regard. It recognises that Ireland has quality produce.
I acknowledge also the structures that have been put in place in the various Irish embassies around the world. Tourism Ireland is associated with many of these embassies and I met some of the personnel in my travels. It was great to see the enthusiasm about bringing people into Ireland. We must not forget that the Irish person who goes from Kildare to Kerry or from Kildare to Galway also is a tourist. This is an important sector. I welcome that there are more hotels offering more over 55s packages. Those people involved in active retirement groups are making their presence felt in many of these hotels, bed and breakfast accommodations and guest houses around the country. This is happening during times of the year when there may not be the normal influx of tourists coming through.
I wish to discuss with the Minister the constrictions within the sector. Senator Mark Daly has already spoken on one of the issues, which is the difficulty of getting staff. While some people might say it is on the pay side of things, the growing economy can make it more difficult to get Irish people to work in the sector because they see other avenues open to them. I am grateful to be able to say there are more young people actively getting involved in the tourism sector. The catering college in Shannon is always oversubscribed and it brings forward high-quality staff. There is, however, an issue with regard to work permits and especially the difficulty for people outside the EU in getting work permits. I refer in particular to a certain area in the culinary sector, namely, wok chefs. There are no courses available in Ireland to train up wok chefs. These are specialist chefs who come in from eastern Asia and such places. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has a difficulty in giving work permits to these people. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, could communicate the problems associated with that.
I now turn to the greenways, the development of which is one of the greatest initiatives to have come from Fine Gael over the years.
Fine Gael did not invent greenways.
I know the Acting Chairman has one down in Waterford-----
I am aware that there is a greenway in Waterford-----
We have, yes.
The Acting Chairman may give me the chance to say that I welcome the funding that it has had. If there is a possibility-----
The Senator, without interruption. I will ask Senator Lawlor to conclude now as he is over time.
Is there a possibility that-----
It is important that Senator Mark Daly gets this information.
Please stop interrupting your colleague.
Is there a possibility that we could speed up the implementation of these greenways? There are two going through Kildare, which are superb. This links up with the Dublin to Galway greenway, as Senator Hopkins referred to, along the Royal and Grand canals, which are two great assets. The quicker the greenways are done the better. Both the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal pass through Kildare. The Royal Canal greenway has been developed but the Grand Canal needs the new work, and especially for the spurs off it. This can bring tourists in off the main route and into the small villages off to the side. This is similar to how the Wild Atlantic Way has brought tourists into the small communities that may not otherwise be seen.
The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. Tourism is a very important industry for Ireland and has been so for many years. As the Minister of State has said, it is worth €9.4 billion. Unfortunately, if my children came to me today and asked me if they should make a career in the hospitality sector I would advise them against it. It has poor pay, poor conditions, poor career prospects and poor hours. If a person trains in Ireland he or she will, more than likely, go abroad because they would be treated badly here.
I am concerned at the trend, which I have heard over and over again, that everything would be fine if we gave work permits to encourage people from abroad. On many occasions I have come across foreign workers in Ireland who have been treated exploitatively and extremely badly. Unfortunately, our work permit system becomes indentured service because it ties the worker to a particular employer. The person becomes exploited, and if he or she does not do what the employer says, then the worker can be told to go home. That is no way to treat anybody.
I compliment Senator Gavan on the work he has done regarding exploitation in service charges and tips. The issue needed to be sounded very clearly. I want to see a sustainable tourism industry but I want to see the people working in that industry treated well, with respect and with proper career prospects and advancement throughout their career in order that they can buy their own homes and raise a family and not be exploited. Unfortunately, many of them are. I do not deny there are good employers out there but there are many bad employers who exploit people and not just through low pay and poor conditions. It can also happen through bullying and it can be a very badly treated workforce. It is no wonder - as Senator Mark Daly pointed out - that we cannot get Irish people to work in that industry. They are talking with their feet and simply will not go near it.
This problem also applies to Killarney and Kenmare. I have spoken with people in both towns who said they used to enjoy working in the tourism sector. They told me they would have worked seven, eight or nine months of the year and then have a period off later, or possibly they were laid off. They worked very hard for those months however, during which they received a reasonably good salary. They were able to buy their own homes and provide for their families. They are not able to do that any longer. Something has gone wrong with the industry when this has happened and when our own cannot see prospects of a decent living in that sector. As legislators, we have a responsibility to ensure people in a workforce have proper standards and quality. This is one area we need to look at.
The theme is sustainability and we have the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. They are all important. The greenway in the Acting Chairman's own county of Waterford has been extremely successful but now we have to look at sustainability. There is a change in mindset and we have to get in front of the ball in relation to the change with regard to climate change. We have to provide a product that is friendly to the environment also. While greenways can serve that purpose, we must also look at how people get to Ireland. Senator Mark Daly was quite right when he referred to cheap air fares and the impact aviation has on our climate. We need to base this on fact and on how we can make a sustainable tourism industry. We have to look at the impact the aviation industry has on transporting tourists into the country.
We are now looking at the tourism market in China, India and such areas but we must ask whether it is truly sustainable to have those types of air miles arriving here. Are we best utilising our ports? We are quickly coming down to having just one port in the State, which is Dublin. Is that sustainable? Do we need to look at other areas? The connection between Spain and Cork with Santander ferries, for example, has been quite positive. This gives another access route into Ireland but we have to look at this in the context of climate change. I have been thinking about this for quite a while. When people come on holidays, they are not under the same time pressures such as during their usual daily lives. One does not have range anxiety with regard to electric vehicles.
Should we be looking at our major tourist resort areas such as Killarney, the Cliffs of Moher, the Wild Atlantic Way, and Ireland's Ancient East, to have the best infrastructure for electric vehicles, EVs? We could then say to tourists when they arrive that they could lower their carbon footprint by travelling around the country in such cars. This could be a definite plan and we could have a marking strategy for lowering one's carbon footprint. This has to be examined. On aviation, it is better to fly at night rather than during daytime. We need to do that audit, to be able to say to come to Ireland and this is how people can lower their carbon footprint in respect of the package that they receive in Ireland. The day is coming when people will make a decision on where they go on their annual holidays or on a break away for a weekend by reference to their carbon footprint. Ireland could develop a unique package for Europeans who could come to a country that has developed its greenways, and proper EV infrastructure could be a positive element of this.
I agree with many Members that we have to spread the product around the country, given many tourists stay in Dublin only. We have to examine what is happening in Venice, for example, and look into areas such as taxation and charging for packages. There is a demand for the services that a city provides to a tourist. The option of a tourism tax must be considered, which might be a bed tax. This would make it more expensive to stay in Dublin and would encourage people out of the cities to see what is happening in Kildare, the midlands, and Roscommon. We must look at this in practical terms and give the local authorities in different regions the option of taxation and of a bed tax. That money could be used to enhance the product itself or to pay for the services that those visitors need from the local authorities.
We have major challenges in the next decade to ensure a sustainable tourism sector. It can only be sustained by looking towards climate change and how we treat the staff that working in that sector, which is challenging. In many ways I am quite envious of the Minister of State's position. I see so many ways that he can have a positive impact on how Ireland is presented abroad, and how a tourism package can be presented to travellers. This can also be used to spread investment throughout the country.
The Labour Party and I were in government when the Wild Atlantic Way was developed. The previous Senator may not remember that. That was done for very little money. Senator Coffey, and the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, had roles in rebranding. This was done with a tiny investment, compared to the returns made, which was mentioned at the time by the media. It was done right and proper and people living on that route have reaped the dividend of good imaginative thinking.
I welcome the Minister of State and acknowledge his flair, commitment and great dedication to the job, and, indeed, his work in Kerry to keep sustainable communities going, and through that to keep the tourism product going in his own area.
I will start with a number of important local issues. I draw his attention to the refurbishment that is proceeding on Bailieborough courthouse as an important tourism exercise. Last night, we had the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, down in the newly-refurbished part of the hall. Bailieborough Development Association wants to develop the Bridewell, a former prison in the town, into an excellent venue to promote tourism in the area, which will form the start point of a town heritage trail. We envisage linking with other towns to provide an all-day tourism experience, starting in Bailieborough courthouse and the Bridewell and taking the heritage trail around the historically significant castle lake, moving on to Virginia to visit the Ramor lake and the Deerpark Forest and finishing in Ballyjamesduff Museum. That could help to achieve the Minister of State's regionalisation goals. An application to the rural regeneration fund has been made to the Minister for Rural and Community Development and I seek the Minister of State's support for this project.
The Minister of State has visited another project in my region - the Boyne Valley to Lakelands County greenway. This is a project of great importance and there are further applications with the Minister for Rural and Community Development. I also appeal to Minister of State for his support for this project.
Recently, Virginia International Logistics, the coal transport company in Virginia, converted a fleet of its lorries to the use of compressed natural gas, CNG, and has used them on the Continent. Tour bus operators should be encouraged and supported in practical ways to move to the use of CNGs, which is environmentally friendly and supports sustainable tourism.
Trails and heritage tourism are also important in this regard. There are important figures in every county . In Cavan, we have Bishop Bedell, a Church of Ireland bishop, who translated
the Bible into the Irish language, which the Minister of State, as a particularly scholarly individual himself, will be aware of. There is potential to develop a heritage weekend around the bishop. Similarly, Arthur Griffith represented east Cavan, and this presents possibilities. That is the way to regionalise tourism. These projects have capacity which I would commend to the Minister of State.
He pointed out that there was a visitor spend of €5 billion in 2018 and that the entire tourism sector was worth €9.4 billion to the economy. The sector provides 260,000 jobs, and 11% of total employment. It is an extraordinarily important business for us, which needs continued support and needs to be sustainable. Regionalising tourism is of great importance. I come from a Border county, which has had the threat of a hard Brexit looming over it for some time. Thankfully, that may pass. Even a soft Brexit will challenge the economy in the area with currency fluctuations having implications for visitors from the UK. I appeal to the Minister of State to do everything he can to regionalise and support tourism along the Border in counties Cavan and Monaghan, and the great potential we have. Visitors tend, in the main, to go to Dublin, the south west, and the north west and Donegal. It is important to get them inland to the Cavan and Monaghan area. Cavan is the lakeland county and has tremendous angling and amenities to recommend it from a tourism point of view, including nature trails, heritage centres, and cycling facilities. It has great potential.
I appeal to the Minister of State to take particular initiatives to help the area and to get tourism into the regions.
To start, the Minister of State could support the Bridewell project in Bailieborough and the Boyne Valley to Lakelands County greenway. They would be two very practical starts, but there are many more things that could be done. I hope they will be done. I am anxious that we get people into the regions and that we sustain the communities in those areas. Even in the face of a soft Brexit we will need support and tourism is one real way to do it.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to the House for what is a very important debate on sustainability and tourism. I acknowledge the work he is doing to promote tourism across the four provinces of Ireland. That is very important. This is a debate on sustainability and I wish to focus on it. I listened earlier to some of the contributions on the staff that work in the tourism sector. It is important that we acknowledge those people who have put in such a great effort and that they have sustainable careers in tourism. I acknowledge the work of the colleges of education that train staff to give the unique experience visitors to Ireland get when they come on holiday.
I have some concerns about the unique selling points. I do not believe that every region should copy and seek to emulate the successful ones. The Minister of State comes from Kerry so he is well aware of the traditionally strong tourism areas in Killarney, Galway, Blarney and Donegal. Recent improvements are evident following the investment by Fine Gael-led Governments in the Wild Atlantic Way, the Waterford greenway, and the Viking Triangle, which is in my area as well. They all add value to the tourism offering. I acknowledge the additional funding for greenways, but I do not think regions should copy existing successes in other regions. I heard Senator Hopkins speak earlier about the Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. I was in Leitrim recently and I was amazed at the beauty of the Shannon area and what it has to offer. It is different to what Waterford has to offer as a coastal county. We have mountains, a greenway and the coast. The Hidden Heartlands have unique selling points in terms of the Shannon and beautiful walks and countryside. Regions need to focus on their natural assets and strengths and sell them. They can be linked to existing success stories. It is important that we would acknowledge that.
I spoke about the natural assets this country has and the historically strong areas. I come from Waterford and we often looked at people arriving on the ferry in Rosslare who drove straight to Blarney and Kerry and passed us by. Now, they stop in places such as Kilmacthomas and in Waterford city to see the Viking Triangle and in the beautiful harbour town of Dungarvan. They experience the greenway, the Comeragh Mountains and coastal towns such as Ardmore, Tramore and other such places. We must build on the existing successes and grow more.
The greenway has been a major success. It was a collaboration between communities, councils and funding from the Department as well. The main motivation came from communities and they were supported by their local representatives. The Suir Valley railway runs alongside the Waterford greenway. The Mount Congreve estate is also alongside the greenway. All of those amenities and tourist attractions are benefitting. It is not just one attraction that brings people to an area; it is a multiplicity of attractions and then people can be referred to other areas in the country.
The Minister of State spoke about activity holidays, which is a growth area. My colleague, Senator O'Reilly, referred to his area of Cavan-Monaghan. We should take an all-Ireland approach to tourism. That includes the North of Ireland. We can build alliances and collaborations with our colleagues in the North. I visited Castlewellan in County Down recently. I also visited Newcastle, which nestles under the Mourne Mountains. It is a beautiful area. I visited a mountain bike park in Castlewellan. We can learn from how people do it in other areas. There is a beautiful facility in Castlewellan that a lot of people from the South and the UK visit. We should develop such facilities in the South as well. We have one in Ballyhoura on the border between Tipperary and Limerick, but we need more activity holiday facilities right around the country that will attract people into rural areas. Cycling, hiking and walking and also cultural and heritage experiences will promote and develop rural enterprise, jobs and economic activity. People do not want fake holidays anymore. They look for history and heritage. That is the reason Waterford city is doing well with its Viking Triangle. There are three museums in one area that look at different periods of history. It is a very attractive proposition for visitors to Ireland.
In west Waterford the St. Declan's way is being developed. It is a pilgrimage trail of 100 km, all the way from Ardmore in County Waterford where St. Declan was based, up to Cashel in County Tipperary. We have the Blackwater Valley, which includes Lismore. Canoeing and kayaking take place on the River Blackwater, which extends from west Waterford into Cappoquin, Tourin and Villierstown. Those are beautiful natural assets that we must promote in the international community.
Before I conclude I wish to refer to the opportunities with cruise liners. We all know that Dublin Port is coming under serious pressure in terms of capacity. There are opportunities for places such as Waterford and Dunmore East - I am sure the Leader will agree with my suggestion of Cork Harbour as well. There is great capacity to bring more cruise liners into the regions rather than having all of the pressure coming on Dublin. We must plan ahead and provide resources to allow that to happen, as it will bring welcome investment.
My final point relates to sustainability. We need competitive prices in this country to make it attractive for tourists to continue to come here. We need access points through our ports and airports. I welcome the recent announcement of investment for Waterford Regional Airport. It is important that we have access points right across the country, especially given the challenge of Brexit, so that tourists can visit. I am concerned about the competitiveness of hotel prices in Dublin. Something needs to happen in that regard. I accept more beds are coming on-stream as new hotels are opening but it is becoming uncompetitive for people to stay overnight in Dublin. The hotel industry must listen to that warning. The alarm bells are ringing. We do welcome tourists to the rest of Ireland and to the regions. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, well in his work. I welcome the debate. We have made significant progress. We can grow on the €9.4 billion worth of tourism investment by advancing the many projects mentioned here today.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, for coming to the House and commend him on his stewardship of the Department in the areas of tourism and sport. His speech was a very realistic one. Notwithstanding the growth in tourism and the record numbers we have seen, the high spend and the tourism action plan, which has been put in place, it is a challenging time for the tourism sector. I am fortunate that the people I meet in Cork from the Irish Hotels Federation and the tourism bodies, such as Aaron Mansworth, Neil Grant and Diarmuid Vaughan, given an honest appraisal of where they are at. It is a mixed bag at one level. It is challenging.
The Minister of State spoke about capacity. Demand is an issue. We are fortunate in Cork that the airport is on an upward trajectory. That is positive. One of my concerns about Cork Airport is that the traffic is predominantly outbound. We must examine the aviation policy of the State in terms of the capacity and usage of Dublin Airport. I hope the Department, or the Dublin Airport Authority, could convene a summit on aviation policy. I might be in a minority of one or two, but I believe there is a need to look at connectivity between Dublin and Cork. We are fortunate that Cork has connectivity to Europe but there is no longer connectivity to North America following the loss of the Norwegian Air 737 service. The issue relates to the sale of seats and we must examine it.
As has been mentioned, the convention centre is an important issue in Cork. I commend the Government on its stewardship in terms of the allocation of funding. I praise the tenacity of An Tánaiste in the face of much local criticism and commentary about the events centre. The Government has stood firm and, to be fair to the Tánaiste, he has made this a political priority. I believe the investment in the events centre will prove a benefit to Cork in the shoulder season. The Cork branch of the Irish Hotels Federation stated that 57% of hotels have seen a fall in business, which is a worry.
I commend Fáilte Ireland on its training of staff in the hospitality sector. Senator Gavan made a point on the Order of Business today about the way in which workers in the sector are treated. I did not read the report he mentioned.
It is important that the people who work in the hospitality sector are trained to the height of perfection. There is a skills shortage. Last July, I wrote to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, about a skills shortage in the hospitality sector. I hope that a pilot scheme to combat skill shortages will be introduced, as we did in the agricultural sector, because there are restaurants in Cork and hotels that want to bring people into this country but have been prevented, in some cases, from doing so by the work permits scheme.
The Minister of State has championed greenways as part of his brief and Senator Coffey has been a positive advocate of the greenway in Waterford. I draw the attention of the House to the proposed Lee to Sea Greenway, that will extend from the Inniscarra dam to Crosshaven to the mouth of the River Lee - the harbour of Cork city. The greenway already is accessible for a significant part of the city and county but needs some improvements and links. The greenway is important for Cork, as it would add a huge value to Cork city and county in terms of our tourism product. It would also improve physical health, mental health and allow people to access cultural and historical sites in Cork. The initiative complements the work being done by the Government in terms of sustainable mobility and travel. The Lee to Sea Greenway offers an opportunity to capitalise on the work done by Cork City Council at Tramore Valley Park, in the Blackrock area and in other areas to make Cork city accessible for people who want to run, walk or cycle.
Finally, I pay tribute to the work done by an Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. Gaelic sports are a unique selling point that we can use to promote Ireland as a destination. Many tourists come here but it is the product that they get that is important. I commend the Minister of State on his work and initiative.
I call Senator Higgins and she has eight minutes.
I will not avail of the allotted time.
That is okay. I am conscious that four speakers are waiting to speak.
I would love to stay to hear the full debate but I must attend a meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Action that is taking place. I will look back on this debate with great interest.
I will highlight a few specific issues. They include sustainability of the industry, which has been mentioned already, and the quality of employment. Part of recognising and valuing a quality tourism or hospitality sector certainly is ensuring that as a sector, it has clear and known standards. The joint labour committee system has been continuously pushed against, unfortunately, by some of the industry actors but it is the best and most effective way to address issues. We may attempt to address issues piece by piece in legislation here but I note that aspect first.
In terms of sustainable tourism, when people travel abroad one thing they want to do is not simply see what is available to tourists but also to see where inhabitants go and what neighbourhoods are culturally vibrant or lively. Unfortunately, there is not enough joining of the dots on the link between a vibrant cultural infrastructure, that is, the kinds of towns and cities where people can work in the arts or where there are art spaces that are used and are active, and sustainable tourism. While one may have any number of individual festivals, it is beneficial to have neighbourhoods that have a cultural vitality. We know this as it is one of the things that attracts international tourists. People do not always want to go to a tourist-specific event. They want to visit neighbourhoods and communities that have a strong cultural dimension. We have an opportunity for greater links between the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. We must strengthen the cultural vibrancy in communities and there have been real concerns in that area.
I am disappointed that greenways mainly appear in the tourism frame. Greenways are partly about tourism but they also provide a way of life for communities. We should not simply see greenways as a novelty. We must recognise that cycling infrastructure is not simply about tourism. It certainly attracts tourism but also provides meaningful infrastructure, which falls within the remit of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Cycling tourism is undoubtedly a core part of sustainable tourism but cycling infrastructure and the associated culture are what make it really sustainable. I am disappointed that greenways have been framed in a narrow way financially and not linked to the wider increase that we needed in the cycling infrastructure as part of the transport budget.
On the lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to ports, I have advocated in this House previously for the Dublin to Rosslare train line, which is of comparable beauty with any train line anywhere in the world. The Dublin to Rosslare line traverses one of the most beautiful routes but runs very rarely and does not serve commuters in the area. As a result, many commuters who live in the area must drive. In any other country, the line would be treated like the Fort William railway and become a focus for tourists. When I asked questions on how the rail line fits with Rosslare harbour, which I hope will become more important in the future, I was told that there were sail and drive measures. Unfortunately, the sail and rail measures have not been as fully explored and pressed as they should be. A proper rail service is important for the survival of ports. Post Brexit we will need more port links with mainland Europe. A ferry link has been established between Cork harbour and Santander in northern Spain. I apologise if I am incorrect but I believe one cannot travel as a foot passenger on the ferry. If our ports are being redeveloped and there will be an increased emphasis on ports post Brexit, how can we build in spaces for pedestrians, cyclists and a tourism offering? In many cases, the people who avail of a ferry to sail here will be interested in preserving the environment. How can we make sure that these people are presented with public transport and cycle transport options? We must provide attractive sustainable tourism packages available to tourists.
Finally, I apologise that I cannot stay to listen to the rest of the debate but I promise to read the transcript and I look forward to the response of the Minister of State.
I wish to share some time with my colleague.
Is the Senator proposing to split the time into three-minute and two-minute slots?
Perhaps slots of three and a half and one and a half minutes but we will be as quick as we can.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I wish to focus on the planned coastal and castle greenway from Sutton to Balbriggan in County Dublin. Many in this House will have heard me speak about a coastal greenway for Fingal for a long time because Fingal does not just have a wonderful coastline but castles and the additional benefit of a commuter rail service all along the way. Therefore, if cyclists get tired they can park their bikes and return to Dublin city via train.
An earlier speaker talked about cycleways. I wish to talk about home tourism. More than 1 million people live in the greater Dublin area. They could avail of the greenway, as it is a safe environment in which to cycle with one's family. It is difficult to find safe cycle areas for oneself and small children. We all are familiar with the famous saying that the family who prays together stays together. I wish to add that the family who plays together stays together. It is also critically important that we promote multigenerational family activities as it is good for communities and preserves the mental health and well-being of all concerned.
Fingal, Louth and Meath councils have lodged a joint application for a greenway that runs through Fingal to the site of the Battle of the Boyne and on to Newgrange. The greenway would be a fantastic offering. In addition, as many as 32 million people passed through Dublin Airport last year and very often they must wait a few hours for a connecting flight or whatever. This would be a wonderful tourism offering for them and it would do a huge amount for tourism. A greenway is sustainable because, as we know, the Westport greenway paid for itself within a year with cafés and eateries springing up along the way.
We have a wealth of history, scenery and coast along this way and it would be a phenomenal and sustainable tourist attraction. The Minister of State should examine this. I asked the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, before to try to put a couple of hundred million euro into a fund for greenways throughout the country. This is the sort of tourism that has a very bright future because there is a huge cohort of 60 to 80 year olds throughout the western world who are healthy, wealthy, with time on their hands, and looking for things to do. One can only argue for a tourism offering that talks of food, cycling, music and craic as being a winner all the way down the line.
I can see huge benefit all down through these towns of Rush, Lusk, Skerries, Balbriggan and Loughshinny, up to Malahide and Portmarnock. I hope the Minister of State will back the application to ensure that this happens.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I want to discuss with him the initiative his Department has driven in recent years regarding food tourism. I am talking mainly about the Taste of West Cork and the great success this has been. There is great and wonderful opportunity for us to promote what we have on the island, and food is a major part of that. More can be done in this space. The Taste of West Cork this year, running from Kinsale all the way to Allihies, was a unique success, with every village and town having a food offering, and it brought so many international and national chefs to west Cork. It was an unbelievable success.
We need to promote this angle of what we have on this island. This island has an abundance of food, greenery, and fresh clean water. This is a unique asset. We need to focus on that and to drive an important strategy, whether that is supporting festivals like the Taste of West Cork or even having a national policy to drive that forward. That is an avenue that I can see that people in the town of Kinsale have really caught on to. Last week we had a wonderful food festival there which comes out of the feeling that that is what we are good at and really proud of.
I implore the Minister of State for more funding in that area to support one of our key industries, which is agriculture and natural tourism together. Put together, they are a fantastic success.
I thank the Senator. As there are no other Senators indicating their wish to speak, I now call the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to speak.
I thank the Acting Chairman. I also thank all 11 Senators for their contributions, which I counted. It indicates the importance of the industry and how highly regarded the industry is among Members that there would be this level of reply on a Wednesday afternoon, which is always a very busy day around Leinster House.
A number of Senators mentioned the issues of skills shortages and human resources. I will give a very concise summary of what we are doing here. How much time have I got, Acting Chairman?
We have until half past four.
I will go through what we are doing here in this area. A new tourism and hospitality careers oversight group has been established to continue the work of the hospitality skills oversight group, which published its final report on 19 September 2018. The group, which is chaired by Fáilte Ireland, was established to co-ordinate the relevant bodies to agree and implement a work programme to address current and future labour supply and skill requirements in the tourism and hospitality sector. It is recognised that the best approach to support sustainable employment in the tourism and hospitality sector requires a co-ordinated and collaborative approach by industry, education, training providers and other relevant stakeholders. Members of the tourism and hospitality careers oversight group have developed a two-year work plan for 2019-2020 that focuses on the delivery of five targeted objectives. Initially chaired by Fáilte Ireland, the key objectives of the group are to promote tourism careers and to attract and retain new and existing talent. Fáilte Ireland has completed both desk and qualitative research to understand attitudes and perceptions of the sector and careers in tourism and hospitality. These insights may inform the promotional campaigns to drive a dynamic shift in perceptions as to what a career in the sector can offer.
On the issue of work permits, which was also raised, my Department is represented on the interdepartmental group on economic migration policy by the tourism industry and product development division, which is chaired by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. This group is made up of stakeholders from different Departments to oversee and monitor changes to work permits. Through our participation on this group, the Department has assisted the industry in obtaining permits for certain grades of chefs, subject to an overall quota of 610 in March 2018. Changes in April 2019 allow employers to replace permit holder employees who leave their employment prior to the expiry of a permit. These changes also allow recognition of the total years' experience gained by an applicant in any grade of chef rather than limiting that to their experience in one specific chef grade. The Department and Fáilte Ireland are supporting the industry with submissions to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation for further changes to work permits, particularly for chefs.
As to the chef apprenticeship programme, the Department of Education Skills has lead responsibility for skills development policy generally across all sectors, including hospitality and tourism. It oversees the bulk of the required education and training provided nationally through the higher, further education, and training bodies, namely, the institutes of technology, the education and training boards, and SOLAS.
The commis chef apprenticeship programme secured Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, approval in July 2017. An initial roll-out of the programme commenced in the autumn of 2017 in Galway, Limerick and Clare. Since then it has subsequently expanded to other counties. I can assure Members that there is constant collaboration between our Department and the other relevant Departments in trying to tackle this. It is one of the key challenges we face. With the growth in 2017 in particular and in 2018, one of the key messages that industry has kept sending back to us is that it is having major difficulty in attracting the skilled labour that we need to sustain the growth. That is something we are very conscious of and working on with our partners.
Addressing Senator Mark Daly directly, I agree with him that the Ireland Reaching Out initiative, about which I will speak to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, and The Gathering were very positive initiatives. They brought the best out in communities in many different ways. Economically they were important, but they also gave members of those communities a sense of pride and rejuvenation in how people felt about their areas that traditionally might not been seen as tourism hotspots. People started to become more resourceful. If there was any good thing to come out of the recession, it was that people became a bit more resourceful about their own communities and about what was on their own doorsteps. The Gathering epitomised that and brought those brilliant things we have on offer in so many communities to the attention of our diaspora around the world.
Something that I am constantly engaging with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland on is the concept of revisiting The Gathering and looking at a follow-up to it. The general feedback from the agencies is that the most appropriate time to do that would be when there is a particular dip in tourism. It would be a very strong intervention and injection to have rather than at a time when we are growing. Looking at 2018, these were possibly unsustainable rates of growth. This is something, however, that is very much on the agenda and I would like to see happening again. As I said, I will speak to the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, and it deserves further follow-up.
I thank Senator Hopkins. I was in her constituency a number of months ago. There is massive potential in her part of Ireland to grow the industry more. That is why we are developing the Hidden Heartlands experience and are pushing that. It got a massive shot in the arm from the investment of Center Parcs, but that is just one attraction in what is a really special part of Ireland that up to now was very much undiscovered and probably not appreciated as much as it should be. It is an area that I am very keen to put more money into. On Strokestown, I look forward to being there for the official opening of the Famine Museum. That is something that will be a major attraction in the area and I will call to Tulsk as well, following the Senator's request to do so. It is a place in which there is also great potential.
I was in Tayto Park this morning visiting another investment. I did not get to meet Mr. Tayto, one of my heroes. I got to see the importance of its theme park, which is emphasising Ireland's Ancient East and the Viking tradition, which is very much part of the theme in a section of the park, and which is great to see. It is also linking in very closely with the Púca Festival. This is the first year of that festival, which a Senator referenced, and which is taking place primarily in Louth and Meath. I see a future for it, especially in Rathcroghan, which the same Senator also referenced. We are very much open to expanding that festival after this year.
There are many areas around the country like this. In Kenmare, as Senator Daly would know, the Hallowe'en Festival has been a massive success in recent years, with great credit due to the people behind it . I would like to see all of those festivals, and there are a number of them throughout the country, getting massive support.
It would remiss of me not to say that if there are any concerns regarding human resources or violations of workers' rights, they must be aired but we must be balanced in our comments. I worked in hospitality for seven seasons in the hotel sector. I also worked in bars and restaurants. I ran my own pub for a number of years. My family is steeped in the hospitality sector.
A great business.
My father worked for 40 years as a hotel porter-concierge. My uncle has worked for more than 50 years in the hospitality sector. My experiences of the sector have always been positive. There are some fantastic employers in the industry. When I travel the country meeting people in the hospitality sector, what I hear overwhelmingly from some of the 260,000 people employed in the industry is positive. We need to weed out the bad employers who are not giving the people working at the front line the terms and conditions they deserve but it would be dangerous for us to generalise. When we are making such an effort to attract skilled workers into the industry and grow careers in the tourism and hospitality sector, it would be unfair if we were to talk down the sector. I am not saying that is what the Senator is saying but we need to be careful about the way we talk about this sector and that we would not generalise. I look forward to reading that report in detail but I have other evidence that suggests people working in the industry are making a good living and doing very well out of it. Employment is generated through this industry in every community throughout the country, therefore, it is important we would not generalise. My personal and family experience of the hospitality sector has been a very positive one.
The development of greenways is critically important. We want there to be more investment in greenways. We have announced our first tranche of them. I have always felt they should be called "goldways". There is a major economic spin-off from them. Many other suggestions were made but, unfortunately, the time available for me to respond is not adequate. Perhaps that could be revisited when so many Senators have made contributions. All their contributions have been noted. I will be following up in detail on all the suggestions that were made. I am very keen to ensure we grow but also protect the industry. If we do not grow it sustainably and protect it into the future, our children and grandchildren will not benefit from it in the same way communities throughout the country benefit from it. There is no reason we cannot grow the 260,000 employed in the sector to well beyond 300,000 in the years ahead and keeping the figure above the 260,000 employed in it is the key challenge. We can never return to the boom and bust cycle for tourism. That is why I am very keen that the sustainability ethos would be applied to everything we do into the future. I thank the Acting Chairman for the time provided for me to come into the House to discuss this sector.
I will mention to the Leader, with the Members' agreement, that perhaps we should have continue this debate on tourism at a future date as there is such interest in it, if that is okay with the Minister of State.
I would be happy to continue this debate.
It is an area in which we all have an interest and I will suggest that.
We will see the Minister of State in Strokestown next week.