I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad this evening to speak on tourism.
Sular bhuail ráig Covid-19 an domhan bhí turasóireacht ar cheann de na hearnálacha ba mhó agus ba thapúla fás sa gheilleagar domhanda agus chuir sí go mór le cúrsaí eacnamaíocha agus sóisialta in go leor tíortha, cathracha agus réigiún. Tourism has proven to be a vital industry in Ireland that sustains communities and drives regional development in a manner that other sectors cannot match. Apart from its economic value, tourism also plays an important role in promoting Ireland's image abroad, generating a positive impression of Irish people, our landscape and culture for our visitors.
The tourism landscape has changed drastically in the past two years. The outbreak and spread of Covid-19 have had a devastating impact on the tourism industry in Ireland and across the world. The pandemic struck Irish tourism towards the end of the first quarter of 2020 by which stage only 10% to 15% of annual overseas spending would have accrued. After the first quarter, there was a collapse in overseas travel and the OECD estimates that international tourism worldwide fell by 80% overall that year.
During this time, the Government committed to providing supports for the sectors worst affected by the crisis, including tourism. A tourism recovery task force was established in May 2020 and delivered a tourism recovery plan with recommendations on how best the Irish tourism sector could adapt and recover in a changed tourism environment. Later that year, I appointed a recovery oversight group to oversee the implementation of this plan. This group has reported regularly to me and has provided valuable inputs to the Government on the measures required to assist the sector. The recovery oversight group is continuing its work and will continue to report with updates on the implementation of the recovery plan and recovery in the sector more generally.
In 2020, more than €44 million was allocated to deliver business continuity supports and adaptation grants for the tourism sector to adapt premises to meet Covid-19 safety requirements. In 2021, we saw a short and successful summer season from a domestic tourism point of view, but given the consequential and necessary public health measures that were put in place, many of the jobs supported by tourism were either lost or their survival hinged on State support. A full recovery in the sector was further hampered by the fact that inbound overseas tourism could not fully recommence.
In budget 2021, I secured a record level of funding for tourism overall that included €55 million for a dedicated tourism business continuity scheme to help strategic tourism businesses survive the pandemic and drive recovery. This funding was supplemented by the outdoor dining scheme 2021 and the urban animation scheme 2021, which allowed Fáilte Ireland to deliver a number of targeted capital grant schemes to help tourism businesses adapt to the changed operating environment.
A further €50 million was secured from budget 2022 for additional business continuity supports and a €35 million increase to the tourism marketing fund to support the delivery of a marketing strategy to help restore inbound tourism to Ireland. This current investment is complemented by significant capital investment and I was very pleased to have been able to secure a large capital allocation of €36.5 million to Fáilte Ireland for tourism product development in budget 2022. I am continuing to engage closely with the wider tourism and hospitality sector, in close consultation with the Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland.
Throughout the pandemic, tourism enterprises have also benefited from wider horizontal supports such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, restart grants, the €2 billion Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme and the €16 million support package for pubs, bars and nightclubs, as well as the warehousing of tax liabilities. There is no doubt that the past two years have proven to be extremely difficult for all involved in tourism but hopefully the worst effects of the pandemic are behind us. While the outlook is certainly better now, we must remain conscious of the further challenges that lie ahead. Like many sectors of the economy, recruitment is a significant challenge for the tourism and hospitality sectors, with up to two thirds of businesses reporting reduced capacity due to staff shortages. My Department and Fáilte Ireland have been collaborating with industry and other Departments to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach to addressing the labour and skills shortages.
In February, Fáilte Ireland published its most comprehensive research to date on the tourism and hospitality labour market. This robust and wide-ranging research programme covers the views of 1,000 employers and 3,500 workers with tourism and hospitality experience as well as international benchmarking, a review of education provision and consultation with recruitment agencies. This research is shaping Fáilte Ireland's work programmes for this year which will focus on providing support to the industry to address the immediate labour and skills supply challenges which will be critical to the short-term recovery of the sector; supporting businesses and the wider industry to work together to drive the long-term repositioning of the industry as an appealing and rewarding career choice and workplace, and ensuring a future pipeline of talent; and building the capability of individual employees to help businesses to bridge the skills gaps they are experiencing and also drive greater employee retention by improving the quality of training across the business.
Fáilte Ireland also chairs the tourism and hospitality careers oversight group, which will continue to work closely with industry bodies, education providers and other Government bodies to support sustainable employment in the tourism sector with an immediate focus on recruitment and retention initiatives, as well as focusing on the long-term repositioning of the industry as a career choice.
The tragic events in Ukraine also have the potential to impede the recovery of overseas tourism to Ireland. The recent spike in oil prices and rising inflation are making accommodation and transport services more expensive, adding extra pressure on businesses, consumer purchasing power and savings. It is important to remember, however, that our research tells us that Ireland's reputation as a safe, friendly and welcoming country will be a valuable asset in the short, medium and long term.
With specific regard to the ensuing refugee crisis, Ireland has welcomed more than 18,000 Ukrainian refugees to date. Planning and preparatory work is being ramped up across government to provide supports to those who have arrived here already, as well as the large numbers of further people expected to arrive. My Department and Fáilte Ireland are continuing to work with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to identify longer term accommodation options beyond the hotel sector.
As Senators know, President Zelenskyy will address this House and the Dáil tomorrow morning. I look forward to hearing his historic address and I have no doubt that Irish people will continue to play their part in the humanitarian response to this horrific and unjust war. Ireland firmly stands in solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
As we enter the recovery phase for tourism, the competition globally to attract tourists will be more challenging than ever and I am more than confident that Tourism Ireland is equally equipped for and up for the challenge. To this end, Tourism Ireland has started to roll out the green carpet and welcome back international visitors as they work to encourage as many overseas holidaymakers as possible to book Ireland for their next holiday destination. The concept revolves around creating a commitment to travel, by pressing the "Green Button" - green being the universal colour signifying "go" and instinctively connected with the island of Ireland. I was happy to help Tourism Ireland launch this new Green Button campaign in the United Kingdom, the United States and the United Arab Emirates in recent months when I travelled to all three markets to engage with our industry partners and reassure them that Ireland was open and waiting to welcome back visitors. During those trade missions, I saw at first-hand the excellent work undertaken by Tourism Ireland in highlighting Ireland's world-class tourism experience to international tour operators.
The importance of tourism to the economy on both sides of the Border and the clear logic in taking a joint approach to the promotion and development of the sector led to tourism being one of the areas chosen for formal North-South co-operation, through the structures created by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. That co-operation has been hugely beneficial, with the tourism sector now an exemplar of what can be achieved when we work together on this island with a shared purpose and for clear mutual benefit.
In January, I took part in a shared island dialogue event hosted by the Department of An Taoiseach, which focused on all-island tourism.
More than 160 tourism and civil society stakeholders from across the island joined the event online to discuss the success of tourism co-operation on the island of Ireland over the past 20 years, and explore how best to enhance opportunities for domestic and international visitors in the years ahead. Over the course of the dialogue a number of key themes emerged, including the opportunity for greater alignment and linkages between tourism initiatives on the island, and further developing on a cross-Border basis the on-island tourism that has grown in response to the pandemic travel restrictions.
My Department will continue to work with the Department of An Taoiseach on implementing our commitments to the North-South development of tourism as included in the shared island chapter of the renewed national development plan. This includes supporting Tourism Ireland in its mission to grow tourism into the island of Ireland; promoting the recovery of the sector post pandemic; and working with the Northern Ireland Executive, when it is restored, on developing large scale North-South tourism initiatives which will support the sustainable growth of the sector, including cross-Border walking and cycling trails, as well as new marketing opportunities.
As part of its marketing strategy this year, Tourism Ireland has established a recovery framework which will be underpinned by an extensive programme of promotional activity throughout 2022. The organisation has a flexible, three-phase plan to restart, rebuild and, ultimately, redesign demand. Over €80 million will be invested in the programme in 2022, which will allow Tourism Ireland to ramp up its campaigns in key international markets.
Fáilte Ireland is doubling its domestic marketing investment in 2022 to drive domestic demand, including short breaks all year round. In that regard, it has embarked on extensive marketing and communications campaigns, including its Keep Discovering campaign, which continues to encourage domestic holidaymakers to take vacations in Ireland, particularly during quieter shoulder seasons.
With specific regard to capital investment, I look forward to seeing the delivery of projects that will support a sustainable tourism sector from an environmental, social and economic perspective. The new NDP provides for the delivery of enhanced amenity through investment in tourism product development. Priority areas for tourism capital investment include the development and enhancement of tourist attractions, and activity-based tourism, to provide the type and quality of experience that visitors seek.
Air access is a good measure of recovery and an indicator of future international tourism demand. As things currently stand, inbound air access from almost all overseas tourism markets is back close to where it stood pre pandemic. Last week, I visited Meitheal in Killarney, Ireland's biggest business-to-business international travel trade fair, and witnessed firsthand the pent-up demand in the inbound tourism sector. Closer to home domestic tourism is set to return to pre-pandemic levels this year.
As we begin to regrow our tourism sector, it has never been more important that we ensure the sector's future development is based 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. Both public bodies and private enterprises must continue to ensure that these principles are central to our tourism offering in order to maximise the future competitiveness of Ireland as a leading sustainable tourism destination.
Late last year I brought to Government a report developed by the Sustainable Tourism Working Group that identifies key actions that will promote sustainable tourism practices in the short term. This year our tourism agencies will focus on the delivery of this interim action plan which will enhance evidence-based decision-making for effective reduction of the tourism carbon footprint. The successful implementation of this plan will lay the foundations for a green transition of the tourism industry, and our destinations by providing better access to information and tools for visitors to practise responsible tourism and give tourism businesses and destinations the ability to measure the impact that tourism has on the environment.
In line with the programme for Government commitments, officials in my Department have commenced the development of a new national tourism policy that will seek to mainstream sustainability. The development of this new policy will involve consultation to help set out a path for the coming years, which will support a sustainable recovery and enhance the resilience of this vital sector. It is clear that the traditional model of tourism is changing. The development of this new national tourism policy gives us an opportunity to set out what type of tourism sector we want in the years ahead. Overall, we are returning to a good place with tourism in Ireland. The outlook has changed considerably after some very difficult times over the last two years. While I am conscious of the further challenges we face, I am confident that, with the ongoing support of Government, we will regrow and reshape our tourism ecosystem in a smart way that will ensure resilience and sustainability as tourism reinforces itself once again as one of our most important indigenous economic sectors.
Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí as a gcuid ama inniu. Ba mhaith liom mo thiomantas do chur chun cinn an chláir oibre turasóireachta inbhuanaithe a athdhearbhú agus táim ag tnúth le haistriú glas ár n-earnáil agus ár n-áiteanna turasóireachta.