While CSO figures show an increase of 5% in overseas visitor numbers in the first seven months of the year, evidence on the ground suggests that this level of growth has not been shared equally throughout the country or among different sectors of the industry. The trend towards shorter holidays is clearly impacting on regional spread and some tourism enterprises, particularly in rural areas, are reporting a difficult year.
One of the key objectives of national tourism policy is to achieve as wide as possible a distribution of visitor numbers across the different regions with the consequent distribution of tourism revenue. Achieving that goal has long been recognised as a major challenge for Government, the tourism agencies and the industry alike. This view has been echoed in the progress report submitted recently by the tourism action plan implementation group.
The Government for its part has committed substantial resources to enable the tourism agencies to support the industry across the length and breadth of Ireland to win its fair share of business.
To assist the promotion and development of tourism by the regions themselves, Fáilte Ireland is channelling approximately €5 million directly into the regional tourism authorities to strengthen and enhance their operational and marketing capabilities this year. This investment, which represents a 20% increase in funding to the RTA network, is designed to ensure both a high quality visitor servicing experience at key tourist information offices and also a strong overseas promotional effort, in co-operation with Tourism Ireland.
Building on this, and on foot of the recommendations of the report of the tourism policy review group, Fáilte Ireland is now addressing how best to establish a closer correlation between the identified core visitor servicing and development functions provided at regional level and the State financial support provided through the tourism agencies. This work should be completed later this year and should provide guidance to Fáilte Ireland on the most appropriate regional structures for the discharge of its functions and the relationships and arrangements that should apply at regional level.
Home holidays promotions and resourcing the RTAs represent just two of the many ways Fáilte Ireland is supporting the development of tourism in the regions. In total this year, Fáilte Ireland is investing approximately €25 million on developing regional tourism, from supporting local festivals to building capability and strengthening the tourism product itself. Initiatives such as the festivals and cultural events programme will continue to favour the lesser-developed regions. The tourism product development scheme is supporting the development of tourism capital infrastructure in a sustainable way that widens the spatial spread of tourism, diverts pressure from highly developed areas and increases the under performing regions' share of overseas tourism revenue.
The development of good access, particularly air access, is key to strengthening the competitive position of the regions. Both tourism agencies recognise this issue and are investing significant time and resources in encouraging good air links. Already, Knock and Galway airports are reaping the rewards of their efforts to promote direct access to the west, particularly from Britain.
As the Deputy is aware, I have no direct responsibility for individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned. These are day to day functions of the tourism agencies, at national and regional level.