Wednesday, 20 October 2004

Questions (44)

Martin Ferris

Question:

146 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the review of RTOs in the North to establish RTPs; his views on whether, due to the natural affinities which northern counties have with the adjoining counties in the South, there ought to be a common strategy in terms of tourism products, marketing and destination; and if he has been in contact with Fáilte Ireland and his northern counterpart to ensure that this common sense approach becomes a reality within these RTPs. [25564/04]

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Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

For many years, policy-makers on both sides of the Border have recognised the benefits of applying co-operative strategies in developing tourism both on an all-island and a cross-Border basis. Co-operation on these matters started to become more formalised and action-oriented from the late 1980s onwards. The relevant Departments in both jurisdictions, together with the then Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, were assisted by cross-Border funding bodies, such as the International Fund for Ireland and the EU-funded INTERREG and peace and reconciliation programmes, to develop and implement specific programmes across a range of tourism themes, for example, support for product development in the Border counties, Northern Ireland and the five southern Border counties plus Sligo, and associated training and a limited joint marketing programme. This programme focused on below-the-line co-operative activities namely, non-mainstream advertising, carried out jointly by the two tourist boards in main markets. These small cross-Border programmes took place against the backdrop of the much larger tourism product, training and marketing measures under the EU co-funded tourism operational programmes in the South.

In the mid-1990s, a new industry-led joint marketing body, the overseas tourism marketing initiative was formed. Both tourist boards were members of OTMI and its board included industry representatives from both jurisdictions. From its inception, it recognised the potential benefits of advancing an all-island approach to tourism marketing. In 1995, for the first time, an island of Ireland theme was used to advertise Ireland.

Arising from the identification of the tourism sector as a key area of co-operation between the jurisdictions, Tourism Ireland Limited, the all-island tourism marketing body, was established in December 2000 under the framework of the Good Friday Agreement. This company is responsible for Tourism Brand Ireland, strategic all-island destination marketing in all markets outside the island of Ireland, the international roll-out of regional and product marketing programmes formulated by Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the operation of the overseas office network. North-South co-operation on tourism matters operates at many levels. At policy level, the North-South Ministerial Council, with the Ministers from both jurisdictions, oversee and approve objectives, strategy and resources for overseas marketing by Tourism Ireland. This co-operation cascades through both public sectors through the active liaison and co-operation of both sponsor Departments on a range of issues and through the co-operation and liaison of the three bodies Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and NITB. This co-operation is mirrored in the private sector, at one level through the industry representation on the board of Tourism Ireland but also through the close working relationship of the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation and the Northern Ireland Tourist Industry Confederation.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Border between the North and South cuts through several natural tourism and general development areas. If the potential of the Border region is to be properly developed, the planning strategies for the region will require close co-ordination with those in the North and close, practical co-operation will need to be fostered between the various public authorities on both sides of the Border. This will also have to extend to certain infrastructural issues given that key routes traverse both sides of the Border. It makes sense for the regional tourism authorities on both sides of the Border to work closely to exploit the potential of the natural tourism areas and the waterway systems that straddle the Border. If tourism marketing within the region is to be successful, it needs to take practical account of the cross-Border dimension and to comply with the themes and quality associated with Tourism Brand Ireland, which is an all-Ireland brand.

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 State agencies. On foot of the recommendations of the tourism policy review group, Fáilte Ireland, is actively considering the question of 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 regional entities. The outcome of this work is expected later this year and will inform Fáilte Ireland's ongoing deliberations on the most appropriate regional structures for the discharge of its functions and the relationships and arrangements that should apply at regional level. It remains a key aim of my Department and the tourism agencies, to facilitate North-South tourism co-operation in areas of mutual benefit. The principal aim will be to deliver on the potential manifested by the successful co-operation that has evolved over many years with clear economic and social benefits for both communities.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. I welcome many aspects of it, particularly the all-Ireland dimension and the intention to develop a common strategic approach for developing and marketing Ireland as a single entity tourist project. Do local authorities in regions on either side of the Border make any direct input into the development and continuing progress of the strategy for an all-island tourist project? Does it not make sense in the marketing of Border regions which share amenities, particularly, for example, Leitrim, Fermanagh and Cavan, to take a structural approach, from the point of view of the Six Counties, the Ministers and particularly that of the local authorities which would be responsible for marketing their respective counties in a joint approach?

I fully concur with Deputy Ferris on that. It is also fair to say that there is a very strong case, an unanswerable case, for an ever greater degree of co-operation between the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Fáilte Ireland. There is also an undeniable case for a greater level of co-operation to be made between the regional tourism authorities on both sides of the Border. Tourism Ireland Limited can be described as a unique body. It is unique because it is the one cross-Border development organisation which actually is in place. What is even more important is that it is a template for the future. It is important that it succeeds and the good news is that it is succeeding. For example, tourism in the North increased by 11%, for the first time in many years. All the indications are that this will continue. Marketing Ireland overseas by Tourism Ireland in the context of an all-island unit makes economic sense. I sincerely hope it continues to grow and prosper as it has been doing.