I propose to take Questions Nos. 155 and 174 together.
I have already made very clear my views on the growing level of dissatisfaction expressed by overseas visitors about the value for money, particularly in terms of the cost of eating out, of the overall tourism experience in Ireland. One of the strongest messages of the tourism policy review group is that restoring competitiveness is the major challenge facing the tourism sector. In short, delivering value for money will be of paramount importance for maximising future growth opportunities.
The reality is that Ireland has never been marketed as a low cost destination. However, during the years of significant growth in the 1990s, it was competitive and was seen to be offering holidaymakers value for money.
The consumer price index for August 2004 did show price increases in the restaurants and hotels category at the level of 0.3% for the month and 4.5% for the year. However, by end September 2004, there was no further deterioration in the annual rate of increase. In the context of value for money, it is important to point out that there continues to be very attractive packages on offer in regard to access, accommodation and dining out.
Competitiveness is a function of the overall Irish tourism experience for customers relative to other competing locations. My contribution towards the restoration of competitiveness is to see a coherent tourism action plan implemented effectively in co-operation with all the major players. To this end, I have established a high level implementation group to advise and assist in driving forward and monitoring the comprehensive action plan set out in the report of the tourism review group.
I received the first progress report from the implementation group at the end of August. Few people involved in the industry were surprised to learn that the group found that strong areas of concern remain in relation to the competitiveness and value for money available in wide segments of Irish tourism. The group has re-affirmed that sustained efforts to address the issues that have undermined competitiveness within both the industry itself and within the Government sector, along the lines of the review group's recommended actions, are essential.
The implementation group will continue its work over the remainder of the period of the initial two year tourism action plan. It will continue to meet at monthly intervals and to encourage, through regular consultations, the relevant Departments, State agencies and industry representative groups to progress the implementation of the recommended actions.