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Tourism Promotion

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 July 2012

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Questions (3)

Timmy Dooley


87Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the current status of the Gathering Project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32391/12]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport)

The question relates to the current status of The Gathering project. I presented proposals for The Gathering Ireland 2013 at the Global Irish Economic Forum last October.  Fáilte Ireland is the lead agency for the implementation of the initiative and has put in place a project executive team to implement it.  Tourism Ireland has specific responsibility for promoting The Gathering in overseas markets and has also provided staff for the project team.

The event is intended to be the biggest tourism initiative ever staged in Ireland and will consist of a year-long programme of festivals, events and other gatherings.  The St. Patrick's Day festivities were used for the overseas launch while a major domestic launch took place on Friday, 11 May 2012 in Dublin Castle at an event attended the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism, Deputy Ring, and me.  In recent weeks the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, has attended events in Manchester and Glasgow to mobilise support among the Irish communities in Britain and I will be attending an event in Brussels next week. Further major publicity events in our main overseas tourism markets are planned for the remainder of the year.

A series of Gathering community meetings are being held throughout Ireland to engage and mobilise local communities and to provide an opportunity to people to learn more about The Gathering and how they can be a part of it.  Meetings have taken place in Roscommon and Castlebar, with a meeting in Ennis planned. A website has been established with information on how people can play their part in the event, including online support for potential organisers to submit queries and download promotional material. In addition, social media channels are on stream to promote the event.

In terms of resources, a specific ring-fenced additional €5 million allocation has been provided to Fáilte Ireland this year. This allocation will primarily be used for establishing the support structure and for marketing.  Efforts to secure additional resources for The Gathering will be targeted at engaging potential partners and sponsors. The Irish tourism trade is also directly involved and is being briefed on progress on an ongoing basis.

I thank the Minister for the reply. He is aware his Government set an increase in tourism and visitors to the country as a key strategic component of its jobs initiative. In doing so the Government reduced the VAT rate on tourism related products, much to the annoyance of private pensioners who, effectively, had to pay for that. At one stage the Minister questioned to some extent the ability of that measure to increase employment, and that speaks for itself.

The tourism numbers for the first three months this year, from the beginning of March to the end of May, show a reduction of approximately 1.1% compared with last year. There have been approximately 18,000 fewer visitors to the country. There has been a reduction of approximately 5.7% of the British market and, when one sets this against the fall-off of approximately 3% of Britons travelling in Europe generally, it represents a significant fall-off from our nearest neighbour and our most important market. What specific measures has the Government taken to address this significant fall-off from our nearest neighbour in the context of promoting Ireland generally and working towards The Gathering next year?

The Gathering primarily relates to next year. Inbound visitor number figures for last year were favourable. There was an increase of 6% on 2010 after several years of decline. To date this year we are behind target. We had targeted a 4% increase this year but so far there has been a 1% decrease in visitor numbers. This varies however. For example, there has been an increase from mainland Europe, a significant increase in some cases from Germany, France and the Nordic countries. There has also been an increase from the long-haul market. The figures from America are slightly down, by approximately 2%, but they have been improving in the past three months. Numbers from America were up by 1% on the same period last year. The figures from Britain are disappointing. For the first five months the number of visits from Britain were down by 2.3%, set against a 3% fall in the British market in general. There are fewer British people travelling on account of the ongoing recession there, but we are not losing market share. The March to May figures shows a 5.7% fall but we should not necessarily read too much into three month statistics for Britain. Overall the figures are down 2.3% to date this year and this wipes out the gains we are making from mainland Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

I welcome the fact the Minister recognises the figures are disappointing. It is incumbent on the Government to do something. While one should never read too much into any particular statistical snapshot, it is an indicator. There has been an effort by the Government to clap itself on the back to some extent because of the notional 6% increase last year based on the figures for the previous year. My recollection is that the increase was based on the ash cloud. When the figures are adjusted to take account of the significant reduction in traffic as a result of that event, the increase disappears. I urge the Government to continue to invest heavily in promoting Ireland abroad in whatever way it can and to have in place a strategic plan to ensure we do not lose market share or visitor numbers.

I offer the figures from mainland Europe. Figures from Germany are up 10%, figures from France are up by 6%, figures from Italy are up by 9%, figures from the Nordic region are up by 9.5% and those from the Benelux countries are up by 8%. There are several factors which explain why the British market is depressed and they do not apply only to this side of the Irish Sea.

New television advertisements will feature in the coming weeks in Britain, France and Germany, in cinemas in Britain, the United States, Spain and Italy, and there will be outdoor advertising in Britain. There will be some events around the Olympic Games, including a Gathering event. The focus will be on these top four markets in particular. I am reasonably confident we will see better figures in the coming months. This has been the suggestion from the industry for the coming months, the peak season, because the bookings are strong.