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Tourism Industry

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 July 2012

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Questions (5, 6, 7, 8)

Charlie McConalogue


89Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the action that he has taken to address the fall in tourist numbers in the three months to the end of April; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32147/12]

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Tom Hayes


119Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his views on the prospects for tourism here during the course of 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31603/12]

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Sandra McLellan


127Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport in view of the latest Central Statistics Office figures showing a marginal decrease in visitor numbers in the first quarter of 2012 versus the same period in 2011, the efforts he will make to increase visitor numbers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32081/12]

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Bernard J. Durkan


735Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the extent to which it has been possible to focus on encouragement of tourists from the various established locations such as United States, Europe and further afield; the action that will be taken with a view to encouraging tourists from such locations to visit this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32402/12]

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Oral answers (23 contributions) (Question to Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport)

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 89, 119, 127 and 735 together.

Central Statistics Office figures for January to May 2012 indicate that visits from overseas to Ireland are broadly in line with 2011 levels, with a marginal decrease of 0.7%. Last year we saw growth in overseas visits to Ireland for the first time since 2007. While the figures have been on a par this year, I remain confident that we will see growth in the months ahead. The industry remains positive for the peak season based on inquiries and bookings, although clearly the outcome will depend on global economic conditions and consumer confidence being maintained in our key markets.

The global downturn has had a lasting impact on consumer behaviour, with tourists taking fewer short trips at off-peak times. Ireland is not immune to this trend. However, there are good reasons to be confident that we are on track for sustainable growth.  Inbound capacity on flights into Ireland is set to rise by 3% this summer. Ireland has the most competitively priced hotel rooms in western Europe.  The Government continues to invest in overseas marketing and our attractive tourism product.

We have had over 2.3 million overseas visits to Ireland this year. However, we cannot afford to be complacent. The entire tourism sector must keep fighting for business. The tourism agencies will continue to promote the fact that this is the best time to visit Ireland in terms of value and the wide range of things to see and do, including exciting events such as the Notre Dame-Navy football game in September which attract significant numbers from overseas. The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Michael Ring, and I will directly support the industry in promoting Irish tourism overseas in the months ahead, building on preparations for the Gathering Ireland 2013.

I thank the Minister for his positive answer and I am pleased by his optimistic outlook for the tourism sector. I ask for his views on the link between tourism and sports, particularly golf. According to Fáilte Ireland, a golf tourist is worth almost three times the value of an average tourist to this country. The average spend by a golf visitor is approximately €1,300. It is estimated that 155,000 overseas visitors play golf during their time in Ireland. Their total spend is approximately €240 million per annum, not to mention the thousands of jobs they help to create. I ask the Minister for his views on an all-Ireland promotion of the golfing industry in view of the emphasis placed on golf competitions in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, has primary responsibility for sports tourism, but I agree with the Deputy on the value of golf as a tourism product. It is a good product for us. A golf promotion entitled, Home of the Champions, is under way using Pádraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell as the face of golf. We also have an arrangement with Northern Ireland which allowed the Irish Open to be held in the North last weekend. The event will return to the Republic next year. We recognise the importance of this issue on which significant work is under way. Slightly better weather would also help but, unfortunately, we do not have control over that.

Is the Minister considering developing heritage-based tourism? Many foreign visitors come here for our striking landscapes, rich history and cultural heritage. Developing this sector makes perfect sense when one considers that for every €1 spent by the Heritage Council, the tourism sector receives €4.40 through increased tourism revenues. Does the Minister agree that developing heritage-based tourism would boost employment and that this, in turn, has the potential to provide an ongoing stream of sustainable income for cities and towns nationwide? Does he plan to keep the VAT rate in the hospitality sector at its current level which is providing a major boost to restaurants?

The 9% VAT rate introduced by the Minister for Finance in the jobs initiative will be maintained until at least the end of 2013. After that, I do not know what the position will be as it is a matter for Government. Lest I have speculated on the budget for 2013, I certainly will not speculate on the budget for 2014.

I concur fully with the Deputy on the important issue of heritage. Many people want to visit this country to see our castles and learn about our history. Although tourists tend to be divided roughly into categories, they include a specific group of sightseers and culture seekers who are known to spend most. Much of what we do is focused on this group. I am aware of the Heritage Council's estimate that every €1 invested in heritage delivers a return of €4.40 in tourism revenue, and while I do not wish to cast aspersions on the council, I am always sceptical of such calculations. In some ways, they are a form of Jack and the Beanstalk economics. If matters were that easy, we would spend €1 billion and get €4 billion back. I am often sceptical about the methodologies used to calculate returns on investment.

The visit of Queen Elizabeth II last year was a major success in promoting Ireland in England. In light of efforts to increase tourist numbers, will consideration be given to running a special promotion in Britain to persuade people to follow in the Queen's footsteps and visit the various locations on her itinerary? That would be a worthwhile initiative.

The visit of Queen Elizabeth II was a great success and helped showcase Ireland overseas. Her visit to Cashel, which was a major part of her trip, was great. I was pleased to visit Carrick-on-Suir with the Deputy last week. Unfortunately, we did not visit Cashel but perhaps we can do so the next time I visit the area. A report is being done at Department level and in consultation with the industry on what we can do to better harness the British market. Half of all overseas tourists come from Britain where our tourism industry is not making the recovery we would like. Some work is being carried out to identify what can be done to improve our position in the British market. British people now travel less than they have for a long time. I recall reading a stark statistic showing that British people travel abroad less than they did in 1989. The United Kingdom is our most important market by a mile and even a 2% or 3% increase in numbers from Britain would be worth more than a 10% or 20% increase from the long haul markets.

I emphasise the point made by Deputy Tom Hayes on the importance of golf tourism. I was fortunate to visit the Irish Open in Portrush, for which more than 100,000 tickets were sold. It was sold out despite the weather. I also saw the "Home of the Champions" campaign in full flight and found it very impressive. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, has spoken previously of developing Ireland as a golf capital. That would be a welcome initiative and we should do all we can to support it.

On the returns on investment in cultural heritage, cultural heritage is an end in itself. Given the dire economic circumstances, many people believe that investing in our heritage infrastructure and improving access to it could have significant economic spin-off effects. Consequently, the Minister must take a more hands-on approach in this regard. I am sorry to be parochial but this is important. I will cite three examples of the failure to do this within my own constituency. I have just mentioned the Dún Laoghaire baths and the council's ten-year refusal to invest in this site, which could enhance the heritage and tourist amenity of Dún Laoghaire. The Joyce tower now has been closed, essentially because of the public sector recruitment embargo. Moreover, the council lacks the resources to facilitate small boat owners in organising trips for the public across to Dalkey Island to see the Martello tower there. This is in a small stretch. It is the Minister's business if local authorities lack either the will or the resources to ensure public and tourist access to such vital heritage amenities or if they do not have the available resources to restore them and bring them up to a level at which they would encourage tourists to visit the country.

I am impressed by the Deputy's commitment to his constituency, which is beyond the call of duty. I am sure that unlike his colleagues in the Technical Group, he is not spending too much taxpayers' money in travelling around the country to promote tax evasion-----

He may have slipped over to Galway once or twice.

-----given he is so committed to Dún Laoghaire.

The Members opposite are the ones who are facilitating tax evasion

Order, please. The Minister to respond.

The Deputy is encouraging people to do it.

To fight an unjust law.

While facilitating is one thing, actually encouraging people to do it is another thing entirely.

It is a regressive law.

The Government is in discussions with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on the Joyce tower to get it reopened and I am sure they will come to a conclusion. A huge amount of investment goes into heritage, be it the €5 million that is being invested in Killarney House at present or the just-completed renovations to Castletown House with the help of the Office of Public Works and-----

Is the Minister aware the public cannot visit Dalkey Island?

As I had read that, yes I did. However, it is something that really must be led at local level.

It is because the council does not have the money to repair the jetty.