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Tourism Promotion

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 27 June 2013

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Questions (8, 16, 29, 57)

Seán Crowe

Question:

8. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the amount allocated by his Department for the proposed roll-out of a major consumer marketing campaign to promote Ireland and The Gathering 2013 in key markets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30954/13]

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Joe Carey

Question:

16. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on tourism performance to date in 2013; his expectations for the remainder of 2013; and, in view of the success of The Gathering, his plans to extend this initiative into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30956/13]

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Joe McHugh

Question:

29. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on tourism performance to date in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30957/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

57. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which the tourism industry has grown so far in 2013; the expectations for the remainder of the year; the degree to which various sectors have benefited from The Gathering; the beneficial impact likely by the year's end; if there are any particular issues needing attention for the future development of tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31082/13]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 16, 29 and 57 together.

These questions relate to the performance of the tourism industry. Over €37 million has been allocated in 2013 for general overseas tourism marketing, which is enabling Tourism Ireland to roll out a major consumer marketing campaign to promote Ireland and The Gathering Ireland 2013 in all our key markets. This is supplemented by a special provision in the 2013 Estimates for Fáilte Ireland of €7 million for The Gathering, to be used exclusively to fund the promotion, development and legacy of the event, and it complements support for the initiative from the tourism agencies' mainstream activities and from national and local partners.

The general response to The Gathering at home and abroad has been overwhelmingly positive. There are now more than 4,000 individual gatherings confirmed on The Gathering website, with new ones added daily. Gatherings are happening throughout the country and according to Fáilte Ireland, all tourism stakeholders, including accommodation providers, carriers, restaurants and attractions, are reporting positive results from the initiative.

In terms of visit numbers, early indications are that The Gathering is having a real benefit. The most recent published figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, show a 4% increase in overseas trips to Ireland between February and April 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. Furthermore, detailed CSO figures for the first quarter of 2013 are particularly encouraging as they show a 12% increase in spending by overseas visitors in Ireland compared to the corresponding period of 2012.

The overall target for the year of The Gathering was to increase the number of overseas visits by 325,000, and the data suggests we are well on target to achieve this. For the rest of 2013, overall sentiment for travel to Ireland is good, with particularly encouraging signs for visit numbers from mainland Europe and the USA, supported by significant growth in transatlantic air access for the peak summer period.

There are no plans to extend the initiative beyond 2013. However, I understand the tourism agencies and the Gathering team are working on how best to optimise its legacy, drawing on the experience to date.

The most recent figures for overseas visitors to the Republic of Ireland show a 7% increase in the first four months of this year, and the total air-sea capacity for the peak summer season of 2013 is forecast to be at least 3% higher than for the same time last year. Recent figures from the CSO for the first three months of this year show a 17% increase in visitors from North America to Ireland - and, perhaps more importantly, that Ireland is ahead of many of its European competitors in the North American market. In light of this, should any further initiatives with regard to The Gathering focus on countries such as Canada, especially in light of the new services, which will be a round link between Dublin and Canada for the first year, and should greater emphasis be placed on New Zealand and Australia?

In 2012, tourism was worth €3.68 billion to the economy and there were almost 1.5 million visitors to Ireland.

Deputy McLellan is quite correct. We need to start looking at every market where we can bring in business to Ireland. There is no doubt that Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy are the main markets. Those markets provide 75% of the visitors to this country. Of course, with all of the new flights coming in now, we need to start looking at other ways and means of targeting these countries. Every week Tourism Ireland is looking at ways and means to bring visitors into the country.

I suppose the good news is that the figures are up. It is looking good. The sector itself - particularly, as I stated in my earlier response, hoteliers, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and tourism providers - is happy this year. Sentiment is good. I hope this will continue until the end of the year and that this will be the best year for many years. The good news is that The Gathering has worked. I compliment everybody who took part in it.

Deputy McLellan asked a good question. We are already sitting down with Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, the Department and all the partners to discuss the legacy of The Gathering, not for next year or the year after but for the next number of years. The real ambassadors for Ireland in the next few years will be those who came to this country for gatherings. They will be looking to see what value for money they got. If they go away with a positive message, we will have done a good job this year. I hope the trade will continue to provide the value it has provided for the past number of years.

First, I thank the Minister of State for the initiative of bringing in the 9% VAT rate. That reduction in VAT has contributed enormously to tourism. There was much opposition to it and many were sceptical, but it has worked well. There are other initiatives coming along, such as the commemoration of the Battle of Clontarf in 2014 and, of course, the commemoration in Dublin in 2016. Is the Government planning to keep this 9% rate? There have been reports that the Minister's Labour Party colleagues are requesting that this be increased to raise revenue in the next budget.

It would be a disaster at this stage, in view of the figures the Minister has produced for the numbers of people visiting and availing of our restaurants and so forth. As costs in restaurants and other such facilities have gone down considerably, it has worked very well. I hope this proposal will be resisted because it would mean going backwards instead of forward.

That is probably a separate question.

It is very relevant to the market.

Deputy Dessie Ellis is jumping the gun because Question No. 11 tabled by my colleague, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, is about that matter. However, I will be happy to hear the reply and agree with the Deputy's point.

We were talking primarily about The Gathering, marketing campaigns and so forth. The focus of The Gathering is a good one. While activity has been ongoing for some time, the real focus has been on events this year. However, it might take a year or two to achieve a greater level of benefits and flow from it. In that context, has any consideration been given to the retention of The Gathering office, albeit it is hard to maintain the campaign and activity at the same level because The Gathering is an individual project for this year? However, as there is marketing activity associated with it, are there proposals in the Department to retain The Gathering office?

On the issue of the 9% VAT rate, we are very supportive of it. The Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and I are pushing hard on it, but the decision will not be ours to make. It is a matter for the Department of Finance. We support the rate because it has worked.

On retaining The Gathering office, I am glad the Deputy asked that question. I take the opportunity to compliment Mr. Jim Miley and his team from Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. I pay tribute to the excellent job they have done. They grabbed this project by the scruff of the neck and ran with it. We can look at the Deputy's suggestion, but it is all about finances. The Gathering and their contract are for one year. However, we are already planning for next year and the following year and it is something we can consider.

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