Written Answers. - Tourism Industry.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

18 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the extent to which he expects the tourism industry to grow in the next five years; the particular sectors in which he expects most growth; the measures, if any, needed to stimulate growth in these areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15201/98]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

31 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he will produce a Government five year plan for tourism for the years 1999-2004 on the funding of tourism promotion and training. [15150/98]

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

42 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the steps, if any, he will take to ensure that businesses which benefit from tourism spending make a bigger financial contribution to the development of the industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15139/98]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18, 31 and 42 together.

As I stated in my reply to Question No. 31 of 24 March 1998, my Department has developed an outline strategy for the continued development of tourism in the context of EU structural funding, 2000-2006.

Deputies will be aware that our tourism industry has enjoyed unprecedented growth over the past decade. We are well on target to exceed the ambitious targets set out under the EU co-funded Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999.

Bord Fáilte has projected a growth in visitor numbers from a record five million in 1997 to just over seven million in 2003, with foreign earnings projected to grow from £2.1 billion in 1997 to almost £3.7 billion in 2003. The business and holiday travel sectors are expected to show strongest growth over the next five years. It is too early, at this stage, to say which market segments will definitively offer the greatest prospects, but my Department is currently engaged in a process of consultations with the State agencies and the tourism industry with the objective of developing a shared vision for the continued development of Irish tourism.

With regard to the levels of contribution to tourism development from the industry, the Exchequer and the EU form a central part of the discussions. Also relevant in this context is the question of how we can ensure that businesses which benefit directly from tourism growth, such as retailing, restaurants, licensed vintners, entertainment and so on, will in future make an effective financial contribution to tourism development and promotion. Our collective aim is to foster a more self sustainable tourism sector that remains environmentally sensitive.

There is a consensus that the key to continued and sustainable tourism growth is partnership between the Government and EU, the tourism State agencies and the industry. Working through the details of that partnership, with an enhanced role for the industry and other commercial interests benefiting form tourism, is one of the priorities of the current discussions and consultation process. The discussions will also be informed by the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation — ITIC —"Strategy for Growth beyond 2000", the launch of which I attended on May 25, and Bord Fáilte's "Draft Business Plan for Irish Tourism Marketing 1998-2003", which will be published in the near future.
Like most other Government Departments, my Department has commenced the process of negotiation with the Department of Finance with a view to securing the maximum investment in tourism for the years 2000-2006 under the proposed new national development plan for that period.
I do not wish to underestimate the challenges we face in negotiating a new tourism programme, given competing priorities for support within our economy and the prospect of reduced EU financial support under the next round of Structural Funds. However, I will make the most persuasive case possible for the continued funding of the tourism industry by the EU. The industry has proven to be a sound investment over the past decade and it has much to contribute to the European Commission's priorities which include protection of the environment, regional development, encouragement of small and medium sized enterprises, social training, reintegration of the economically marginalised and employment creation.
The historic advances towards peace on this island also present great opportunities for deepening co-operation in tourism marketing on an all-Ireland basis and I believe this is a development which the European Union will be anxious to support.