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.