Sustainable Tourism: Statements

I welcome the opportunity to contribute on the issue of sustainable tourism. The importance of tourism to Ireland cannot be understated. The sector has made a significant economic and social contribution in recent years and it is a vital industry that benefits every part of the country. Maintaining our recent success while avoiding negative impacts on the environment, our communities and the long-term viability of the industry itself is the ultimate goal of sustainable tourism.

Revenue generated from overseas visitors to Ireland has increased by almost 60% in the past five years to more than €5 billion, with growth in all of our main markets. Overall, it is estimated that the sector was worth in the region of €9 billion to the economy in 2018 if domestic tourism receipts and the fare receipts of Irish air and sea carriers are included. Fáilte Ireland estimates that, for every euro spent on domestic and overseas tourism, 22 cent is generated in tax, thus highlighting the importance of tourism as a business sector to the economy. Fáilte Ireland also estimates that tourism now supports the employment of in excess of 260,000 people in our economy, representing more than 11% of total employment. It is a significant employer and particularly important in those communities across that rely heavily on tourism for revenue and jobs.

While this growth is a fantastic achievement by all involved in our tourism sector, we must be open to change, adaptive and resilient to maintain this progress. Public bodies and private enterprises must continue to ensure that social, economic and environmental sustainability is central to our tourism offering to maximise the future competitiveness of Ireland as a visitor destination. It has never been more important that the safeguarding and successful growth of Ireland's tourism sector is based on a sustainable and balanced approach. Environmental protection, economic competitiveness, community and visitor awareness and involvement all play a part in successfully achieving and benefitting from this approach.

Tourism is a growing sector internationally, with rapidly developing economies such as China and India driving global tourism growth. At the same time, there is a increasing recognition that tourism growth must be sustainable. In 2015, the United Nations published 17 sustainable development goals, SDGs, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to address the global challenges facing us. The SDGs call on countries to develop and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism in a way that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products. Ireland's national implementation plan sets out how the State intends to implement these goals through the development of actions and targets related to each goal. It is incumbent on all Government agencies and Departments to ensure that these actions and targets are adhered to and that each sector contributes to Ireland's realisation of these goals.

The Government's tourism policy statement, People, Place and Policy - Growing Tourism to 2025, commits to placing tourism as a key element of its economic strategy, with development of the tourism sector reflecting the highest standards of environmental and economic sustainability. This policy is implemented by way of a series of tourism action plans, which are developed and monitored by the tourism leadership group appointed by the Government. The first action plan to stem from the policy statement spanned the three-year period from 2016 to 2018 and contained 23 key actions aimed at securing growth in overseas tourism revenue and employment. The majority of these actions were completed ahead of schedule.

Along with the Minister, Deputy Ross, I launched a tourism action plan in December 2018 for the three-year period 2019 to 2021. It identifies the key actions to be progressed during this period for maintaining sustainable growth in overseas tourism revenue and employment. One of the first actions provides for the establishment of a working group to review international policy and best practice in sustainable tourism and propose guiding principles for sustainable tourism development in Ireland. This working group is chaired by my Department and includes representatives from the industry and tourism agencies. Its work will be informed by the overarching policy and strategy identified by the Government in Our Sustainable Future - A Framework for Sustainable Development in Ireland as well as the Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2020. The work of the sustainable tourism working group will help us to achieve the tourism-related targets in the SDGs.

As we seek to make tourism socially and economically sustainable, we should ensure there is a greater geographic spread of tourists and seek to increase the proportion of tourists who visit outside the peak season. My Department is committed to strong regional dispersal in tourism through the tourism agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. In line with the 2019-21 tourism action plan, the agencies are focusing on initiatives to improve regional and seasonal performance. As provided for in the tourism action plan, and as a result of the increased funding we have provided to Tourism Ireland this year, a new global brand campaign is being delivered in more than 20 key markets around the world. This campaign, Fill Your Heart With Ireland, is Tourism Ireland's first such campaign in seven years. It has been designed to drive continued growth to the regions and to encourage visitors to travel to Ireland all year round. It involves the promotion of less visited attractions and locations around the country. We have also increased funding for the regional co-operative marketing scheme, which supports direct access to regional airports and seaports by overseas visitors, this year.

Fáilte Ireland has developed initiatives in line with this policy. Its new food event, Taste the Island, will promote the island of Ireland's extensive catalogue of food and drink experiences to domestic and international visitors this autumn. It recently launched its Platforms for Growth capital investment scheme, which will drive growth in the regions. Major new visitor attractions of scale will be developed and existing attractions will be greatly enhanced under this €150 million programme, which falls under the Government's Project Ireland 2040 strategy. I recently launched Tourism Ireland's Great Britain market review and strategy for growth, which was drawn up in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland and the industry. Britain remains one of our most important markets. British visitors are pivotal if we are to achieve our regional growth and season extension objectives. One of the key priorities of this strategy is the creation of hub experiences with compelling reasons to venture beyond our main attractions.

When the strategy for the future development of national and regional greenways was launched last year, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport demonstrated one of the many ways in which it is dedicated to the development of sustainable tourism in this country. Sustainability is one of the key components of a greenway built under this new strategy on which the proposals are being assessed. In the coming weeks, the Minister, Deputy Ross, and I will announce funding for a number of greenway projects around the country. These projects will mark the beginning of a wider network of greenways to be built throughout the island of Ireland under the greenways strategy. We are dedicated to the growth of greenways. Along with Fáilte Ireland, we will develop activity tourism over the coming years. This great form of sustainable tourism will have a positive effect on the economy of this country and the health of its people. It will also help to spread tourism into areas that are not benefitting from tourism as much as they could be and deserve to be.

Continued competitiveness is a key part of economic sustainability for tourism. A large number of factors determine competitiveness. It comes down to value for money for the visitor. If we do not provide value for money, we will suffer reputational damage. This will have an impact on our ability to continue to be successful. Capacity plays a part in determining our competitiveness, particularly in the accommodation area. Accommodation costs have been a concern in recent years. Increased demand has led to increased room rates in the main tourist destinations, especially Dublin, because supply has not expanded at the same pace. However, a number of new hotels have opened over the past year. A number of other projects are at various stages of development. This increase in supply should help to ease any concern that our accommodation prices are becoming uncompetitive. Accommodation providers have an important role to play in this regard. I am conscious that other costs can have an impact on this sector. We have heard much discussion of insurance costs in recent times. While this is a matter of concern across our economy, and not just for tourism, it cannot be denied that it is having an impact on tourism enterprises.

As Members will be aware, there are many aspects to this problem. The Government is committed to making progress on it. Budget 2019 marked a positive step forward in furthering the development of sustainable tourism growth in Ireland. The increased funding in the budget has allowed the tourism agencies to develop new campaigns, growth strategies and visitor experiences, all of which emphasise regional growth and season extension, as provided for in the 2019-21 tourism action plan. I will be interested to hear the views of Deputies on this subject.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on sustainable tourism in Ireland. Climate change and environmental deterioration are among the greatest challenges facing humanity at present. Ireland is a green island nation that depends heavily on its environment. Our environment is a crucial factor in the global reputation and success of many sectors of the economy, including fishing, agriculture and nature-based tourism. It must be protected across all spheres, counties and sectors. Sustainable tourism does not relate to the environment alone. The United Nations defines "sustainable tourism" as "tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities". If sustainable tourism is to be responsible, a long-term view of its impacts must be taken. Tourism must be promoted in a way that works to the benefit of the wider community and ensures future generations continue to enjoy Ireland's built and natural heritage. Our tourism industry must work for everyone. We must help visitors to minimise their own environmental impacts. We must ensure that visitors to Ireland are spread out regionally. These principles must underpin our tourism economy so that it works for all of us and is sustainable in the long term.

I will explain what this means in an Irish context. We must help the tourism industry to reduce its impact on the environment. We can begin by promoting more sustainable means of transport within Ireland, including rail, cycling and public transport. Rail tourism is an area of growth around the world. We are familiar with the various inter-railing schemes around Europe. More recently, efforts have been to promote rail use among American visitors. More must be done to promote this type of travel among international and domestic tourists. Increased funding is needed for the advertisement of these activities. Other common-sense measures include the linking of schedules across modes of transport such as ferries and trains. I understand that trains do not leave Rosslare Europort at the same time as ferries arrive. That does not make any sense. Cycling should be encouraged because it is a fantastic means of seeing the country without generating an ounce of carbon. According to early indications, the €53 million fund that has been allocated for the development of greenways between 2018 and 2021 may be oversubscribed. I encourage the Minister to consider increasing this fund to facilitate more projects. There is a clear need to adapt a more holistic approach to the construction of the greenway network. We need to make fuller use of existing infrastructure, such as quieter country lanes. The greenway between Mullingar and Athlone was rolled out most efficiently along an old railway line. It was one of the first greenways in the country. We should be looking along those lines.

Sustainable tourism is not just about carbon emissions. We must be proactive as we seek to ensure all of Ireland's counties and towns, and not just a lucky few, benefit from tourism. In 2017, Dublin attracted over a third of this country's overall tourism spend. By contrast, the entire midlands area generated just 2% of that spend. Given that economic activity in this country is concentrated in the capital, this imbalance needs to be addressed. I imagine that the opening of the Center Parcs facility in the midlands will help to redress this imbalance. We should work with those who are promoting the new hidden heartlands brand to ensure the people who visit Center Parcs in County Longford spend money elsewhere in the region and see what else midland counties such as Longford and Westmeath have to offer. Greenway projects can be very beneficial in this context. The 46 km greenway in County Waterford attracted 250,000 visitors in its first year. It has broadened the tourism offering in that region.

These projects can serve as a catalyst for further tourism investment and growth in areas where they are most needed. Again, I would refer to the greenway between Mullingar and Athlone which will really accelerate when it is fully open between Dublin and Galway. Westmeath County Council opened a tender this week to extend it between Garrycastle and Athlone, across the Shannon and into the Roscommon side of Athlone. We need to see an acceleration of that project to roll it out the whole way to Galway. When that greenway from the east coast right over to the west coast is complete, it will be a huge attraction in that part of Ireland. More broadly speaking, specific funding should be provided for the development of sustainable tourist attractions such as in our national parks and areas of special environmental interest such as the Burren, our bogs and wetlands and our native forests. These areas have the dual benefit of being located outside the main hub of Dublin and of promoting our understanding and appreciation of the landscape and environment around us.

Regarding the overall market, it is also important to plan long term and to bring in a diversity of visitors to Ireland from overseas markets. This has the dual benefit of boosting the economic resilience of our tourism market and increasing the diversity of that market. Some work has already been done to promote Ireland's offering to the Chinese and broader Asian markets. This is positive and must be continued to ensure that Ireland remains a top destination for these travellers. There are three times more Chinese tourists visiting New Zealand than visiting Ireland, even though both countries are similar distances away and have a similar offering. In that context, there is significant potential to grow that market. Chinese tourists spend well when they come to Ireland. Given the way that visitor numbers from our nearest neighbour, Britain, have fallen off in recent years, we need to look at expanding to more diverse markets, and I while acknowledge that work is being done in that regard, we need to put greater resources behind that work.

The long-term attractiveness of Ireland as a tourist destination for all visitors hinges on our ability to deliver a top-quality product at affordable prices. Recent reports and surveys on the cost of basic consumer services such as accommodation and dining out suggest that Ireland's prices are spiralling out of control, which is worrying. We have anecdotal evidence suggesting this and it is backed up by reports and surveys. In situations where sandwiches are costing €12, we are pricing ourselves out of the game. I and my Fianna Fáil colleagues have repeatedly pointed out that much more needs to be done to reduce the cost of doing business in Ireland. As was mentioned during the Order of Business earlier today and on many other occasions in this House, we need to tackle the high cost of insurance, particularly public liability insurance. Fraudulent insurance claims being made against businesses in the hospitality sector do not help in this regard and must be stamped out. We also need to address the issue of commercial rates which are totally unfair. They do not take into account the ability of a business to pay. I firmly believe that the commercial rates system should be reviewed with the aim of making it far more equitable. One way to do this is to base charges on ability to pay, that is, on the turnover or profit of a business. Ultimately commercial rates are a tax on business and should be based on the ability to pay, related to profits made. Another area that must be addressed is access to credit and our high interest rates. It is still far more expensive to borrow money in Ireland than in many other European countries. That is not fair and must be addressed by the Government. There are many people who want to invest in the tourism industry but the costs involved are prohibitive.

The bottom line is that Ireland is very lucky in terms of the tourism product on offer here, from our stunning landscapes to our vibrant cities and cultural life, our midland lakes and many other attractions. It is up to us to ensure that this offering is leveraged to work for us all and to deliver maximum benefit to our nation and citizens.

We have seen a dramatic increase in tourism figures in recent years and every year we seem to be setting new records. Tourism is big business in Ireland. In 2017, overseas visitors generated approximately €4.9 billion and domestic tourism was worth an additional €1.9 billion. These figures are enormous, and while hotel chains and other large operators are making large profits, tourism is also the lifeblood of a large number of small businesses across the State. Tourism keeps businesses and communities going in parts of the country that would otherwise have very few economic opportunities. However, the industry needs to improve in terms of balancing the benefits of tourism to avoid oversaturation in some areas and encourage tourism in places that have been left behind.

We also need to look at our measures of success. Is the measure of success bringing the maximum number of bodies into the country? Do we care who they are, where they stay, how they travel or what they do here? We have seen the detrimental effects of over-tourism in places like Barcelona and Venice, which are seeing an anti-tourist backlash from frustrated locals who are experiencing a crisis in the cost of living. These cities have become parodies of themselves and are completely overrun with tourists. In Venice in particular, most of the tourists are low-spending day trippers. The Minister should be aware that there is a danger of this happening in tourist areas in the west, where buses bring hundreds of thousands of tourists from Dublin every year for very short trips to major tourist attractions. The result is that large numbers of tourists are visiting but they are not staying in the area, exploring anywhere outside the main tourist traps or spending in the locality. Small rural communities are not seeing the benefit of these tourist visits at all.

Decades of poor regional development means that many rural areas are suffering from a lack of basic services like local public transport and broadband, which means that they have little in the way of economic opportunities. In some regions, towns are almost completely reliant on summer tourism for their economic survival. This is obviously a dangerous situation, as we saw during the crash when tourism figures plummeted, with disastrous consequences. Other areas are ripe for development and have outstanding scenery and heritage, but because of the lack of development, tourists are either not visiting or are merely travelling through, with no benefit whatsoever to local communities. The boom and bust cycle in tourism in recent years shows us why the Government needs to pay attention to areas that rely heavily on tourism to sustain themselves. It also demonstrates the need for the Government to support the industry in achieving sustainable levels of tourism. We need to develop areas that have potential but little or no tourist trade at present but we need to do so in a way that preserves the natural beauty of unspoilt areas and is environmentally sustainable. Ireland is a beautiful country. Our landscape is one of the biggest draws for tourists but we need to improve radically our attitude to preserving the environment.

Ireland has a dreadful reputation among international experts with regard to our green credentials. The Government ought to be ashamed of its record. We are failing to meet our emissions targets and this will also have dire consequences. We are known as a green country but there is nothing green about how we treat our climate change and environmental obligations.

Tourism also needs to be socially sustainable. The recent surge in visitor numbers shows up the lack of hotel rooms in Dublin. The response to this was to try to build hotels in the capital in a panic at a time when more than 10,000 people are homeless. We need to take a long-term approach to planning our cities. It is a long-standing issue that Dublin is reaping a disproportionate amount of the benefits of tourism. A good job has been done in marketing existing amenities and experiences such as the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. I refer to the Boyne Valley in particular. However, there is no meaningful, targeted emphasis put on places such as Louth and the Boyne Valley region that would provide real benefit to the locality and small local businesses. My town of Drogheda is an historic jewel in the county but it has not seen the investment needed to help it to reach its potential as a tourist town. We have so much to offer but we have lacked investment not only in the town itself, but in marketing and promoting it.

These areas have fantastic potential for tourism but it is just not being developed. Such development would mean significant infrastructure, including transport infrastructure to ensure that people can easily travel to more out of the way areas in tourist spots. I do not know how many times when travelling the country I have asked myself how tourists cope. How do they ever arrive at their destination with the road signage that is in place? If the Minister of State only targets one issue in the next 12 months it should be that.

The Deputy should try satnav.

One needs divine inspiration as well as a satnav. I travelled a road in the west which did not exist on the satnav. We did not know where we were. Road signage is crucially important because it can put people off. One hears of European visitors who cannot comprehend that the signage is just not there. That is something at which we certainly need to look. We also need to provide support to local areas to develop accommodation and other amenities.

The Government also needs to recognise that, while tourism might be year-round in Dublin city and a few other select towns, it is a seasonal business in the main. This is a major issue for businesses and for their workers in particular. We are told that there are more than 260,000 jobs in the industry but it has to be acknowledged that a large portion of these are seasonal, which leaves workers in rural areas out of work for the winter months. It also makes it difficult for businesses to hold on to staff year on year as people cannot afford to remain in the industry. As we all know, many of these jobs are low paid and there are also some very questionable work practices in some parts of the industry.

While I am on that subject, I will express my disappointment that the Government opposed Sinn Féin's National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017, which passed Final Stage in the Seanad yesterday. The Bill, which had cross-party support, aims to give a legal right to workers to keep their own hard-earned tips. It is designed to remedy a situation in which workers have no legal right to keep their tips. I do not know if many people realise that a third of employers regularly take their employees' tips from them. The reasons given by the Minister, Deputy Doherty, for opposing the Bill were weak and did not stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. I hope that the parties that supported the Bill in the Seanad yesterday will continue to do so but I also appeal to the Minister of State and to the Minister, Deputy Ross, to reconsider their position and to support workers in tourism when the Bill comes before the Dáil.

Workers working in the tourism industry are often the first to meet and greet people arriving at their destination. If workers are happy and operating in a proper working environment rather than scraping by on the bare minimum wage while their tips are taken from them, it improves the reception tourists receive. If one looks up reviews for a particular hotel one will see that the hospitality people have received is the first thing they remember. If one sees that service was bad or that staff were unfriendly, unhelpful, or did not assist tourists, it instantly puts one off the idea of visiting. The way to ensure a good reception is to ensure that workers are looked after and that they keep the tips they work hard to earn. I hope the Minister of State will reconsider his position and will have a chat with the Minister, Deputy Doherty, and ask her to also reconsider her position when the Bill comes before the Dáil.

We know there are a variety of reasons tourists visit a particular country and why some countries attract tourists in greater numbers than others. Ireland has many particular selling points. It has great natural beauty in its mountains, lakes, forest, rivers, cliffs, and canals. We also have villages, town, cities and, of course, our islands. We can also include our culture, music, arts, sport, and food. These are all reasons people come to Ireland.

What exactly is sustainable tourism? It is tourism that contributes to conservation and to the local economy so that everything is compatible and so that the environment and local communities benefit. There are some very good examples from outside Ireland. Cuba is one place that springs to mind. There are certain areas in Cuba that are totally eco-friendly. We in this country are not there yet.

There is also a lot to learn from another country, Costa Rica. It sets a very good example and it is very advanced in the area of ecotourism. Sustainable travel and sustainable tourism may seem like contradictions when one considers the air travel aspect, but Costa Rica has been a global leader in sustainable tourism. Costa Rica produces 93% of its energy using renewable resources. I read that the country ran solely on energy from renewable sources for 300 days in 2017. Its ambition is to be the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2021. We could learn from some of the things it has done with regard to sustainable tourism. One example is its certificate in sustainable tourism. This is used to measure the sustainability aspect of businesses and to motivate them to choose more sustainable practices.

Costa Rica also encourages the erection of ecolodges, which have a minimal impact on the natural environment. I do not know how that idea would go down with the hotel chains who want to set up all over the place here. These ecolodges are big into composting. They use environmentally friendly pesticides, solar panels, and all-natural bath products. They also operate plant-a-tree programmes to offset carbon emissions.

On renewable energy, as I mentioned, Costa Rica is almost exclusively powered by renewable sources: rivers, volcanoes, wind and solar power. Between 2014 and 2018, only 1.4% of the country's electricity was generated from fossil fuels. The country also has a plastic-free pledge and hopes to ban all single-use plastic products by 2021. It is also reversing the process of deforestation. Costa Rica calls itself a small country with big goals. That could also be us. When talking about sustainable tourism, we could also look at this area because of the natural resources we have here. That could be Ireland.

We are a significant destination for a wide variety of tourists because of what we offer, but we know that there are challenges. A report released in recent days shows that the number of overseas visitors in the period from January to March surpassed 2 million for the first time. Expenditure by tourists from overseas dropped by 4.6%, however, and there was also a slight drop in the average number of days spent here. Brexit got the blame for that as it was causing uncertainty. The weakness of sterling also meant that foreign holidays were more expensive for British tourists.

We know about the challenges the Minister of State and others have mentioned. The cost of insurance is increasing the cost of holidaying here. We also know about the spread of tourists: I am all for dispersal as the Minister of State mentioned. Ireland has far more to offer than just Dublin, even though we have a lot here in Dublin. Gaps in staffing is another issue. In the old days CERT offered training for people who wanted to go into the hospitality industry with a wide variety of courses feeding into the industry. We now have significant gaps.

People going on holiday want value for money. They want to be able to eat and drink and visit places of interest without it costing a fortune. However, we are seeing escalating costs in hotels and bed and breakfasts. When a large event is taking place in Dublin it is unacceptable that hotel prices are trebling, quadrupling and even more at times. The cost of travel is an issue with the cost of rail travel in particular being prohibitive at times.

Weather is a challenge, but we can cope with that because nobody comes to Ireland for the weather. Much of what we have to offer tourists is not weather dependent. If tourists experience bad weather in a holiday destination that is dependent on weather, there is nothing else to do, whereas in Ireland we have so much to do in all kinds of weather.

Ireland has so much to offer to people of all ages and interests. Tourists look for something different when they come here and we need to celebrate that difference in Dublin and the places outside Dublin. It is important not to lose that. We do not want to be a mini Las Vegas or a mini New York. We saw the mistakes made in Dublin where Temple Bar is a Mecca for hen and stag parties. It is an awful pity if someone's only experience of Dublin is going to Temple Bar to eat and mainly to drink. As the Minister of State pointed out in his speech, we have great potential for a wide variety of tourists, but it is about us offering something that is different and good value.

I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on this debate on sustainable tourism. I come from east County Galway, the second largest county. I think we could pilot making Galway a carbon-neutral county. We could deal with a few different aspects because we have extensive forestry and many wind farms there.

We are also looking to develop our greenway from Athenry to Tuam to Milltown, which would also feed into it. We have spoken about this project for many months and submissions have been made on it. The 46 km greenway in Waterford has been of great value. The Quiet Man greenway in Galway is 42 km long. It is adjacent to an existing old railway line so there is no issue with purchase of land or anything else. When the next phase covering the main axis across the country from Galway to Dublin is done, provided it does not go through productive farm land, it will provide access right into the west from Galway up into Mayo.

There are some great ideas in Mayo. In my recent election campaign I met many people in the European constituency of Midlands North West who talked about island hopping regarding cycling and everything else like that. It is a very novel idea and very sustainable. I am talking about the families around Inishbofin, Achill etc. It would spread tourism into areas that might never have had this industry previously, which would be very welcome.

If we are really serious about sustainable tourism, we will need people in key locations to drive these sorts of projects. We will need to have people anchored within the local authorities or LEADER programmes to deliver the mechanism for making the applications, for promoting this idea and for moving more to the sustainable carbon-neutral place that Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan just talked about. That is where we want the island of Ireland to go. We are green as a nation. Maybe certain things have got in the way. We may have too many cars on the road. Maybe we are not using public transport. Maybe we are not getting public transport into the areas that require it.

Athenry railway station is a really good story. The numbers going from Gort to Athenry to Galway have increased because people have changed how they get into and out of Galway because it is clogged with traffic. We should put down a second railway line from Athenry into Galway to encourage people not to clog up the city, leaving it more open for tourists to come and visit and use the rail because they do not know a functioning system is there.

Galway Chamber of Commerce has proposed having a light rail running around Galway city to take cars completely out of the city. Local people no longer shop in Galway at the weekends because they know they cannot get into and out of it, but a light rail system to get everybody around would actually work. It would also address a major issue with parking at Parkmore for the businesses there.

We need to start to think about who the key drivers in our community can be - people who can take really good policies that come through us here and connect with the local authority or with the LEADER programme. Communities are tiring because the same people are doing the same job all the time. I would welcome the opportunity to pilot some of this in Galway. We could appoint one person to look at a particular municipality or just look at east Galway itself and pilot the different aspects of tourism from a sustainable point of view. There is the built heritage in east Galway and the greenway would be there. The new freight into east Galway is people who will come and spend their money, but we need to be able to hold them. It should not be an experience of just passing through east Galway. We need to hold them for a day. They need to spend some of their money. They need to experience the food because we have the hub in gastronomy. Next year we will have Galway 2020. There is plenty of good stuff going on, not just in my constituency but throughout the country. The problem is that we are not able to hold them. It comes down to the people that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport might put in position to try it out and see if it works.

Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing us today. All areas must work for greater sustainability and no individual industry or sector must be asked to bear the entire burden. Ireland's reputation as a green island nation must be protected. From fishing to agriculture to nature-based tourism, our environment is a crucial factor in our global reputation and success. The tourism industry must be supported in meeting sustainability standards and in protecting our environment. We need to further develop sustainable modes of tourism, such as greenways.

We must also seek to improve the overall sustainability of tourism by increasing the attractiveness and usage of public transport among tourists. Rail tourism is an area of growth around the world, and more should be done to make this type of tourism viable and attractive to tourists to Ireland.

Specific funding should be provided for the development of sustainable tourism attractions. In my county of Tipperary, I am working with others on a number of sustainable tourism projects which are sensitive to our environment but that accept the reality of the economic needs of small towns and villages. It is possible to create tourism attractions and attract people into rural communities without having a negative impact on the environment.

The projects we are working on can bring tourists in, resulting in financial benefits that can be used to sustain an environment which might struggle without this attention. However, if we are to make a success of individual projects, the local economy and more importantly the local people must benefit. If done properly I believe it can bring economic recovery to areas that struggle to attract employment through the other State supports and bodies.

Further supports should be also provided to community groups that work to protect their own local areas, such as tidy towns committees. Ireland’s villages are some of our greatest tourism attractions and it is vital that they are maintained to the highest possible standards.

Cycling is a fantastic means to see the country and a sustainable means of transport. Greenways promote a very sustainable form of tourism where tourists are attracted to stay in areas that are slightly off the beaten track. Spending time outdoors promotes our appreciation of nature and the environment, thus increasing overall support for pro-environmental policies.

The Government should provide support to businesses and groups seeking to develop amenities such as greenways so we encourage these types of leisure and tourism activities. Some €53 million has been allocated for the development of greenways between 2018 and 2021, but the early indications are that this fund may be oversubscribed and that further increases may be warranted. Furthermore, greater consideration must be given to creating greater connections between greenways and other cycling amenities, such as cycleways within towns and cities.

Tourism clearly involves travel, and it is vital that tourists be helped to use sustainable transport options wherever possible, but the public transport system is chronically overloaded in Ireland. Ireland's target was to reduce emissions from the transport sector by 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. Emissions from the sector will instead rise by 18% between 2017 and 2020, and by 20% between 2017 and 2030. This will have a huge environmental cost in terms of spurring on catastrophic climate change and harming air quality, and will also cost Ireland owing to fines from the European Union.

Rail is a very popular option for many tourists, as demonstrated by the success of the Interrailing programme in Europe. In my constituency, our rail infrastructure is excellent but as of yet we have not fully exploited it. My understanding is that if we were to provide that level of rail infrastructure through Tipperary today, it could cost in the region of €1 billion. Therefore, we have got to connect the dots and help local communities fully exploit the opportunities that are available. All we need is some lateral thinking with some investment of a medium level to make these projects work.

Irish Rail facilitated 45.51 million passenger journeys last year above its 2007 peak. There has been 15% growth since 2015 alone, and this is a figure that will continue to rise. No new rail carriages have been purchased since 2016, and no new ones will be delivered before 2023 at the very earliest. The NTA does not even know how many new carriages it will be purchasing. The national development plan committed to purchasing 300 new rail carriages, but there is absolutely no indication of when they will be ordered. Funding should be provided to Irish Rail for the purposes of advertising Ireland's railways to international and domestic visitors as a sustainable and attractive means of travelling in Ireland. Greater efforts should be made to improve timetabling and journey times so that we increase the attractiveness to tourists.

Given the development of the recent so-called green wave, it is particularly disappointing to see there are no representatives of it to discuss sustainable tourism. I thought it would have been at the top of their list for discussion. If it were a topic related to any of the major parties, there would be much media interest in the absence of politicians to discuss it. I am not being petty about it; I am just surprised.

I want the Minister of State to do more to provide time for debates devoted specifically to tourism. Tourism is the underrated, understated poor relation among departmental areas, mainly because the sector always talks itself up. Things are always good in tourism. An academic involved in the tourism area once said to me that agriculture never talks itself up. It always raises the bar when there has been a good year, a good yield, a good year for beef or cereal crops, or a sunny year with good harvests. It is right. Tourism always sells itself very high. Everyone, therefore, believes tourism is doing fine because those in the industry tend to say they are doing fine.

The amount of money invested in research and development in tourism is minuscule compared to the amount invested in research and development in agriculture, horticulture and the food industry, for example. This is not a criticism of the Minister of State but of successive Governments. Despite my point on investment, everyone is speaking in glowing terms about tourism here. That has to change. Contrary to what one of the previous speakers said, I believe the figures suggest tourism was one of the most resilient products we had during the crash. Some incredible things happened and businesses did amazing things to stay alive during the crash years.

While agriculture can be described as our gold, tourism is very much up there in terms of exports. Granted, they are invisible exports. Unfortunately, the bulk of my time will be used in making an appeal to the Minister of State. There was an attempt to set up a tourism satellite account around 2010 or 2011. The Central Statistics Office did some work on this.

For the public who may not be stakeholders in tourism, I can say we know how many visitors come to Ireland, the number of bed nights and the number of travellers but we do not know how tourism penetrates into the economy and how deeply it penetrates. I do not know how the local coffee shop in Knocklyon, Rathfarnham or Tallaght is benefiting from tourism. A tourism satellite account, of the kind that various larger and smaller economies have, would enable us to estimate the true value of tourism to this economy. Now that there is a little more room for manoeuvre, it is timely to do that. We need to know, in reality, how much tourism is worth to this economy. We do not have any real developed sense of that.

We talk about sustainability a lot. I define sustainability as that quality of not being harmful to an area or the environment. County Dublin has been utterly reliant on the city in terms of attracting tourists. Now there are some great steps in south Dublin although they have met some resistance. I do not believe anyone has ever advocated on behalf of those concerned. An example is the proposal to develop the Hellfire Club as a tourist hub. Tourism creates jobs. In time, there could be arts, crafts and little industries if An Bord Pleanála grants permission. The biggest advantage to the development of the Hellfire Club visitor centre, which will be located well away from the club and result in its being protected and other things, is that it enables a phenomenal amount of local tourism to take place. People cannot gain access to it at the moment. There is nowhere with baby-changing facilities. There is no place to have a cup of coffee. There are no bathroom facilities in the Dublin mountains, by and large. This would make a really positive contribution, yet just a small one. I am talking with south Dublin county. If visitors stay in any of the hotels in Tallaght, for example, the only offerings they have are Tayto Park or Dublin Zoo. They are miles away. Therefore, it is a question of sustainability and not having to drive to a local tourism spot but being able to walk with one's family. It is not always about inward tourism as it can also be about facilitating locals to make the most of and capitalise on the treasures on their doorstep without having to increase their carbon footprint by having to travel miles to sites and facilities in other counties. Similarly, at places such as Rathfarnham Castle, South Dublin County Council is making an effort to develop an Avoca-style offering in the outbuildings. While there may be inward tourism, it is also the case that locals do not have to drive for miles to avail themselves of the kinds of attractions such a facility would offer, thereby decreasing their carbon footprint.

Tourism is not always about inward tourism. I feel very strongly about indigenous tourism and facilitating our citizens to make the most, in a non-invasive way, of the treasures on their doorstep without having to increase their carbon footprint in doing so.

I thank all the speakers who made a contribution. I very much value the feedback of the Deputies who have spoken and the contributions made. I will try to follow up on all the points made and ascertain, with the various agencies and individuals concerned, whether we can achieve progress.

Specifically on Deputy Troy’s comments, it is very sensible that we try to ensure, in the case of Rosslare, that there is a synching between trains and ferries. I should be clear that word is "synching" and not "sinking" - that is perhaps a poor choice of word when I am talking about Rosslare. We should synchronise trains and ferries. That is common sense and should be the case, where possible, across the entire public transport network, whether airports or seaports. I imagine that is the first time the words "synching" or "sinking" have been used about a seaport in this Chamber.

The fact that we have a fund for greenways is very important and there is no question but that it is over-subscribed. That is a good sign. It is great that local authorities are enthusiastic and trying to develop greenways throughout the country. I assure the House that I am already working on trying to get more capital funding in budget 2020. We have done quite well in achieving €53 million in the first place but that amount will be used up quickly because of the enthusiasm from all over the country for building a network of greenways. The vision I have for the country is that we will have an integrated network throughout the country and also that we use roads that are used less at the moment and are sometimes seen almost as liabilities by local authorities. We intend to put those roads to use and help to create that integrated network.

Deputy Troy mentioned Center Parcs and there is a massive opportunity for everywhere within an hour's radius of Center Parcs. That will be a catalyst for growing the Ireland's Hidden Heartlands experience and brand and we are pushing it heavily. I met with Fáilte Ireland this morning about festivals. We are looking to create an iconic festival around the Ireland's Hidden Heartlands brand that will help to strengthen that experience.

The Waterford greenway was mentioned. I cycled it last year and it is a great example of how to build a greenway and put in place the accommodation works to facilitate local people who are living along the line. For example, Kilmacthomas is a town on that greenway which has been transformed since it opened. I was there on a Tuesday morning in early April and the greenway was busy with visitors and that is a good sign. We need to be improving our seasonality and regionality.

China was mentioned. I must mention Mr. Niall Gibbons and his team at Tourism Ireland for the work they are doing in that market to try to make the most of opportunities, particularly with the arrival of Hainan Airlines and Cathy Pacific Airways routes direct from Dublin to China. There is an opportunity there because it is a huge market. We know that there are many high-spending individuals in that market and we are doing our best to try to bring as many of those people here as possible and get them to stay for as long as possible.

I concur on the insurance issue. We know that it has been to the fore recently but it is one of our key challenges, as well as the costs of credit and energy. Those are considerable challenges for us. I clearly remember, ten or 12 years ago, that certain businesses lost the run of themselves completely in terms of the prices that were being charged. There is significant reputational risk when prices start to escalate. People can look at the various contributing costs but, at the same time, we must ensure that people do not hide behind those costs as an excuse for pushing up prices.

Deputy Munster talked about regionality and seasonality. Improving those are the key focuses of our tourism policy, to get as many visitors as possible into the regions for as long as possible, particularly off peak season. To that end, Fáilte Ireland recently launched the Destination Towns initiative to provide funding to local authorities to develop towns that are traditionally not tourism hotspots and give them a better opportunity to attract visitors and get them to stay longer. We launched the Púca Festival, which will take place at Halloween, in the Boyne Valley in County Meath recently. Drogheda will be one of the towns that will benefit from that. That is another exciting development from Fáilte Ireland. It will be working closely with the agencies on the ground, as well as with Tourism Ireland, to try to bring in as many people as possible.

I will also talk about the tips Bill. I earned my first tip when I was five years of age, an old pound note in the hotel in Killarney where my father worked for 40 years and where I spent seven years. I was good at earning tips. One has to be able to talk to earn tips so it led to a good career in politics. I certainly want people in the industry to be treated as fairly as possible. A culture of tips creates an incentive for people to work harder, try harder and provide an even greater welcome than that for which we are renowned. I am passionate about that and people absolutely need to be treated fairly. I am glad to report that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, is planning to introduce an amendment to the Payment of Wages Act so that tips cannot be used to make up or satisfy payment of contractual rates of pay. She also intends to provide for a requirement on employers to clearly display their policy on how tips, gratuities and service charges are distributed in their premises and I welcome that.

A number of other issues were raised by other Deputies. As the Ceann Comhairle is telling me I do not have time now, I will try to respond specifically to the Deputies and try to follow up on the matters raised.