This Bill is described in its Title as an Act to make further and better provision for the encouragement and development of the tourist traffic and, for that purpose, to establish a board having certain wide powers. In the opinion of the Government, the time is opportune to develop in a systematic way the holiday resorts of the country and to reorganise the business of catering for holiday-makers. It is believed that many considerable benefits can be obtained for the country and, more particularly, for transport undertakings, for those who are concerned in the business of catering for holiday-makers, for the farming industry, and for many other similar classes more directly dependent on the expenditure of holiday-makers. Furthermore, the holiday habit has grown considerably amongst all sections of the people and it is desirable, from every point of view, that they should be encouraged and facilitated to provide themselves and their families with suitable holidays in this country. There is also the important business of attracting holiday-makers from other countries to visit this country and the provision of suitable and adequate accommodation for them if our efforts in that direction should prove successful.
The object of the Tourist Traffic Bill is, as defined in the Title, to make better provision for the organisation and development of holiday traffic and to set up a tourist board having the necessary powers and having the necessary funds to deal with every phase of the problem. The full significance of the tourist business in the industrial life of a country, although well recognised on the Continent, for more than a generation, has, until recent years, aroused comparatively little interest in this country or in the neighbouring country of Great Britain. In France, immense sums of money are made available from the public purse, not merely for purposes of publicity, but also for the development of health and pleasure resorts, and the improvement and expansion of hotel accommodation. In Switzerland, catering for visitors is the principal industry, and the amount invested in hotels in that country is probably not less than £50,000,000. Germany, in recent years, has provided a special currency for tourists and imposed serious restrictions on the expenditure of her own nationals when travelling abroad, while Italy has maintained a costly system of propaganda for the attraction of visitors, who are also accorded special transport and other facilities.
These are a few of the indications of the important place which the industry fills in Continental countries, and the lesson has not been lost either on the other side of the Atlantic, in America, or in the Far East. Canada's tourist revenue is one of the principal factors in her trade and good relations with the United States of America. The New England States, and California and Florida, owe much of their prosperity to carefully-organised plans for attracting visitors from other parts of the country. In Japan, they have established a tourist association, concerned mainly with publicity, and a tourist bureau providing a ticket sales organisation at home and abroad, during recent years.
By comparison with other countries, England has lagged behind, but the lost ground is being quickly recovered, if it has not been already fully recovered. The stimulus was provided by the remarkable growth of the holiday habit, to which I have referred and which is an outstanding feature of our times, and one that seems destined to become more marked during the next ten years under the influence of social legislation bringing to the workers the advantages of holidays with pay. In this country the possibilities of the industry have not been entirely ignored, more particularly during the past 14 or 15 years, during which useful work has been done by the Irish Tourist Association, but it has to be recognised that the measures taken have proved inadequate and that something more must be done if Ireland, with its great natural advantages as a health and pleasure resort, is to reap the harvest it might reasonably expect from that rich source of invisible income.
State intervention for the promotion of the industry here dates from the enactment of the Local Government Act of 1925. That Act empowered local authorities to strike a rate within prescribed limits and to apply the proceeds to the advertising of their own health and pleasure resorts. Alternatively, with the consent of the central authority, a local authority could contribute the proceeds, in whole or in part, to an association formed with the approval of the Minister for Industry and Commerce for the purpose of advertising Irish tourist centres in general. The funds thus contributed could be expended by an approved association only on schemes sanctioned by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and these schemes were restricted to advertising in its commonly accepted forms. It was felt that the funds could be expended more advantageously by an approved central organisation, and such a body came into being when the Irish Tourist Association was incorporated as a public company in 1925. Throughout its career of 14 years the Irish Tourist Association has been hampered by want of sufficient funds, even for its strictly limited programme. The association's position, however, was strengthened when the relevant section of the Act of 1925 was replaced by the Tourist Traffic (Development) Act, 1931, which still remains in force. That Act, however, aimed at little more than the repair of the obvious defects of the earlier legislation. It gave the Minister wider discretion in the expenditure of contributions from public bodies, and went some distance towards securing a more stable income for the association by making it obligatory on local authorities which elected to strike a tourist rate to contribute the proceeds in full to the association, save in exceptional circumstances. It also empowered local authorities to contract with the association for a contribution of the proceeds of the tourist rate for a period not exceeding five years.
Except for what has been done in the ordinary way of private and commercial enterprise and by sporadic and often unsystematic local effort, the Irish Tourist Association remains the only organised machinery for promoting the development of the holiday business. The total annual revenue of the association is about £18,000, made up of £14,000 subscribed by local authorities and £4,000 received from other sources, mainly from advertisements and subscriptions from hotel and transport interests. Its activities, in the main, are confined to advertising and to hotel inspection. That small revenue is clearly insufficient for publicity purposes alone, and, in point of fact, money has never been available to the association for advertising in important countries such as the United States of America, Australia and other countries where we have racial connections and good will. Increased publicity, however, must fail in its purpose unless there is a sufficiency of suitable accommodation for every class of visitor, and it is precisely in that respect that our arrangements for holiday-makers are open to the most unfavourable criticism. We have, of course, a number of first-class hotels and boarding-houses, but taken as a whole the accommodation is entirely insufficient and, to a large extent, in need of modernisation.
In the matter of ordinary amenities and essential public services, Irish holiday resorts, in many instances, are lacking, and no serious effort is being made to repair the deficiencies. In some places, local authorities have no borrowing powers to meet the necessary capital expenditure, while in most of the resorts the only local authority is the county board of health which, not unnaturally, is concerned with more general problems. A special weakness is the absence of suitable accommodation for the man with strictly limited means. No effort has been made to cater for the worker and his family, a class of traffic which, under a proper system of organisation, might well be expected in constantly growing volume, not merely from this country but also from other countries. It must be expected that holidays with pay legislation will release a substantial block of such traffic which, in the absence of suitable facilities and attractions, would be diverted to places like Blackpool and the Isle of Man.
Figures relating to tourists' traffic must always be quoted with great reserve but, from the best information available, it would appear that the annual value of this traffic is in the neighbourhood of £2,500,000 sterling, while the annual expenditure of our own nationals touring abroad is estimated at £2,000,000. The net gain which these figures reveal cannot be regarded as satisfactory. The Government has reached the conclusion that it is not in the public interest to allow the existing conditions to continue and that the time is ripe for the introduction of more effective machinery for the promotion of this important industry, having regard particularly to the holiday facilities required by our own people and keeping in mind also the international situation and the specially favourable position of this country from the point of view of the holiday-maker. After a full examination of the whole problem, the Government is convinced that in view of the complexity of the work to be done and of the expedition desirable in its execution, the best prospect of recovering the ground to be made up lies in the creation of a board vested with wide statutory powers and having sufficient funds to carry through an intensive programme.
The Bill before the House outlines the machinery which, in the Government's opinion, is best calculated to place the industry on a satisfactory footing. The principal proposals in the Bill are the creation of an Irish Tourist Board charged with the responsibility for dealing with every important phase of tourist development, State subventions to the funds of the board, a system of compulsory registration for premises described or holding themselves out as hotels, guest houses, holiday hostels, holiday camps and youth hostels; the grading and registering of premises; the control of certain hotel signs and advertisements; the compulsory exhibition of price lists in registered premises; machinery for constituting an area as a special area in which exceptional powers may be exercised by the board, and the amendment of the Tourist Traffic (Development) Act, 1931.
Part I deals with the general powers proposed to be given to the Irish Tourist Board, which will consist of not more than five members appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Section 14 defines the general powers conferred on the board. It empowers them to assist financially in the provision, extension and improvement of holiday accommodation, to build, establish, equip, or to operate or to assist financially or otherwise in building, establishing, equipping or operating hotels, guest houses, hostels, holiday camps, etc.; to provide or assist financially in providing, services, sports, amusements and other facilities likely to improve holiday traffic. Financial assistance may take the form of a loan. The board are empowered to maintain amenities and conditions likely to affect tourist traffic, to engage in publicity work, and to publish guide books or other holiday literature, and to provide or to assist in providing for the training of persons who may be engaged in work connected with holiday traffic.
Sections 15 and 16 deal with the State contribution to the funds of the board, consisting, firstly, of a nonrepayable grant, not exceeding £45,000 a year, to cover administrative and other expenses, and a second advance, not to exceed in the aggregate £600,000, to be applied to works, investments or loans under the Act of a profit-earning character, save as may be otherwise provided by the Minister for Finance on the recommendation of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The annual grant is intended to supplement the normal revenue of the board from registration and other fees, and will be devoted to administrative and publicity expenses, estimated roughly in the proportion of £20,000 and £25,000 per annum, respectively. Apart from that non-repayable contribution, the Bill provides for advances to the board not exceeding in the aggregate £600,000, which are to be repayable and which will be devoted to works of a capital or profit-earning character. It is, however, provided that the Minister for Finance, on the recommendation of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, may waive repayment of expenditure on works which, through of a capital nature, may not be capable of yielding a financial return, as, for instance, the provision of amenities, sanitation, etc., at centres in which the necessary finances cannot otherwise be provided. An annual report will be furnished by the board and laid before each House of the Oireachtas. The accounts of the board will be audited annually by auditors appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and the balance sheet, profit and loss accounts and auditor's report will be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and will be printed for sale.
Part III deals with the establishment of a compulsory registration system for hotels and other similar institutions, in accordance with standards to be prescribed by the board. As from a date appointed by the Minister, it will not be lawful to apply these descriptions to premises which will not be registered. Part IV of the Bill empowers the Minister for Industry and Commerce to declare an area a special tourist area, by order to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas, and to authorise the board, in respect of that area, to establish registers of boarding houses, and other forms of residential accommodation, camping sites, restaurants, cafés and similar establishments, cinemas, theatres, sports grounds, band promenades, premises in which games or entertainments are provided for the public, and similar places of public entertainment, and local transport services. The Minister can also grant powers to the board to enable them to preserve amenities and to restrict the erection of advertisements. He may also confer upon the board powers in relation to the provision of guides, beach guards, attendants at parking places, and so forth. In granting these special powers, the Minister will have regard to any special claim which may exist under the Town and Regional Planning Act. The intention of that part of the Bill is to safeguard in a special way the interests of parts of the country which are holiday centres, and to ensure their more ordered development.
Part V of the Bill provides for the amendment of the Tourist Traffic (Development) Act, 1931, so as to increase the rate that may be voluntarily levied for tourist publicity from 1d. to 3d. in the £ in the case of county boroughs. While the rate for other local authorities has not been raised, it is expected that these will, as a result of the increased benefits to all parts of the country from increased tourist traffic, endeavour to extend the amounts voted for tourist publicity purposes within the limits of the maximum rates already laid down in the Act.
The second amendment transfers from the Minister to the board control of the expenditure of moneys contributed by local authorities for tourist publicity purposes. That step is dictated by the general aim of the Bill, which is to hand over full responsibility for tourist development to the Irish Tourist Board.
The final amendment is designed to overcome a difficulty arising out of the definition given to the term "local authority" in the Act of 1931. The effect of the amendment will be to enable public bodies which are not embraced by the definition to contribute, if they are so disposed, to the funds of the Irish Tourist Association.
I recommend the Bill to the Seanad. It is a Bill which has received the welcome of all sections and all parties, and although some differences of opinion have arisen concerning some of its provisions, there were no such differences concerning its general principle. Any proposals voiced here for the amendment of the Bill will be carefully considered. I do not regard it as a contentious measure, and I would be very glad to receive the assistance of Senators in the improvement of it, so long as the general aim as set out in the title of the Bill is borne in mind.