I welcome the opportunity to address the current situation in the tourism industry. I also look forward to hearing Senators' contributions as I highly value the role and expertise of this House in economic debate. It is timely to review the tourism industry in its entirety given recent developments in the global economic outlook.
We have been developing our economy under a framework of partnership for many years. This partnership model is also a core tenet of tourism policy. That is why, since taking up my appointment last June, I have had extensive consultations with tourism interest groups and have reviewed developments with staff in my Department and the key tourism State agencies. The Government's general strategy to sustain the medium and long-term growth of the sector is set out in our agreed programme for Government. I will energetically pursue the 20 individual tourism action points set out in that programme.
Tourism is an important and dynamic growth industry worldwide. According to the World Tourism Organisation, there were almost 900 million international tourist arrivals in 2007. The industry has grown by 6.5% per year between 1950 and 2007. Tourism revenue worldwide is valued at €462 billion annually or slightly more than €1.25 billion per day. The industry represents more than a third of the world's exports of services. Most importantly, the industry is expected to continue on its upward growth path, with a predicted 1.6 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide by 2020.
The economic importance of tourism to the State cannot be overstated. Tourism expenditure doubled during the 1990s and some €4.3 billion was invested in tourism capital stock, supported by a significant allocation of EU Structural Funds and Government grants and incentives. The tourism policy review group, of which I will speak later, has rightly concluded that Irish tourism is the most important sector of Irish-owned enterprise since the foundation of the State. The statistics speak for themselves. The tourism and hospitality industry provides direct employment for almost 250,000 workers throughout the State and its effect is seen in virtually every parish. It is probably the largest employer in the State at this stage, just ahead of the construction industry.
In 1990, overseas visitor numbers to Ireland were slightly more than 3 million. This has more than doubled to 8 million visitors in 2007. Revenue earnings from these visitors have also grown steadily. In 1990, foreign visitors spent a little more than €1 billion in the State, and this had grown to almost €5 billion in 2007. Despite our increasing national propensity for foreign travel, domestic tourism has also been buoyant. In 1990, domestic tourism contributed €0.5 billion, increasing to an estimated €1.6 billion in 2007.
In addition, visitor numbers from most of Ireland's key source markets showed good growth levels in 2007 despite the increasingly competitive nature of the industry. Overseas visitor numbers in 2007 grew by 4% to an all time high of more than 8 million and overseas revenue grew by 4.5% to almost €5 billion. Last year was the sixth consecutive year of growth and a record year for tourism in terms of total visitors and earnings. In 2007, Ireland topped the Lonely Planet Blue List survey as the world's friendliest destination. Recent detailed consumer research undertaken by Tourism Ireland endorses the findings of this survey.
Tourism targets for 2008, which were set during the second half of 2007, are to achieve growth in overseas visitor numbers and foreign revenue receipts of 5.2% and 7.7%, respectively. However, financial volatility, adverse exchange rates and weaker economic growth have become features of some of our key source markets in recent months. In these circumstances, the targets may be overly ambitious.
On 8 November 2007, I had the pleasure of meeting my Northern Ireland counterpart, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Mr. Nigel Dodds, MP, at the first North-South Ministerial Council meeting in tourism sectoral format since the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. It was a productive meeting. In the context of a North-South co-operative approach, we approved Tourism Ireland's business plan for 2008 and its corporate plan for the period 2008-2010. These plans set ambitious targets for the continued growth of tourism to the island of Ireland. If achieved, they will result in up to 10.6 million visitors to the island by 2010, with an associated €16 billion in tourism revenues in that three-year period.
I remain optimistic about our future prospects. The tourism industry is a resilient one and is well placed to maintain its strong performance in the medium term. However, recent international instability will pose a major challenge to sustaining overseas growth and, in particular, revenue growth this year. The ability to meet these challenges is reinforced by a clear and dynamic policy framework in support of the industry. That policy approach has been developed and implemented in a close partnership with the sector.
The agreed programme for Government provides for sustained support and investment for the industry in the coming years. This includes investment in product development and innovation, marketing, human resources and training and transport infrastructure. These objectives are reflected in my Department's new Statement of Strategy 2008-10, which is available in the Oireachtas Library.
It worthwhile to refer to several other documents which comprise the framework for the promotion and development of tourism policy. The detailed strategy which drives investment in the industry is set out in the 2003 report of the tourism policy review group, New Horizons for Irish Tourism — An Agenda for Action, as well as the subsequent reports of the tourism action plan implementation group. The New Horizons report set out a strategy for the period 2003-2012, both industry-led and Government-led, for the further sustainable development of tourism. It identified a detailed list of recommendations and actions to be undertaken by the industry and the public sector to give effect to the strategy.
Following the report's publication, the tourism action plan implementation group was appointed to monitor implementation of the recommendations of the report. That group has to date presented three progress reports. I expect its successor group, the tourism strategy implementation group, to produce a fourth and final report in the coming weeks. The report will include an assessment of progress since the publication of the New Horizons report and recommendations for a strategic mid-term review.
The National Development Plan 2007-2013, Transforming Ireland, includes the largest ever Government investment programme for the development of tourism. The programme includes an international marketing sub-programme which provides €335 million to promote the island of Ireland in key international markets. The key objective in the seven-year period will be to increase tourism revenue and visitor yield and to achieve a wider regional and seasonal distribution of business. The investment programme also involves a product development and infrastructure sub-programme which provides €317 million to upgrade and supplement tourism attractions and activities throughout the State and to deliver a national conference centre in Dublin. Also included in the national development plan investment programme is a training and human resource development sub-programme which will invest €148 million in the education and training of the tourism workforce, both domestic and international, as well as sustaining structured educational opportunities in third level colleges and institutes of technology throughout the State. This sub-programme will also provide for the continuation of initiatives aimed at improving management capability and networking in small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and micro-enterprises at regional level.
In addition to direct investment through the tourism development programme, the new national development plan includes a range of complementary programmes that will greatly benefit the future development of tourism. These relate not only to the major planned capital investment in transport, energy and environmental services but also to the proposed investment of more than €900 million in cultural infrastructure and €990 million in sport infrastructure under my Department's Vote. There is great potential to develop synergies within my Department's portfolio. Since becoming Minister, I have actively pursued such an agenda with a view to enhancing our tourism product offering and promoting cultural and sports tourism.
The national development plan also provides for construction of a national conference centre in Dublin. The contract was awarded in April 2007. Construction of the centre is under way and it is on schedule to be operational in 2010. In the meantime, the operators are working closely with Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and the Dublin Convention Bureau to market the venue.
In line with the national development plan, the 2008 budget provided for the largest ever Exchequer allocation for tourism services of €170 million, an increase of 10% on the 2007 outturn. Capital funding of €15.7 million has been provided to support investment in key tourism infrastructure, attractions and visitor activity facilities. The allocation of €83 million to Fáilte Ireland includes funding to secure an Irish stopover in Galway of the Volvo Ocean Race in 2009 and the Solheim Cup in Killeen Castle, County Meath, in 2011. The provision of an extra €5 million for the tourism marketing fund, which represents an increase of 11% on last year's sum, brings the fund to €50 million. This includes funding dedicated to the marketing overseas of the wider Shannon catchment area to meet the challenges posed by the introduction of open skies agreement. Provision has also been made for the renewal of the super regions and the air access marketing initiative. Support is being given to the further development of the Irish tourism brand in 2008, building on the extensive research work done by Tourism Ireland last year.
As I mentioned earlier, the tourism industry has a role in virtually every parish in Ireland. I am conscious of the positive role it can play in promoting balanced regional development. As I have said, the tourism development programme, which is being pursued under the national development plan, provides for Exchequer investment in tourism of €800 million over the life of the plan.
One of the fundamental objectives of the programme is the stimulation of regional development. It will be supported by the recent establishment of five regional tourism development boards, one each in the south east, the south west, the west, the midlands-east and the north west. Shannon Development has created a separate regional board to reflect these structures. Dublin Tourism has also been reconstituted. Detailed development plans for each tourism region have been produced and published. The Shannon plan will be available in May. The plans serve as an important framework and resource for the various spending agencies in optimising the tourism benefits of investment under the national development plan, thereby adding to the local social and economic impact of such expenditure.
The ambitions of the regional boards will be supported by Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. The two agencies have been resourced to work in partnership with the industry and the regions to face up to the challenges the year will present. It is important for the industry to do what it can to sustain our competitiveness and offer good value for money in the marketplace to entice potential visitors.
Tourism Ireland will continue to deliver world-class marketing programmes in 2008 to ensure the island of Ireland stands out competitively in key markets, notwithstanding the challenges facing the industry. Co-operative marketing opportunities will be offered to industry partners to allow them to work with Tourism Ireland overseas. This is important if we are to help convert consumer interest to action — to close the sale, so to speak. There will also be an emphasis on innovative product offerings and competitive pricing. Our core target markets will remain Great Britain, mainland Europe and North America, although new and developing markets will present significant opportunities in the longer term. Fáilte Ireland will continue to support capital investment and innovation, raise quality standards and support the development of businesses through e-business support and network-based learning. It will continue to provide its excellent training programmes, which concentrate on block release, and new models of training, which allow for accelerated progress to final assessment and accreditation. Fáilte Ireland will also focus on delivering the new regional tourism development strategies. It will continue to promote home holidays through innovative marketing programmes in consultation with the industry.
I have set out my assessment of our recent tourism performance, outlined my views on the 2008 season and indicated the broad policy objectives which guide my work as Minister in line with the Government's agreed programme and the national development plan. I intend to continue to consult widely with the industry, the tourism agencies and other experts to guide that work. While I accept the industry is facing genuine difficulties with this year being especially challenging, I believe it has the resilience and the potential to overcome the current obstacles and maintain sustained growth in the medium term. Tourism is a sector of enormous economic importance and with a wide regional impact. As Minister, I will do my utmost to support and develop it.
I look forward to hearing the views of Senators about the many challenges faced by the tourism sector. I know from previous debates that the Members of this House are well informed about the industry. It is important to develop an all-island tourism product, which is not something we had an opportunity to do in the past when two approaches were taken on this island. We need to maintain competitiveness in this area. The input of non-nationals living in Ireland, which is a new factor in this regard, should be maximised. Approximately 30% of those who work in the tourism sector in this country are non-nationals. We should give more attention to the development of tourism in the various regions. We have to look again at the synergy involved in tourism. We need to pull together the artistic and sporting environments, for example, under the big tent of tourism. We have to develop 21st century products which feed into the world of tourism. I thank the House.