I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and congratulate him on his appointment.
Tourism Sector: Motion
That Seanad Éireann believes that the tourism sector will be a key driver of Ireland's economic recovery.
As such, Seanad Éireann:
commends the importance that the new Government has placed on tourism as a vehicle for Irish economic recovery both within the programme for Government and the jobs initiative;
welcomes the decision of the Minister for Finance to reduce the level of VAT applied to a range of labour-intensive tourism services to 9% providing a much needed support to this sector of the economy;
supports the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport's three-pronged plan to promote inward bound tourism through:
abolishing the travel tax, contingent on commitments by airlines to increase inbound capacity from our source markets;
the offer by the Dublin Airport Authority of rebates on passenger charges for extra passengers brought in by airlines; and
more targeted co-operative marketing of new routes from key source tourism markets by Tourism Ireland, DAA and the airlines to encourage more tourists to fly into Ireland.
commends the initiatives promoted with regard to domestic tourism which include:
a €1 million Discover Ireland promotional campaign;
a special fares promotions from Irish Rail; and
other initiatives from Fáilte Ireland.
the introduction by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform of Ireland's formal visa waiver programme, which will facilitate and encourage tourism to Ireland from key emerging markets;
notes the significant value of the recent visits to this State by Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama in promoting Ireland and Irish tourism overseas, which are being built on by Tourism Ireland's overseas marketing efforts; and
encourages all those engaged with Irish tourism to work together with the relevant agencies, the new Ministers and Government to ensure that the quality and competitiveness of the Irish tourism offering is continually improved.
I welcome the Minister to the House; we look forward to hearing from him. I am also delighted tourism has been made a key priority of this Government. It is one of the sectors best placed to promote our economic recovery. The Government has clearly demonstrated its commitment to the sector by the importance placed on tourism in the programme for Government and the strong emphasis placed on it in the jobs initiative programme.
The programme for Government clearly outlines a number of commitments on tourism to improve the product, something we all subscribe to. We are an island nation and international access is vital to our tourism recovery. The commitment to abolish the €3 travel tax is subject to a deal being agreed with Ryanair and Aer Lingus to reopen closed routes and perhaps open new routes and bring more tourists into Ireland. If a deal is not done, there will be no reduction in the tax, as the Minister has made clear, and I wish him well in the negotiations on this issue.
We will prioritise the tourism marketing fund as an essential pillar of our tourism strategy and will ensure the best return on Exchequer spending. This Government intends to explore the possibility of a new agreement on visitor visas with Britain, offering tourists the opportunity to visit Britain and Ireland with one visa at a reasonable cost to tap into the tourism market for significant events such as the forthcoming London 2012 Olympics. Marketing campaigns will be developed in emerging long-haul markets, such as China, Russia, India, Japan and the Middle East using the tourism marketing fund.
Recovery of market share in Britain also will be a key priority in a revamped tourism strategy. Traditionally it always it has been Ireland's best market but Members will be aware of the recent slump in numbers. Improving the e-capability of Ireland's tourism product will be a priority. The Government will target available resources at developing and co-ordinating niche tourism products and activity packages that are attractive to international visitors and will focus on food, sports, culture, eco-tourism, activity breaks, water-based recreation and festivals. Events tourism will be prioritised to continue to bring major fairs and events to Ireland, such as the Volvo Ocean Race, the Solheim Cup and so on.
The jobs initiative announced by the Government last month includes a multi-pronged plan to assist the tourism sector and create further jobs. Tourism clearly is one of that initiative's main areas of focus, which reflects the issue's importance to the new Government. The plan includes the reduction in the level of VAT applied to a range of labour-intensive tourism services to 9%, thereby providing a much-needed support to that sector of the economy. It also allows for the abolition of the travel tax if airlines commit to delivering more tourists to Ireland, the rebating of substantial levels of charges to airlines by Dublin Airport in return for additional passengers being brought into the country and setting up a joint marketing initiative between Tourism Ireland, the Dublin Airport Authority and the airlines. The initiative also will reduce VAT on the cost of many services, including accommodation and restaurants. The halving of employer's PRSI for those on modest wages will make it much more attractive for tourism employers to give people the chance to take up work. The introduction of a tourist visa waiver for people from certain countries with a valid United Kingdom visa will make it easier for tourists from emerging economies to come to Ireland without experiencing the cost or hassle of applying for a separate Irish visa. The initiative also supports a strong focus through the tourism marketing fund on our major source markets, including the United Kingdom, to take advantage of the additional opportunities presented in 2011 by the visits of QueenElizabeth and President Obama. It will also encourage work placements and internships in the private sector. Such schemes give tourism businesses a chance to take on young and enthusiastic graduates and trainees with languages and technical knowledge, while helping the unemployed to develop their on-the-job skills and practical experience. The new arrangements will make it more practical and attractive for firms to take on placements and for graduates to take up opportunities.
Great Britain and the United States of America are two of the four key markets for Irish tourism. As such, the two recent state visits gave Ireland a significant opportunity to showcase its tourism products. This was done through a variety of visits to, and public events at, key tourist attractions such as Croke Park, the Guinness Storehouse, the Rock of Cashel, the National Conference Centre, College Green and the National Stud, among other locations. Following the two state visits, research was commissioned to assess their value to Irish tourism. It showed that President Obama's visit generated 11,586 print and online articles, as well as 4,416 separate broadcast pieces, in the United States and United Kingdom, of which 3,493 of those were in the United States alone. The visit of Queen Elizabeth generated 15,793 print and online articles, as well as 6,000 separate broadcast pieces. This coverage is estimated to be worth at least €298 million in terms of its advertising equivalent. In the first quarter of 2011, the total number of overseas trips to Ireland increased by 8.6% to 1,177,600, which was an overall increase of 92,800 compared with the same period 12 months earlier. Visitors from North America increased by 11.9% to 153,600, while the number of trips from residents of Great Britain and other European destinations had increased by 7.2% and 8.9% to 564,300 and 399,000, respectively, while trips from residents from other areas rose by 12%.
The targets for 2011 set by Tourism Ireland are to achieve growth in overseas visitor numbers and foreign revenue earnings of up to 4% and 7.3%, respectively. Tourism Ireland has reviewed its marketing strategy and operations for 2011 to ensure that while working in close co-operation with Fáilte Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and tourism industry partners, it can return overseas tourism to growth in 2011. Tourism Ireland's major promotional effort in 2011 is focused on the four key markets that together deliver 75% of overseas visitors, namely, Great Britain, North America, Germany and France. In addition, Tourism Ireland is engaged in rolling out trade, marketing and publicity campaigns in a further 19 markets, including China and India, albeit with lower levels of resources and investment. An extensive €28 million first half tourism marketing drive is under way at present in key markets to drive demand for travel in peak and off-peak seasons and to promote city breaks and touring holidays, as well as activities, including golf and business tourism. The marketing drive highlights things to do and see in Ireland, the fares available from air and sea carriers, the value on offer from tourism industry partners, as well as the Irish welcome. In addition, it has launched a major marketing drive in Britain and the United States to maximise the global publicity that surrounded the historic visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama to Ireland.
Sustaining and developing the growth of the British market is a major priority of 2011. With this in mind, Tourism Ireland has increased its marketing spend in Britain by 30% and I understand it will spend more than €17 million in promoting the island of Ireland there this year by ensuring a strong promotional presence on television, radio, online and on social media outlets throughout the year. Tourism Ireland's overseas publicity campaign this year will generate positive media coverage for the island of Ireland worth up to €200 million in equivalent advertising values. Its suite of 42 websites in 14 languages will attract almost 12 million visitors who will visit the site to research and plan aspects of their holidays here and to access offers from the tourism industry partners. Three quarters of a million Discover Ireland holiday guides will be distributed through tourist offices and in several national newspapers, including The Irish Times, the Irish Examiner, the Sunday Independent and the Belfast Telegraph. It also will be available online at www.discoverireland.ie. The guide will contain more than 230 special offers with a strong emphasis on family breaks. The holiday guide contains suggestions on family festivals, fun attractions and adventures for kids, including boat trips, dolphin and whale watching, GAA Cúl camps, fun museums, animal magic, sea life centres and water worlds.
I compliment the Minister on this highly ambitious programme. While it contains a great deal more, I lack the time to deal with it during this contribution but I look forward to Members returning to the subject during the lifetime of this Seanad as required and hopefully often. I again warmly welcome the Minister to this House.
I second the motion and wish to share time with Senator Healy Eames.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
In the brief time available, I will emphasise the importance of tourism. It is an important industry that collectively we probably neglected in recent years. However, I am delighted it forms an essential component of the programme for Government. I welcome the Minister to the House. He has taken a firm initiative in this area that concentrates on the domestic market and on attracting more visitors to this island. This is the way forward and that message must go out locally to the domestic market. Senator Paul Coghlan mentioned the current Discover Ireland marketing programme, of which all Members probably are aware as they will have received a booklet in their newspapers over the past week. It is very important and sends out a message to families and individuals that there is much to do and much one can do in Ireland.
While reading the booklet, I noted the programme comprises more than just a booklet, as it also has a website. A mobile phone application is available which gives information on events and accommodation throughout the country. Such initiatives encourage people to travel and to take short breaks such as day trips or weekend breaks in this country. The Discover Ireland booklet targets overseas visitors, who are very important to the tourism sector. The travel tax has been abolished. I wish the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, well in his discussions with the airlines. The UK air connection is vital.
I refer to when I wore a different hat, so to speak, that is, when I was lord mayor of Cork. The connections from Cork Airport to cities in the UK such as Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, London and Newcastle are very important and if one such connection is lost, then a significant number of visitors to a region is lost. I do not know if it would be possible to subsidise those routes but we must remember the importance of those air connections because once they are lost, they are gone for a long time. They need to be targeted, managed, marketed, massaged and cared for because of their importance. The visit of the Queen will be of great value in attracting visitors from the United Kingdom, which is our most important international market, and such visitors will use a local connection if it is available in Cork, Dublin or Shannon. We should not underestimate the importance of regional air connections to the UK.
The product offered to domestic and overseas tourists includes festivals and a variety of cultural and artistic attractions. I refer to the Volvo ocean race which was a significant event in Galway last year and will return next year. Such events and festivals put Ireland on the map. The recent jobs initiative has gone a long way towards improving our competitiveness and value for money.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to the House. It is nice to see him in the right hot seat. This is a positive and forward-looking motion on which I congratulate Senator Paul Coghlan. Tourism spans the length and breadth of the country. It has the potential to benefit every parish and city and, uniquely for an industry, it distributes wealth. It has the potential to reach into parts of the country which manufacturing companies might not even consider. I am regularly reminded by people in Clifden that tourism is Clifden's Intel. Its importance gives rise to implications for access and infrastructure. We must not forget that people live in places other than in the capital.
A number of issues impact upon and determine our tourism performance. The central objective of any tourism initiative must be to get bums on seats and to bring in more tourists which will create jobs in the process. Every initiative, from the abolition of the air travel tax to the implementation of the visa waiver scheme aimed at specific emerging markets to the all-island approach adopted by Tourism Ireland, is very positive, as is the co-operation with the airlines and other stakeholders. Tourism is one of the most efficient sectors in creating employment. If visitors come, they must be served.
I refer to statistics relating to an hotel in Galway. Tourism is a labour-intensive sector. A Galway hotelier informed me that every 50 visitors using his restaurant means he can hire one person. If this figure is extrapolated it shows that for every one million tourists coming to Ireland, there is a potential for 20,000 jobs to be created. I hope Ryanair takes up the challenge offered by the Minister when he lifted the air travel tax. This has been one of the most progressive initiatives with a view to creating more jobs. The Government is also to be congratulated on its decision to reduce PRSI and VAT rates on tourism related activities.
The cost of employment must be considered. I ask the Minister to address the joint labour committees, JLCs, in the context of Sunday working time. The rate in Galway is €10.12 whereas there is an exemption from the JLC in Dublin where the rate is €8.65. I ask the Minister to explain the difference because this is not a level playing pitch. I ask him to address the capital versus rural divide in this regard.
Senator Clune has touched on the importance of competitiveness and the unique selling point of our product. It is essential to create niche markets and I ask the Minister to encourage proposals in this area. I refer to marine tourism events such as the Volvo ocean race, educational tourism events such as summer schools, and cultural tourism events such as the Writing Ireland initiative in which both the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport and I were involved.
We must ensure the national infrastructure is adequate in order that visitors can travel to the regions. I refer in particular to airports. I have a question for the Minister which was put to me by tourism outlets in the west. Why is Aer Lingus continuing to bypass Shannon Airport when flying from the United States? I refer to businesses such as Cashel House Hotel which provides almost all the employment in its area but which is disadvantaged by the fact that Aer Lingus flights from the US do not touch down in Shannon. I ask the Minister in his reply to deal with the issue of regional development and regional jobs.
I move amendment No. 1:
After "improved" in the last line to insert the following:
"supports the conclusion of the Duffy/Walsh report which found that lowering of the basic JLC rates is unlikely to have a substantial effect on employment in the tourism and hospitality sector;
supports the implementation of policies that will attract young people into the tourism sector and encourage them to pursue careers in tourism;
calls on the government to protect the lowest paid workers in the tourism sector following the publication of the Duffy/Walsh report; and
acknowledges the successful completion of the National Convention Centre which will result in a major increase in the numbers of visitors to Dublin over the coming years.".
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus tá súil agam go mbeidh díospóireacht suimiúil againn. This Fianna Fáil amendment to the motion is tabled in a positive and proactive spirit, a policy enunciated by our leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, on the election of the Taoiseach. We do not intend to object and oppose for the sake of it. This is the reason we have accepted the entire body of the substantive motion. We have added what we regard as important additional segments and I hope they will be supported in return.
It is accepted by all that tourism is a very important industry for Ireland, not least in my own county of Kerry. On that note, may I congratulate my colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, on his forbearance because he got through his entire speech without once mentioning Muckross or even Killarney, and that is certainly a first.
I am restraining myself, as the Senator can see.
Yes, in the national interest. I have collected some statistics which I might as well show off. The tourism sector delivered approximately €4 billion in foreign revenue earnings and €1.3 billion in tax receipts. It underpinned 200,000 jobs in 2009, right in the middle of the banking crisis. This is quite an achievement. Tourism in general is a good news story.
The chief executive officer of Tourism Ireland, Niall Gibbons, announced last week that trips to Ireland from abroad had increased by 8.6% in the first quarter of the year and visits from non-EU countries had increased by 12%. These figures are ahead of expectations and indicate that tourism will continue to be a big leader in our economic recovery. Dublin is regarded as an area for potential tourism growth. The Aviva Stadium and the new convention centre will contribute to increased tourism figures for Dublin.
I draw the attention of Members to the Fianna Fáil tourism action plan, not least because the entire Government programme seems to be built on and copied from it. We welcome this as the sincerest form of flattery and have no objections whatsoever to the Minister stealing our clothes once it is in the national interest. In that regard, the number of Fianna Fáil policies which were treated with scorn and odium by the current Government when it was in Opposition and that have suddenly become acceptable is phenomenal. Not only have they become acceptable, they have been dressed up in new clothes and repackaged and are now absolutely wonderful. It has never happened before and I take my hat off to the Government for its brass neck.
Access to our tourism destinations and the internal transport network are very important. We support the Government's initiative in removing the air travel tax on condition that the airlines bring in additional passengers. In that regard, it is very important we protect our smaller regional airports such as Kerry and others. I refer to Kerry because it is the one I know best and is important infrastructure for us. It has enhanced our tourism capacity, not only in Kerry but in the south west. I am sure the same is true of other regional airports.
The same is true for the Cork-Swansea ferry which the outgoing Fianna Fáil Government put a lot of work and commitment into and which is now back in full swing. It is important the Minister keeps a benevolent eye on the route because it is a difficult trading market and regime. It may need further assistance, including monetary assistance, from his Department, which I hope will be forthcoming.
When people say that Fianna Fáil blew the boom and asked what it did during it, I tell them to look at the national primary roads of the country. When I was a teacher in Dublin in the 1970s and I wanted to go home to Kerry for the weekend, it took me four and a half hours. Last Monday I came up in two hours and 40 minutes without exceeding the speed limit anywhere. It is important when people come into any part of our country, such as Dublin, Cork, Belfast or Galway, that they are able to access all the available tourist destinations.
Why do people come to Ireland? I will quote Senator Ó Murchú and I hope I am not stealing his thunder. I heard him address a meeting and he said people come to Ireland for three reasons: our people, our scenery and our culture. Obviously they want to get good value while they are here. We must protect the natural environment we have and work hard to ensure our beaches, mountains and lakes are unpolluted, crystal clear and in pristine condition for people to visit. We must also ensure we protect our built heritage, castles and monastic sites and all the other wonderful things people from abroad find so fascinating when they come here.
The one problem I have is that we have traditionally been known as Ireland of the welcomes and people like the genuine Irish welcome when they come to a guesthouse or hotel. It was always part of our deal. In these changing times, increasingly one finds that reception, bar or restaurant staff will probably not be Irish but rather foreign nationals. That is the way things are; I am not making any adverse comment. We have to compensate for the reduction in the Irish input in other ways. Tourists will not fall for phoney Irishness and paddywhackery which we have seen developing in the best tourist destinations in recent times.
Tourists are discerning. They want to meet us and see how we operate and enjoy life. They want to have good food and hear our music. They want to visit our ancestral places and get good value and a pleasant reception. This is what is important. Like 42 other colleagues, I spent many weeks this year driving around Ireland on the Seanad trail or, as it is better known, the Discover Ireland trail. I stayed in various hostelries throughout the country and, invariably, found that the service and reception were good. We must talk these things up and be positive if we can.
Sport is a major growth area for tourism and that is why Fianna Fáil must be praised for the amount of money it put into stadiums and the convention centre. They were far-sighted decisions.
I want to comment briefly on the royal visit and that of President Obama. I say hats off to everyone, including Uachtarán na hÉireann, the Taoiseach, the Government, the army, the Garda and the OPW. Everyone played their part and it would be very churlish of us not to say that. The spin-off from the visits will be huge. The statistics are available and there was a very good article in the Irish Independent about the immediate spin-off from the visits. I do not have time to refer to them now because I want to refer to a final point.
We know that joint labour committees, JLCs, are important. There has to be regulation in the payment of staff and it is important for the hospitality sector. We must be competitive. Our front bench has agreed to fully support the Duffy report. However, we are not agreeing to the ad hoc extension the Minister, Deputy Bruton, seems to be considering. I was delighted he was called in by the Taoiseach and said he will revise his decision. We cannot afford loose thinking about something as important as the wage levels which have been worked out and improved over many years.
Obviously there is a clear division in Government over the issue. The Labour Party is not happy about it and I would be amazed if it could be. Some of the Ministers are not agreeing with each other, and not for the first time, present company included. There is good work going on and the Minister has our support and co-operation for anything good he does. We do not mind him stealing our clothes if it is in the national interest.
I second the amendment. I welcome the Minister to the House. I have to pinch myself when I consider that this Government of all the talents — I do not mean that in the pejorative sense — includes people such as the Minister who is at a very tender age and has a very bright future ahead of him. However, he has been thrown in at the deep end to some degree and it reminds me of a previous Fianna Fáil Administration in the 1960s which was seen at the time as the Government of all the talents. Cycles come and go and I genuinely wish the Minister well. He has hit the ground running.
I also welcome the decision by Fine Gael to table this important motion in the opening days of the new Seanad. It confirms the importance the new Government has placed on tourism and follows on from a similar commitment by the Fianna Fáil-led Administration. The initiatives launched by the last Government are now beginning to bear fruit, as confirmed by the first quarter figures which show a 9% increase in tourism numbers, the first in three years.
However, I am sure the Minister would agree that we cannot read too much into these figures because the first quarter figures comprise about 20% of the overall visitors to Ireland in any given year. The third quarter figures will confirm whether the tourism industry is back on track. I am willing to concede that it is clear we have reached the bottom and that real tourism jobs, which dropped from 243,666 in 2007 to 180,000 in 2010, will start to increase this year. I would be interested to know if the figure is accurate. It came from the hotel industry and it seems to be a considerable drop. I did not think the drop would be as significant over a three-year period. I am curious to know how many people the Department assesses as being employed directly in tourism.
I am sure the Minister would agree that reliable, up-to-date statistics are the lifeblood of any business, in particular in the tourism industry, and a decision by the Central Statistics Office to stop producing monthly figures is having a detrimental impact. It is vital our State agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, have up-to-date figures to respond quickly to changing trends in what is a volatile market at the best of times.
Other agencies, such as the Irish Tourism Confederation, which represents hotels, bed and breakfast outlets and the major air and sea carriers, also requires up-to-date statistics to have a more effective strategy and to be able to respond quickly. I understand the Central Statistics Office, CSO, has cited a lack of resources as the reason for issuing quarterly figures. As I am sure the Minister will agree, it is unacceptable that the first quarter figures to the end of March have only become available at the beginning of June, while the most important statistics, those for the third quarter which is the busiest time of the tourism year, will not be available until November. I urge the Minister to use his influence to provide the necessary resources to the CSO. While I appreciate that in difficult times the Minister must watch every cent spent, I propose that the Central Statistics Office be permitted to immediately recruit students and-or interns to work on the relevant calculations and thereby ensure the availability of more up-to-date statistics. It should not be difficult for the office to employ students who are in receipt of jobseeker's benefit or jobseeker's allowance and seeking employment. While I do not wish to demean the role of the CSO, compiling statistics does not require one to have three or four first class honours degrees. My proposal would also provide useful experience for people who are out of work and a solution, albeit short term, to the current problem. As the Minister will agree, it is vital that up-to-date statistics are available, especially as they are showing something of an upturn in the tourism sector.
The first quarter figures for sea carriers also show an increase in tourist numbers. Companies operating on the Irish Sea are expecting an increase in numbers of between 3% and 4% this year, which suggests that the promotional strategy of Tourism Ireland in Great Britain is proving effective. This year, Tourism Ireland increased its marketing expenditure in the United Kingdom by 30% to €17 million, all of which is taxpayers' money. It also commenced a European media blitz in March. I compliment the agency's chief executive, Mr. Niall Gibbons, on the proactive manner with which he has been selling Ireland abroad. His name is becoming increasingly familiar to television viewers and those involved in the media. He has put his heart and soul into tourism promotion in recent years and I wish him and his team continued success.
It is interesting to note that Ireland ranks seventh on a list of places British holiday makers wish to visit. While the trickle down effect of the recent visit of Her Majesty the Queen may not be felt until next year, I agree with Mr. Gibbons that our place in the affections of our nearest neighbours provides a solid base for the recovery of our most important market. On the wider European front, Tourism Ireland is to be commended for launching a major promotional push in our two largest European markets. Some 40 million potential French and German visitors have been viewing images of Ireland on their television screens since the beginning of April in a promotion encouraging tourists to visit Ireland. Tourism Ireland could not carry out such promotions without a Government input through the Department's Vote. I commend the Minister in that regard and ask him to keep the money flowing because promotion is a vital aspect of our drive towards increasing tourist numbers.
The motion refers to the introduction by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform of Ireland's formal visa waiver programme which will facilitate and encourage tourism to Ireland from key emerging markets. This is a reference to the growing potential of Asia. I had the opportunity to visit Taiwan earlier this year in the company of the Minister of State with responsibility for small business, Deputy John Perry, a constituency colleague who, as president of the Ireland-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Society did enormous work in recent years to improve ties between our two countries. I learned at first hand that the removal of visa requirements for citizens of Taiwan had resulted in increased visitors to Ireland. Our close relationship with China and other south-eastern countries and the removal of visa requirements for visitors should result in an increase in tourist numbers, especially in 2012 when the Olympic Games will be held in London.
I welcome the decision to reduce VAT on the tourism sector to 9%. This measure provides a wonderful incentive which will result in substantial savings, especially for small restaurants, cafés, family run hotels and bed and breakfast providers. The owner of a small business employing five or six people in the tourism sector in County Leitrim has projected that the measure will result in an annual saving of €60,000. This indicates that jobs will be protected and employment opportunities will result. The VAT reduction is a positive policy decision which will make a difference, especially in the north west which traditionally relies on tourism, and prevent small enterprises from going out of business.
The proposed abolition of the air travel tax follows a decision by the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to reduce the tax from €10 to €3. The condition attached to the abolition proposal is the same as the condition attached to the former Minister's decision to reduce the level of the tax. At that time, Ryanair made clear that abolition would be followed by increased tourism numbers and new routes into Ireland. However, in response to a query I raised with Michael O'Leary of Ryanair last October as to what exactly his company would deliver on foot of a reduction of the air travel tax or its abolition, Mr. O'Leary made clear he wanted the Dublin Airport Authority dismantled and a reduction in landing charges at the State owned airports. The former Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Mary Hanafin, met the same response in bilateral discussions with Ryanair and the current Minister is obviously encouraging the same response.
The Minister stated that the €30 million raised from tax over the 18 month period will be recycled and spent on tourism promotion. For the 18 months that this has been reviewed to identify whether Ryanair and Aer Lingus move in the direction we seek, which I doubt they have done, the €30 million will go into the balance sheet of Ryanair, an airline which charges for drawing one's breath when one boards one of its aeroplanes. What will happen when it transpires in 18 months that the airlines have not delivered? I genuinely wish the Minister well with Ryanair and Mr. Michael O'Leary and, to a lesser extent, Aer Lingus but I hope he will play hardball with them on this issue. Mr. O'Leary is coming under increasing pressure across Europe as European airports raise their charges which puts the Minister in the driving seat.
Tourism is the second most important indigenous industry, after agriculture, and a vital artery in the economic life of the north-west region.
Developing tourism is the most immediate means at our disposal of addressing the unemployment crisis. I commend the measures taken by the Government thus far, including the abolition of the air travel tax and reduction in the lower VAT rate. On the decision to allocate €1 million for a Discover Ireland promotional campaign, I refer to comments made by Mr. Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland at a recent conference in Galway at which he argued that the Government did not invest sufficiently in trying to capture the emerging markets of China and India. We need to address this issue.
Senator Mooney noted that, prior to the visit of the Queen, Mr. Gibbons had pointed out that British tourists did not view Ireland as a destination because they believed Ireland has the same type of infrastructure as Britain, for example, Irish and British cities have the same high street shops.
The British do not view Ireland as a foreign country.
We must promote rural Ireland to attract tourists from Britain which will require us to focus on promoting our lakes, rivers and landscape and the céad míle fáilte.
I support the decision by Irish Rail to introduce a special fare promotion. This should be extended to Bus Éireann by offering bus travel vouchers to any tourist who arrives at a regional airport. If a tourist has a voucher to travel on a half empty bus, he or she will spend money discovering the magic of our rural areas.
I welcome the decision to waive visas from certain countries with a view to attracting visitors from the Chinese and Indian markets. As I noted last week, it was significant that NBC covered President Obama's visit to Moneygall for ten minutes. The future of our tourism product lies in a focus on rural Ireland.
I feel passionately about the opportunities that could arise from making use of the social welfare budget for tourism purposes. If, for example, an employer was given 50% of the social welfare payment of every person he employed in the tourism sector, we could save €1.1 billion per annum and create 100,000 jobs in tourism. This issue should be addressed. While it may require us to pay a price, it would also deliver a significant reduction in costs.
Looking at the Sinn Féin amendment to the motion, as a west of Ireland man, I would have to agree that the acceleration of the western rail corridor is very important, as is road infrastructure to open up the west generally. In addition, I have been calling for a re-evaluation of the rates structure for the past two years. As far as I know, there have only been three pilot schemes so far, which were initiated in Dublin, and they all reflected a 35% reduction in rates in those particular county council areas.
I have one criticism to make of us, as a nation. Going back 30 or 40 years, areas of the country were alive with tourism but we started to price ourselves out of the market. Last week was significant in this respect due to some major events, as Senators who must stay in Dublin hotels three nights a week will know. If one did not reserve a room well in advance, the price may have risen from €59 per night to €290. This quick-buck mentality will not work, so we must address the situation. When it comes to tourism and turning the country around, we are in this for the long haul, so the quick-buck mentality should be taken out of the equation.
The Senator is just on time. Well done.
And within budget.
He is sharing time with Senator Marie Moloney who has four minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister to the House and hope this is the first of many times that he will visit us. I also hope that he will bring good news every time he comes here. His is the one Department from which we can expect to have good news in these bad times. I will not bore the House by repeating all the initiatives that have already been put in place because Members are well aware of them. I wish to support the motion in the light of ongoing job losses, including the absence of industrial, financial, commercial and construction employment all over Ireland. Unemployment in these sectors is prevalent in my own county of Kerry where, in recent weeks, job losses have been announced at Fexco in Killorglin and Aetna in Castleisland. The focus of recovery should be brought back to tourism, which is the one industry that has grown since the foundation of the State.
Ireland's quality scenery, our renowned hospitality, good quality food and top class accommodation attract tourists, so we must protect the tourism product upon which we depend so much. This can be done by maintaining a balance between protecting the natural environment and ensuring that tourism develops in a sustainable manner. Ireland has always been promoted as a clean, green tourism destination, famous for its landscapes, environment, natural habitats, bio-diversity and culture.
Tourism has the capacity and the stock to achieve further growth, while indigenous sectors, especially farming and traditional manufacturing, face difficulties. The economic importance of tourism cannot be understated, in conjunction with consumer spending, employment and tax revenue. While the recent jobs initiative will be a major boost to the tourism industry, we cannot ignore the fact that tourist numbers are down, with the biggest decline being in the British market. The recent visit of Queen Elizabeth II will have highlighted Ireland in a very positive way among people in the UK and elsewhere, as did the visit of President Barack Obama. Hopefully, we will soon see the benefits of those visits with a welcome injection of much needed tourism revenue.
Tourism is a key source of income in rural areas, so it is imperative that we retain and enhance our regional airports. It is vital that the PSO be retained for those airports. In this day and age it is all about convenience, so the more flights we can put in place, the more attractive and attainable rural Ireland becomes for foreign visitors, thus creating an obvious spin-off. Meanwhile, more and more Irish people are opting for "staycations" and it is a known fact that domestic tourists spend four times more than their foreign counterparts. While Fáilte Ireland should be commended for its 2011 Discover Ireland promotional campaign, much work remains to be done in marketing the country abroad, particularly in new, emerging markets.
Activity holidays are becoming increasingly popular and each county is developing facilities to cater for this demand. The county partnerships are proactive in enhancing, promoting and creating employment in such areas and are always open to developing new initiatives in the tourism sector.
Ireland is a surfer's paradise, a golfer's dream and a fisherman's haven with limitless potential. It is our duty to ensure that this potential, which we are capable of, is reached. We must continue to extend the famous céad míle fáilte to the whole world. In the words of a recent famous visitor, President Obama, is feidir linn.
The Minister is welcome to the House and I am delighted he is here. I will attempt to put down ten different ideas, rather than repeat what has been said earlier. First, can we instil the boomerang principle in everybody in the Irish tourism business? I grew up in a holiday camp and I recommend that anybody who has a chance of being born again should do their best to be reborn in a holiday camp. My father built Red Island holiday camp in Skerries after the war and the principle for English guests was that they paid on arrival. The objective was to have them come up at the end of the week and say "I'm coming back again next year". We should instil that concept into everybody in the Irish tourist business. The objective is not to get as much money off our guests on this occasion, but to get them to return the following year. That does not only apply to hotels, but to everybody in the tourism business.
Another point concerns food tourism. Around the world, many people decide where to go based on the attractiveness of food in a given region. For example, visitors come to Kinsale because of the wonderful selection of restaurants there. In addition, people will drive out of their way to visit Gregans Castle in the Burren and Moran's of the Weir in County Galway, which have established high standards. The village of Howth, where I come from, is like that also.
Will the Minister do all he can to get the Olympic torch to pass through Ireland on its way to London next year? It should be carried not just to the North of Ireland but also down here, which would provide an extra benefit.
Is there anything we can do to get ourselves into the Schengen area? Can we coax Britain or do anything else to achieve that goal? I know we do not want a situation whereby British visitors would require passports to visit here, but is there anything we can do to encourage them and ourselves to ensure that people will not need passports to come here from other parts of Europe?
Can we do anything to encourage the British to change to daylight saving, thus adopting central European time that would give us an extra hour of daylight all year round? If so, that would be of huge benefit for the tourism business.
I am impressed by the steps that have already been taken with regard to visas. A year ago, we brought this problem to the then Minister's attention, which was the cost of visas for people coming from the Far East or Russia. The cost of visas for a family of four coming here from such places would have been €240, even if they had British visas. I am delighted, therefore, that steps have been taken in that area so that the British visa will also apply to Ireland.
As other speakers have said, there are great tourism opportunities in China, India and the Middle East. According to the statistics, some 60 million Chinese plan to holiday abroad each year. In addition, they spend twice as long on holidays as other nationalities. Some places around Europe have recognised the potential and are doing marvellous things. For example, in Geneva, Paris and London, Mandarin-speaking staff are employed in shops to serve Chinese customers. In this regard, Irish hotels should ensure that their websites have a Mandarin-language option.
It is amazing to consider that Harrods department store in London has seen a 40% increase in sales to wealthy Chinese tourists since it installed 75 special Chinese credit card reader terminals. The increase is largely due to the fact that Chinese bank cards are not recognised outside China because they use a separate card processing method via China Union Pay, CUP, card terminals. According to Harrods, Chinese tourists visiting from mainland China have to bring a lot of cash when they travel abroad because so few places have CUP terminals. In London, the only other store that has those terminals is Selfridges — which is basically an Irish store now as it is part of Brown Thomas — where sales to Chinese shoppers have seen double digit growth since the installation of those terminals there. Our retailers need to consider something like that initiative.
Another idea is to bring tourists to rural Ireland through the provision of free air tickets. There has been much debate in recent months about the need for regional airports, a point to which the Sinn Féin amendment to the motion refers. Regional airports in Galway, Sligo and Waterford are facing closure this year. Could we come up with some new ideas to attract new customers to the airports and at the same time bring tourists to some of the less well known areas of the country? For instance, the Japanese have come up with a radical idea. On the southern island of Kyushu a group of businessmen, bureaucrats and academics have proposed establishing free flights for people from South Korea, China and Taiwan, subsidised by the Government. The project proposes launching 35 flights a week between eight airports inKyushu, using ten small jets currently under development by Mitsubishi. To qualify, passengers must buy vouchers worth about €1,000 to shop, eat, sleep or get medical treatment in the area. It could be viewed perhaps as the aviation equivalent of giving away the razor and selling the blades. There is something we could do in that area as well.
Another idea is to use Irish ex-pats to promote Irish tourism abroad. There is great potential for the massive network of Irish people worldwide to help promote Ireland as a tourism destination. There is a network of millions already in place to help promote Ireland. I have been thinking about how to exploit this. I came across an initiative in New Zealand introduced by the Kiwi Expat Association. The ex-pats' network has grown to 25,000 members. Its mission is to contribute to the growth, development and future prosperity of New Zealand by facilitating and sharing the knowledge, contacts and opportunities around the world. The association has started a scheme called "Pass It On" which aims to get ex-pat New Zealanders to spread the word about everything the country has to offer. With funding, distribution and content support from a variety of New Zealand partners, the effort offers monthly prize draws for participants with Kiwi-centric prizes for the winners. Participants begin by signing up with the effort and then they share stories from the Pass It On site with family, friends and colleagues — sharable videos, focus on travel and cuisine, creative talent, and business and innovation. When the recipients of these stories follow the sender's link back to Pass It On and sign up, the sender earns pass points. These points then become entries in a prize draw that takes place on the second Monday of each month. Prizes range from small prizes to an opportunity for four New Zealanders living overseas to bring their best foreign friends to New Zealand for a week of "money-can't-buy" experiences. This scheme has been ramped-up in anticipation of the Rugby World Cup this year.
The scheme information states: "New Zealanders love to promote their country but all too often we talk about the same things — beautiful scenery, bungy jumping, sailing and the All Blacks." The Pass It On initiative is designed to give New Zealanders and friends of New Zealand, no matter where they are in the world, some extra incentives to start these conversations and a toolkit to help them tell a better story. In a similar way, Irish people can go way beyond Guinness to be able to do what they want.
On that basis, the steps the Government has taken are very worthy and I support them. I am interested to note the Fianna Fáil amendment and Sinn Féin amendment to the motion do not contain the words "we condemn the Government motion", rather they add to it. We all recognise the steps that have been taken are the right ones. I encourage the Minister to continue in that direction because this is a quick fix. It is possible to get people working very quickly rather than having to make a huge educational trend on that basis.
I now call the Minister who is very welcome to the House.
I thank the Acting Chairman. This is my maiden speech in the Seanad and I am delighted to make it. First, I would like to congratulate the 49 Senators who were elected to the House. The Seanad campaign is a tough and gruelling one. Candidates probably get to see the country in a way most tourists do not get to do. I hope it is a campaign I never have to do. If the Government had its way, it may even be one I never have the opportunity to do, but we will see about that another day.
I would like to particularly congratulate the 11 Taoiseach's nominees. Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste did the Seanad a service by appointing a large number of people from outside the traditional party political networks. Governments in the past have spoken a great deal about political reform. This Government has shown it is serious about it by the Taoiseach appointing the 11 Senators in the way he did. There are also the changes to the number of committees and the many measures that have already started.
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this motion. It highlights the importance the Government attaches to tourism as a key contributor to economic recovery as well as the practical steps it is taking to enable tourism to generate jobs and exports right across the country. I have no doubt the Seanad will agree that the tourism sector will be a key driver of Ireland's economic recovery. It makes a vital contribution to employment, economic activity and exports. It brings revenue to every part of the country and provides job opportunities to people across a range of skill levels. Furthermore, it can play a vital role in shaping the international perception of Ireland, as we saw over the course of the last few weeks. That is why the Government has placed so much importance on tourism as a vehicle for economic recovery both within the programme for Government and the recent jobs initiative.
The decision to reduce VAT as applied to a range of labour-intensive and tourism-intensive services to 9% will provide a much needed support to the sector and will further improve the competitiveness of the services we provide for tourists, particularly in terms of accommodation and restaurants. There is a perception internationally that Ireland is an expensive country to visit but that has changed in the past year or two largely as a consequence of the recession. The fact that we are reducing VAT for those sectors will help a little bit more. I am glad to note that Hotels.com has confirmed that Irish hotels are among the cheapest in Europe.
The Government is also trying to help businesses by enhancing their competitiveness by significantly reducing the cost of employing people, by halving the cost of employers' PRSI for those on modest wages. I urge businesses to respond to both the VAT and PRSI cuts by reducing charges to consumers and ensuring services become even more competitive.
Turning to my area of direct responsibility in regard to the jobs initiative, it fulfils the programme for Government commitment to an overseas access scheme which, essentially, is a three-pronged plan to promote inbound tourism. The first prong is the abolition of the travel tax on the condition that airlines demonstrate a willingness to respond positively to this initiative. That is why it has not been commenced to date. There is also an offer from Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, of significant rebates. Any airline that brings in additional passengers in any of the three airports will not pay passenger service charges in respect of those additional passengers they bring in. There is also a targeted co-operative marketing campaign between Tourism Ireland, the airlines and the DAA. By maintaining and rebuilding levels of access to and from overseas markets, we can help tourism to play its part in the export-led recovery which will secure our economic future.
The first part of the strategy is the travel tax, the second part is the revised growth incentive and the third part is co-operative marketing between Tourism Ireland and the DAA. The tourism marketing fund has €41 million in total for this year and we wish to maintain our investment in the overseas marketing of Ireland so that it can fully implement its 2011 marketing plans. As well as the direct investment in advertising and marketing, it is estimated that Tourism Ireland's general overseas publicity campaign will generate very positive media coverage for the island of Ireland.
On the issues raised about flights, I take on board what Members said. When we are talking about flights in and out of Ireland, it is important to note that flights go out as well and we have to bear in mind that tourists leave the country. For example, connections to the Canaries and Malta probably take more tourists out of the country than bring tourists into it. It is important to bear that in mind.
Senator Healy Eames asked why more aeroplanes do not stop at Shannon Airport. The answer to that question is simple; airlines are not compelled to do stop there any more. They will only do so if people want to get on or off aeroplanes there in large numbers. If airlines cannot fill aeroplanes to about 75% of capacity, it is not economic for them to do so. There are some cases where it is right to subvent air travel but they are relatively few. It is inevitable that when one subvents air travel, one subvents many people leaving the country and many people on business trips and not necessarily tourists coming into the country. That must be borne in mind.
The Cork-Swansea ferry was mentioned. I have given Cork Port permission to invest further in the Cork-Swansea ferry service, but it will be limited by state aid rules. It is not possible to subvent ferry services — if money is given to one ferry service to Cork, it could be at the expense of a service to Rosslare — but we have approved an investment, which does not fall under state aid rules.
In recent weeks, we have been greatly boosted by the visits of Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama. These visits have helped to promote Ireland and tourism from overseas. There have been more than 1,000 downloads of media packages from the Tourism Ireland website on the locations visited by the Queen and the President. Tomorrow, I will travel to London to follow up on the state visit and to take part in a series of engagements organised by Enterprise Ireland and Tourism Ireland. Later in the month, I will travel to Frankfurt with Tourism Ireland to tap the important German market.
These efforts in accessing markets are being complemented by a radical change in our approach to visitors from new and developing markets through the new tourism visa waiver system. From my visit to India in March, I know there are real opportunities to attract high value, high spending visitors from rapidly growing countries like India, China and Russia. Although they are the fastest growing outbound markets for tourism, their tourists generally require visas to enter Ireland, as they do for all of our neighbours. Moreover, given the distances involved, it is not realistic to expect many visitors to travel to Ireland only. Most will combine their trips with visits to the UK or another European country. The measure we have introduced is essentially a UK plus visa, in that it allows people from the aforementioned countries and approximately 14 other states to visit Ireland without Irish visas, as they will be using their UK visas. This will work well and come into operation soon. Even though it will be marketed around the London Olympics, it will run on a trial period for more than one year to determine how well it works. It will probably be introduced this summer and run until the end of next year. We will see how it goes.
We would like to join the Schengen Agreement or have a Schengen plus visa, but that is not possible because of the UK free travel area. The UK is clear in that, were Ireland to enter into the Schengen arrangement, the free travel area would be no more. This would mean setting up passport controls with Britain and Northern Ireland. This is not something we are willing to contemplate.
I agree with and endorse the comments on the boomerang principle. We are working on bringing the Olympic torch South. The House may have heard some of the Taoiseach's recent comments in this regard. I do not want to speak out of turn on the matter, but the discussions are progressing satisfactorily.
Senator Quinn's points about the Asian markets are valid. It is something I have witnessed in Ireland. In light of the number of Asian people who descend on shops like Brown Thomas and so on during sales periods, I encourage retailers to provide whatever support they can.
The suggestion re the ex-pat network is a good one. If the Senator could put together a detailed proposal, it could be considered later this year at the Farmleigh II conference, which is the gathering of important Irish people from around the world.
It is important to point out that tourism is not just a source of invisible exports. It can help to keep money circulating in the economy. Domestic tourism — Irish people visiting their own country — is worth more than €1.3 billion to the economy annually. With the Ministers of State at my Department, I was pleased in recent weeks to launch a strong package of measures for domestic tourism that avail of the synergies stemming from bringing tourism and transport into one Department. The Discover Ireland summer 2011 campaign goes hand in hand with Irish Rail's offer of 50% discounts for anyone travelling by rail on Saturdays and some Sunday services. I look forward to working with the CIE companies — Irish Rail, Bus Éireann and the others — to get them to contribute as much as they can to boosting tourism.
Other elements of the jobs initiative will support tourism. For example, regional and local roads are vital for ensuring tourists can reach every part of the country and experience all that Ireland has to offer. In terms of synergy within the Department, when we consider road programmes, we ask whether a road serves a tourism area, for example, and could we get more tourists into that part of the country if it had better roads. The jobs initiative contains some proposals for tourism internships. Fáilte Ireland is actively engaging with tourism enterprises to ensure they take advantage of these schemes.
Senator Mooney was correct about statistics. We are only getting quarterly statistics, not monthly statistics. This is a problem, in that we are also getting them a quarter late. The statistics we would receive today would be for January, February and March. The tourism business changes rapidly and we need to be able to respond just as rapidly. For this reason, we will have meetings to discuss the matter with the Central Statistics Office, CSO, and to explore the Senator's suggestion of using students or interns from the tourism side to assist in collating the statistics. Obviously, statistics must be collated well, as those that are not collated properly are of no use to anyone.
Regarding the Opposition amendments on the joint labour committees, JLCs, and employment regulation orders, EROs, no Government decision has been made on the matter. No decision will be made until later this month and following consultations with employers and unions. The radical reform of these sectoral agreements would be beneficial to the tourism sector, which is affected by EROs extending to, for example, hotels, restaurants, cafes and golf courses. The system is antiquated, outmoded and riven with anomalies. As Senator Healy Eames mentioned, the hotel ERO applies in all parts of Ireland except the cities of Dublin and Cork. It is not just a capital versus the rest situation either, in that the ERO does not apply in the Fingal, South County Dublin or Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council areas. The legal minimum rate in a hotel in Blanchardstown or Swords is much higher than the legal minimum rate in Santry or the Shelbourne. This unusual situation is due to the fact that, when JLCs were originally set up, the cities of Cork and Dublin had highly unionised hotels that did not want a JLC, since they were doing better through collective bargaining. How these situations turn over time is interesting.
The system needs reform. In contrast with many other areas of the economy, wages in the ERO sectors have increased. For example, wages in the retail sector have increased while 25% of its jobs have been lost. Other areas have seen greater flexibility. I do not want to say more on the matter. The Duffy-Walsh report has been published and the Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation is consulting with the social partners on it. He will revert to the Cabinet with detailed proposals on which a decision will be made.
I thank Senators for their contributions and I will undertake to consider the constructive ideas that have been and will be put forward throughout the course of the debate. One issue on which discussion is difficult but necessary is that of budget cuts. It is not realistic to believe there will be no cutbacks in the tourism budgets. Of course there will be. Anyone who watched "Prime Time" and saw the impact of budget cuts on carers, the disabled and those who are dying will understand how difficult it will be to justify spending on, for example, tourism and transport while people are suffering. Difficult decisions will be made, for which reason we need to know for certain that any investment in transport, tourism and sport will produce an economic return quickly. It is money that is not going to someone who could die next year or whose child needs a special needs assistance. I would be interested in knowing Members' ideas as to which of the sector's budgets could be reduced while doing the least damage.
It is not enough for a parliament to say that all of these areas should not be touched and that a government should put more money into this or that. It is incumbent on a parliament and on an intelligent, sensible chamber such as this one to discuss some of the provisions that could be cut without the sky falling down. For example, I would be interested in Senators' views on how the capital budgets could be reprioritised. Should we aim to put the money into a small number of attractions that would attract a large number of people or should we continue the current policy of spreading the money over a large number of attractions and counties? I would also be interested in Senators' views on how to restructure the tourism agencies. There are many such agencies which operate on a North-South basis and at national, regional and local level. I would be interested in hearing the views of Senators on that matter. I would also be interested in hearing their views on any other initiatives the Government could introduce in order to stimulate tourism. What we have done in the context of the jobs initiative represents a very good start. It is, however, only a start and we intend to do a great deal more, particularly by bringing forward initiatives which would not be expensive to put into operation. People bring forward great ideas, but they always involve spending money up front with the promise of a great deal more being generated down the line. However, the real world does not tend to work in that way most of the time. As stated, I would welcome any ideas which Senators may wish to bring forward.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. He is very welcome. I am delighted the Government decided to table this motion because it helps to underline the importance of tourism. One in every ten jobs in this country relates to the tourism industry. This is a vital statistic which we sometimes tend to ignore. It is important to ensure the jobs to which I refer will be retained.
I come from an area which lies in the shadow of the ancient Rock of Cashel. I am, therefore, very conscious of the importance of tourism. I am also conscious of the potential in respect of tourism's future development. According to the findings of Fáilte Ireland, neither the collapse of the Celtic tiger nor the difficulties relating to the world economy have had a major adverse effect on Ireland. It is important to dwell on this fact.
There is a lovely photograph of the Minister in Fáilte Ireland's newsletter. He looks very well in the photograph which also features the chairman and CEO of Fáilte Ireland. I refer to this photograph in respect of the Minister's presence at Meitheal, the Irish travel trade fair which took place in April and was the largest trade fair of its kind ever held here. This indicates that the future looks particularly bright. Some 275 trade buyers from 20 countries attended the fair which I have attended on many occasions. I must state this statistic is a source of great cheer for me. Of the 275 trade buyers to whom I refer, some 56 were new buyers. This shows that Ireland is still seen as an important tourism destination.
A major survey of tourist preferences in Ireland was carried out 12 years ago. It is interesting that the top preferences at the time were people, scenery, culture, history and national monuments. A recent survey carried out among 500 people provided exactly the same results. Some 50% opted for people as a preference which was followed by scenery, culture and history. What we learn from this is that there is a constancy to what is on offer here, which is to our credit. However, it reminds us that we must also take cognisance of the core strengths of this country as a tourism destination. This does not mean we should not experiment or be innovative. It is vital, however, to consider what is exclusive to Ireland. The evidence indicates that our people, scenery, culture and history are exclusive. It is that which is exclusive which attracts the discerning visitor. In the past decade Ireland has been visited by more discerning tourists rather than by people just seeking budget holiday packages.
Who is responsible for deciding the destinations within the country to which tourists travel? The answer is tour operators. If the vast majority of tourists are now staying in the Dublin region, this is as a result of decisions made by these operators. I apologise to any Dublin Senators who may be present and I am not trying to take any business away from the capital. I am just — as did Senator Kelly — speaking from experience. When Shannon Airport was running at its peak some years ago and people were coming into the Shannon region, they tended to remain there for the duration of their stay. As a result, Bunratty Castle, the Rock of Cashel and similar attractions tended to benefit. Owing to the fact that Shannon Airport is no longer the gateway it once was, the region is definitely suffering.
In the context of diversity, it is important to remember that what makes us attractive is what makes us different. Of course, Dublin is different — it is a magnificent city. However, there are so many other attractions throughout the country. As Senator Fidelma Healy Eames stated, the tourism industry is well dispersed. We are always discussing the importance of decentralisation. There are some 40 million people of Irish extraction in North America and we are informed that there are some 70 million of Irish extraction across the globe. Tens of millions have accessed the 1911 census website. The reason for their so doing is that they are of Irish extraction. I make this point to illustrate the fact that we have a head start in gaining favour with the Diaspora. However, we must also keep their needs in mind.
It was suggested last year that in 2012 the tourism industry might consider launching a replica of An Tóstal which still takes place each year in Drumshanbo and takes the form of a gathering to celebrate our culture. Perhaps the Minister might indicate whether this proposal is still on the cards.
It is more likely to take place in 2013.
I would recommend such an event very strongly.
We must recognise that 2012 is fast approaching.
These are the innovations I believe to be important.
I wish to highlight another statistic which shows why Ireland is different. Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was held in Cavan last year. Fáilte Ireland carried out a survey during the course of the Fleadh Cheoil and discovered that it injected €34.9 million into the economy. That was from a single event. We must consider where the big bucks are to be found when it comes to tourism. What occurred at the Fleadh Cheoil can be replicated throughout the country.
In 2013 Derry will be European City of Culture. I received letters from Mr. Peter Robinson, MLA, and Mr. Martin McGuinness, MLA, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, respectively, asking that Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann be held in Derry in 2013. That is important because tourism is now perceived as being on an all-island basis. I recall a time when, before Tourism Ireland came into existence, people believed all tourism activities ended at the Border. That is no longer the case. We can draw strength from the fact that the entire island is open for business. In that context, I would like the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister — I hope the Minister will support my suggestion — to come before the House to discuss the tourism industry with Members. There would be no need to discuss politics or history. If they did come, it would be an acknowledgement of the fact that Tourism Ireland is working and that it is reaching into the legislative process.
The Acting Chairman is indicating that my time is exhausted. Given that I was mentioned on "The Marian Finucane Show" for being too long-winded on the first day on which the House met, I had better respect the Acting Chairman's wishes. Before I do so, I wish to state I believe the Minister will do a great job, about which I have no doubt whatsoever. Those on the Government benches are aware from their time on this side of the House that this is one of the areas in respect of which we tend to co-operate. After all, ní neart go cur le chéile — there is unity in strength. It is in that light that we should move forward.
I recall Senator Eamonn Coghlan opening An Tóstal inDrumshanbo on one occasion.
I propose to share time with Senators Michael Mullins and Martin Conway.
I compliment the Minister on the practical approach he has taken to the tourism industry. I also compliment him on the initiatives that have been introduced. He inquired of Senators with regard to where we believed cuts might be made. Tourism Ireland has an advertising and marketing budget of €41 million. This money should be spent on putting in place ambassadors on the ground rather than on television advertisements. It is hard to sell the céad míle fáilte on the television when it is much easier to do so on a personal basis. Recently, a hotelier informed me his chain of hotels had a 40% increase in tourists coming from Great Britain which was due to opening a booking office there and allowed for one-to-one promotion.
In 2007 the Marine Institute compiled a report, Water-based Tourism and Leisure Product Audit, which outlines the potential in marine tourism. It stated in its conclusions:
Ireland's island status gives it a comparative international advantage in marine and coastal tourism and most of the fifteen coastal counties have the potential to develop strong marine tourism products. For each coastal county, this report sets out a detailed product assessment together with specific recommendations on filling service/product gaps.
The absence of a coastline limits the ability of inland counties to compete on even terms. However, water-based leisure products such as angling and boating still offer major potential for tourism development throughout the midlands. Despite nature's distribution of assets, inland water-based tourism may be in a stronger position to develop than coastal tourism. This conclusion stems from the fact that dedicated statutory bodies manage the inland water resources. On the other hand, marine resources fall under the influence of a large number of agencies with no one body given overall responsibility for co-ordinated development.
The report recommended "a need for co-ordinated management of the marine and coastal resource." However, it seems the report has been left to gather dust. Will the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Michael Ring, get his officials to dust down this excellent report which contains much potential for job creation and water-based tourism?
For the first time in ten years, I call Senator Michael Mullins. The last time I called him was when I was chairman of the Western Health Board
As a new Senator I have been impressed by how we have got our business off the ground. People want to see the Seanad discuss important topics of the day and make a significant contribution to economic recovery. The people are crying out for hope, and tourism can be the vehicle for significant economic recovery. Never before have we had such a head start with the wonderful marketing opportunity provided by the high-profile visits of Queen Elizabeth II and the US President, Mr. Obama.
Other Members spoke of the wonderful value for money available in our hotels and restaurants, some of it the best value in Europe. The imaginative decisions made by the Government in recent weeks will help this sector with other savings. I hope restaurants and hotels will pass these on to their customers.
Festivals and events are a key element in our tourism business. The umbrella body for festivals, the Association of Irish Festival Events, AOIFE, is headquartered in Ballinasloe, County Galway. It assists in the running of 400 festivals across the country annually, many of which have an international dimension. The organisation is run, however, on a shoestring budget and it has asked me to seek a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, to see how it can add value to the tourism product.
Between 2013 and 2022 we will celebrate the centenary of many significant national historical events. This presents us with the opportunity to attract significant and continuous numbers of visitors into the country. Has the Government any plans to capitalise on these opportunities? A special task force should be established to ensure these events are properly marketed and benefits are reaped.
The litter problem and its effects on tourism is a complaint often heard at local authority level. The reduction in front-line staff in local authorities has not helped the problem.
I do not have a bell here but I must keep stricter control of speaking times than I did before with Senator Mullins. I must ask him to conclude.
Will the Minister of State examine imaginative ways of getting people on the live register to assist local authorities in improving the appearance of the countryside. If it were not for the voluntary work done by our Tidy Towns committees, we would be ashamed to bring people into some of our villages and towns.
The measures in the programme for Government and the jobs initiative already have given all those in the tourism industry significant hope. County Clare is very reliant on tourism and hotels, restaurants and other service providers there have been given a boost by the jobs initiative. These significant measures are reflective of the fact that tourism, the natural beauty of the countryside and our human resources are some of the few raw materials we have. In its first nine weeks in office, the Government has demonstrated a serious commitment to tourism, the likes of which we have not seen before for some time. We have been lucky with the visits of both Queen Elizabeth II and US President, Mr. Obama, which gave us an international tourism bounce.
In County Clare there is a campaign to have the Cliffs of Moher selected as one of the seven wonders of nature. If successful, the domino effect for the national tourism product would be phenomenal. Other countries are putting massive resources into their own campaigns. In Poland, for example, police are giving out leaflets encouraging people to vote for its short-listed site. Will the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, who I know is proactive in promoting domestic tourism, assign a senior departmental official to work with the Cliffs of Moher campaign to ensure it wins a place among the seven. Such a win would be a serious strike in the right direction for marketing tourism and Ireland Inc. as a whole.
The Senator's time is up.
There are several other ways of promoting tourism. Will the Minister of State see what practical steps his officials can take to assist in winning this competition?
We have been far too complacent with our tourism industry. Since 2007, there have been 25% fewer visitors with a 30% drop in tourism revenues while over €600 million was spent on tourism promotion. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, asked how one gets better value for money. One has to examine such expenditure against such reductions in visitors and revenue. Tourism is about product and price, not about quangos or marketing. The recently published stability programme update adds approximately €10 billion to the tax bill in this country. I hope the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, can achieve what he wants by decreasing expenditure rather than increasing taxation. Can tourism survive if we require an extra €10 billion in taxation? Excess taxation and costs cause all sorts of trouble. I welcome the abolition of the travel tax and wonder who came up with it. Some 10% of people come to this island by sea and 90% come by air. Europeans wishing to travel to Germany can get there by car or bus. Travel tax for an island country was a crazy idea and the Government is correct to abolish it.
There is a problem with the Dublin Airport Authority rebate. The Minister intervened with the regulator on 27 October 2009 to secure a 41% increase in airport charges, which is the reason the airlines are sore. That information was leaked in an ESRI report. Mr. Colm McCarthy in his report on privatisation stated that Dublin Airport benefits from the support of a regulatory regime. The maximum passenger charge increased by 41% between 2009 and 2011. That should not have happened. If one looks at Mr. McCarthy's numbers, one finds that the 25% reduction in passenger numbers at Dublin Airport Authority airports was accompanied by a 2% reduction in staff and as such staff productivity has fallen. Mr. McCarthy also drew attention to the fact that the airports have engaged in an immense investment programme which has left them heavily in debt. The Dublin Airport Authority should not have been exempted from regulation. This is a quasi-judicial process in which the Minister intervened by letter to secure a 41% increase in charges. This explains the reason for much of the annoyance. Mr. McCarthy also points out that the effects of the regulatory settlement ordered by the Minister by letter is that current customers must pay increased charges to reflect excess capacity, a perverse outcome which could not arise in a competitive industry.
I ask the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, in the context of a shortage of money, to examine some of the things we do. For instance, the 2009 annual report of the then Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism published in May records, under the heading "Summary of Major Achievements" outlines a reduction of 12% on the 2008 performance. We have been throwing good money after bad. We cannot even borrow money any more. We must re-examine the €600 million spend which resulted in 30% less revenue since 2007.
Local authorities charge €1,500 in rates for every hotel room. The McLaughlin report recommends severe cuts in local authority management, in respect of which there is a surplus of approximately 1,000 managers. That, rather that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government inventing extra taxation, should happen. There is a problem with the high burden of local authority rates on the tourism sector.
There is no doubt that there is a problem in regard to promotion of transport within this country. Part of the problem arose when in this House on 26 November 2009 the then Minister for Transport invoked Article 25.2.2° of the Constitution and asked the President to sign into law the Public Transport Regulation Bill 2009 at an earlier date than normal. That Bill guaranteed the entire CIE network as a monopoly without new entrants. It also guaranteed it every penny of subsidy without any competitive tendering. Approximately 44% of bus receipts in this country are from independent operators which the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has tried to keep out of business for years and in that regard invoked the Constitution on 26 November 2009. The Dublin-Galway route once served by the monopoly with one bus a day is now served by 45 buses a day through three different operators. We have made the cost of getting around this country unnecessarily expensive. I hope that during my time as a Member of this House, Article 25.2.2° of the Constitution will not be invoked to deny the President time to consider legislation, as to do so is draconian.
The Wright report on the Department of Finance makes recommendations of wider relevance to governance. It recommends major changes in budgetary processes that would enhance ministerial accountability to Parliament. We need to know what we got for the €600 million, the reason Ministers intervened to increase airport charges by 41% and the reason the Constitution was invoked to prevent bus companies from competing. We must make this product competitive. Now that no one will lend money to us we must get value for money. That focus has not been present in relation to Irish tourism. We must become more competitive if we are to recoup the 30% loss in receipts over the past four years.
I wish to share my time with Senator Susan O'Keeffe.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Much of what has been already said is reflected in every county in Ireland. Donegal has the natural resources to attract tourists. While it has been promoted to a certain degree we must up our game in this regard.
I have followed the Irish soccer team throughout Europe and beyond down through the years. It has never been reported that an Irish soccer fan was arrested in any country following a match. Up to 10,000 Irish soccer fans travel to attend matches in different cities throughout the world, which presents us with an opportunity to market our country. Following the World Cup in Italy in 1990 many Italians came to Ireland. Many people also visited Ireland after Stephen Roche won the Tour de France. I am sure Senator Eamonn Coghlan has been responsible for bringing Americans to Ireland following his success as an athlete in the USA. We have many resources that could assist us in bringing in more tourists.
There is an Irish tourist office in every city in the world. There are also Irish bars throughout the world, including in South America, Australia, Europe, Asia and America. If one goes into an Irish bar one will see photographs of Kerry, Donegal, Dublin and so on but one will never see a tourist brochure, which would encourage people to visit Ireland. While most Irish bars are not owned by Irish people we could tap into marketing Ireland through this facility rather than opening a tourist office in every country.
Many of the big cities in England, including Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, have large Irish populations, most of whom have never visited Ireland. I have travelled through many UK airports and have never seen in any of them a stall promoting Irish tourism. We are missing out because of this. Approximately 40% of the population of Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool have Irish roots. These cities are only 30 minutes from Dublin and 45 minutes from Derry and Belfast. We tend to focus more on the US market or other parts of the world. The UK market is our biggest market and we should target it more aggressively.
Irish fans will probably travel to Macedonia this Saturday for the match. While not too many Macedonians may travel to Dublin or Ireland following that match, some 5,000 to 10,000 fans may travel to Andorra in October to see the Ireland-Andorra game and this may present us with an opportunity to develop that end of the tourism market.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss this issue with us. I commend the Government's initiatives so far in relation to tourism. It is perhaps fair to say it is at local level that we will succeed. It is, after all, the product people come here for. When people from China or India arrive here, they want to enjoy themselves. In that regard, I commend the launch tomorrow in Sligo of an initiative on behalf of all those in the area involved in tourism. This is the first time they have come together in a really bold initiative to market Sligo. While this initiative is funded by Fáilte Ireland, it involves the Leader company, the Western Development Commission, Sligo Marketing Forum, local businesses, Sligo Chamber of Commerce and the county development board, all of which see the potential of joined up thinking. If there is no joined up thinking and people do not come together and say, "We want to sell where we live and be proud of what we have here," the tourism industry will not be successful. I accept Senator Sean Barrett's point that there is cynicism in marketing. However, if one is marketing, it is important that one has something to market. This kind of approach will bring about a win-win.
The Minister asked about saving money and value for money. I asked Fáilte Ireland how it would assess the programme it was launching on 6 June and which will be talked about tomorrow in Sligo. It stated it would invite the tourism department of Sligo IT to analyse the figures and see precisely where the €120,000 was spent and the impact it had had. Involving Sligo IT, as another stakeholder in tourism, is to be commended. The students of the institute will be ambassadors for Sligo and tourism across the country. I offer this as a suggestion to the Minister. There must be other places where this is possible.
I was delighted to hear the Minister mention the need for infrastructural improvement and to prioritise roads that lead to great tourism places. No one can deny that the north west, Sligo in particular, is a great tourism destination. Of course, we fall short with the N4. Those of us who travel it regularly know how bad it is. I know there is a proposal with the National Roads Authority to improve it. I urge the Minister to look seriously at the proposal. Sligo has gateway status, but the N4 is a difficult and dangerous road to travel. I do not want to be entirely parochial. However, Sligo Airport looks set to lose its funding and be placed at a potential disadvantage. If that is the case, we must not be further disadvantaged by the lack of decent infrastructure.
I commend the initiative being taken in Sligo and the joined up thinking it involves. I commend it to the Minister. If we are to succeed in tourism, we must start locally. We must not rely on Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland or anybody else. We must start at home on the ground.
Time is limited and I am trying to accommodate all the Senators offering. I call on Senator Averil Power to speak for two minutes.
In that case I will definitely be keeping my maiden speech brief.
I thank the Minister for being here for this debate. Tourism is Ireland's most important domestic industry, accounting for one in ten jobs in every part of the country and at every level. Tourism enterprises range from one or two people employed in a bed and breakfast establishment to huge groups in some bigger parts of the industry which has enormous potential as part of our economic recovery. As our key markets in the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany start to recover, there will be potential to bring more people and revenue into the country.
Recent years have been challenging for the tourism industry. They have also been characterised by very strong co-operation between the previous Government and the industry, which should be acknowledged. Despite the overall economic climate in the past few years, the previous Government appreciated the strategic nature of investment in tourism and ensured the overseas marketing budget was maintained, in real terms, in 2010. That was significant. Also, last year Fáilte Ireland undertook its biggest ever domestic campaign, with great results.
Cost competitiveness is an important issue. Hotel prices have come down dramatically and there is good value to be had. Throughout the country the average cost of a hotel room is €79 per night and the quality of our hotel product is top class and of world standard. There remains, however, an issue in terms of food and drink prices. In that regard, I welcome the reduction in VAT announced in the recent jobs initiative. The May edition of the Fáilte Ireland magazine includes a visitor attitude survey that shows an increasing awareness that cost competitiveness has improved. In 2010 some 25% of visitors cited cost as a disadvantage. In 2011 the figure was 15%. It is good to see the figures improving.
Despite being an island nation, we are not good at marine tourism. I live in a constituency where marine tourism has huge potential in Howth, Sutton and Portmarnock. This sector should be developed. With co-operation between the Departments with responsibility for transport, the marine and tourism, it has great potential.
The gathering was mentioned by Senator Labhras Ó Murchú. I understand it is more likely to take place in 2013 than in 2012. There are 75 million people of Irish heritage throughout the world. Could we convince a tiny proportion of them to come here? This would be worth pursuing. We should work with the Gaelic Athletic Association and run games for GAA teams throughout America, Asia and the rest of the world. Last year Fianna Fáil proposed the St. Patrick's Day celebrations be extended to a festival lasting a fortnight, attracting high-spend cultural tourists to spend a fortnight in Ireland.
It was a great honour for me to be nominated by the Taoiseach to the Seanad. One of my friends said to me, "Eamonn, you might have been chairman of the boards, broken world records and won world championships, but that is all in the past. You are now a Senator." It is with great honour that I join Senators. All they have to do now is break a few world records to keep up with me.
Sport and tourism are two areas of interest to me. Sport is of interest for obvious reasons and tourism for reasons Senators are not, necessarily, aware of. Senator John Crown made his maiden speech on the first day of the session. He said he was not sure whether that was the appropriate day on which to do so. He had not been expecting to speak. I was not expecting to make my maiden speech today. However, today is 1 June, the first day of summer. What better way to make my maiden speech in the Seanad?
Senators are all aware of my interest in sport. Tourism is also very close to my heart. In 1977 I was employed by Bord Fáilte. I was hired by the director general, Mr. Joe Malone to act as youth and education representative. I looked after the foreign tour operators who came to Ireland, teaching English as a foreign language to European students. I also worked in the United States when I asked to move to America to pursue a running career. I worked with Stonehill College in Massachusetts and helped to bring the first Irish studies programme from the United States to UCD, whereby students could transfer their credits back to the United States while learning about Ireland. Joe Malone's purpose was to use Eamonn Coghlan and the ambassadorial aspect of his running career to promote Irish tourism to the students of the United States. He felt that visiting students would be the future leaders in the business, academic and political industries and become ambassadors for Irish tourism when they returned to their countries and businesses.
In 1978 there were no grants for sportspeople. The only way I could get time off to compete around the world was to do a deal with my boss in Bord Fáilte. "Discover Ireland" has been talked about as the promotional theme for Irish tourism. Back then I presented to my boss a T-shirt with the words "Discover Ireland" on the front and "It's Great It's Green" on the back. I do not know if they used that theme. However, I received permission to travel the world wearing this T-shirt which I presented to athletes such as John Walker, Don Quarrie and Lasse Virén. These athletes were running around wearing "Discover Ireland — It's Great It's Green" T-shirts.
Senator, you have hit the tape. Your time is up. You may have another 30 seconds.
I became aware of opportunities to promote my country through the medium of my sport. I brought magazine journalists to Ireland. I asked them not interview me in New York but in Ireland in order that they could show photographs of Ireland in Sports Illustrated and maximise the coverage of the country in that market. I will go into more detail on these opportunities with the Minister at another time. Athletes who are receiving taxpayers’ money through sports grants which we did not receive can be utilised in the same way today, if we go “back to the future”. We can go back to what I was doing through the medium of sport and tourism and apply some of these principles. I look forward to speaking to the Minister on that point and getting value for taxpayers’ money through our sports people.
I am afraid to hit the bell because the Senator might be out the door too fast.
I have just one point to make as most issues have been raised. Image is everything. One of the things I am into in my professional life is packaging. We know we have this wonderful advantage in that around the world we have an image of being exquisitely green, natural, pure and beautiful. Members will agree that when tourists arrive, drive around the country and visit some of our villages, there is a lot of plastic signage, with no disrespect to a few big global brands, including those of some high street stores from the United Kingdom. It is like buying a Barbie doll for one's child in that one can get the same toy anywhere in the world.
I would like the Minister of State to consider a fairly radical idea, namely, getting rid of all plastic signage in Ireland and bringing back wooden signs in every one of our towns. Let us think of Adare, Kenmare, Kinsale or Kilkenny, which are all places I love to visit because I have this feeling that everything, including the food, will be gorgeous because of the exterior. It is a small and slightly eccentric idea but, I believe, a strong one. Let us get rid of plastic and bring in the old traditional wooden signage in order that when people come to visit, they will say: "Wow. This really is the Ireland I have dreamt about." For the 70 million people throughout the world, that is what they think we are. Let us not try to look like everyone else.
I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1:
After "years" in the last line to add the following:
"—calls on the Government to reinstate funding for Regional Airports in the form of the Airport Management Operation Expenditure Subvention (OPEX), as regional airports are crucial in attracting tourists to areas such as the West of Ireland, and in providing employment to local economies in a general sense;
supports the advancements and acceleration of the Western Rail corridor and the full implementation of Transport 21;
supports the development of the road infrastructure to open up the West of Ireland to exploit fully the enormous potential for developing tourism in the west, and in particular the A5 dual carriageway from Aughnacloy to Derry, which will be of crucial strategic importance in attracting tourists to the North West, and which the Taoiseach committed to in advance of the election;
calls on the Government to expedite the rates re-evaluation review, in light of the burden which the Hotel and hospitality sector faces in the current climate;
dlú a chuir le cuir i bfheidhm an straitéis 20 bliana don Ghaeilge, chun na deiseanna a bhaineann le turasóiracht teanga bhunaithe a fhorbairt agus a mhéadú (calls on the Government to swiftly implement the provisions of the 20 Year Irish Language Strategy in order that the potential which exists in language related tourism can be developed and enhanced);
notes that tourists are attracted to visit all parts of Ireland and believes that there is a need to realise fully the potential of All-Ireland Tourism; and
calls on the Government, with our partners in terms in the North, to investigate the potential of a single tourism body to deliver the effective, efficient and co-ordinated promotion of the whole island as a tourist destination, and to eliminate any duplication which exists currently between the various tourism bodies, North and South".
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus an tAire Stáit agus ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuilimid ag tacú i bprionsabal leis an rún agus leis an leasú atá molta ag Fianna Fáil. We agree in principle with most of what has been said but we felt it was important to broaden the debate. I was happy to hear Senators Deirdre Clune and Fidelma Healy Eames and a number of other Senators refer to the need for infrastructure to support the tourism industry. This is why we are drawing attention to the OPEX grants for the regional airports, which we discussed with the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on Monday in regard to the situation in Galway. We ask all Ministers to take this on board. We need to keep the airports open to be able to bring in tourists.
As the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, will appreciate, it is crucial the western rail corridor is progressed in order that we can move tourists around the western region. In addition, the roads infrastructure promised under Transport 21 needs to be brought forward as a priority. We need to look more broadly than the Twenty-six Counties. We need to work with our counterparts in the North of Ireland, in particular to ensure the development of the A5 dual carriageway from Aughnacloy to Derry continues. In addition, I was glad that Senator John Kelly agreed with us that the rates review needs to be undertaken as a matter of priority.
Chomh maith leis sin, ní cheart dúinn dearmad a dhéanamh ar an bhuntáiste mór a bhaineann leis an Ghaeilge ó thaobh na turasóireachta agus na heacnamaíochta de. Nuair a bhreathnaíonn muid ar an sampla a thug Gaillimh le Gaeilge, a léiríonn go dtugtar isteach €136 milliún do cheantar na Gaillimhe mar thoradh ar an Ghaeilge, agus cuid mhaith de sin trí thurasóireacht, níl aon fáth nach mbeadh an sampla sin á leanúint timpeall na tíre. If we supported the 20-year language strategy, we could increase the economic benefit to our country. We would also add to the image of ourselves as a bilingual, Irish language speaking community. It is not just the Minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht who should be supporting the 20-year strategy but every single Minister.
I second the Sinn Féin amendment. Ours is a small island of only 6 million people on the periphery of Europe, yet the Irish and Ireland are celebrated and known globally. For example, Cavan was the second most searched place in the world for accommodation earlier in the year because of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, which will take place again in August this year, as Senator Labhras Ó Murchú mentioned.
Senator Ó Murchú also referred to all-Ireland tourism. I am sure the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, would be more than willing to come to this Chamber to talk about all-Ireland tourism promotion, which is critical. Visitors and potential investors to this island do not differentiate between the North and South. They want to experience the Ring of Kerry in the same way as the Giant's Causeway. They want to examine the history and story, from Viking Waterford to the Rising in Dublin to the recent success of the peace process in Belfast. Visitors are attracted to Ireland by the good work of Tourism Ireland, which seeks to promote tourism to the island of Ireland as a whole.
However, the visitor experience once in Ireland is disjointed between Fáilte Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the confusing and competing websites of Discover Ireland and Discover Northern Ireland. Tourists want a seamless, quality experience. They do not need or understand the confusing separate tourist infrastructure. The full absurdity of this situation is revealed, for example, when a tourist wants to book to stay in both Fermanagh and in Cavan and is sent to two different websites, which is an issue that needs to be addressed. We need to end this confusion and competition, which demonstrates duplication and is bad for the tourism industry and for tourists.
The Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in his address asked what could be done to cut costs. Cutting duplication is one of the ways to do this. We need to be more efficient and effective to promote tourism to Ireland and within Ireland. A single, comprehensive, quality point of contact is what tourists require. A single body to co-ordinate and promote tourism, and to target resources away from duplication of administration and into promotion and development of tourism within the island of Ireland is what we need. This is what we are calling for in our amendment.
I thank all the speakers. There were many worthwhile contributions and good ideas, all of which are welcome. We had the opportunity to welcome and hear the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and I now welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, who, unfortunately, we will not have the opportunity to hear speak today, although I had hoped we would. We tabled an upbeat motion on tourism to which we could all subscribe. I thank our opponents, all of whom did subscribe to it, although they also added to it, unfortunately. I will come to that shortly. Nonetheless, I am glad we are agreed on the substantive motion.
I thank the Minister of State for his input in recent days to the background of the motion. In the litany of all the beautiful places, including Killarney, someone omitted to mentionWestport, where the Minister of State is from.
The No. 1 spot.
The Minister of State would say that. My erstwhile colleague and great friend, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, complimented me earlier by pointing out that I had managed to make a speech in the House without mentioning either Killarney or Muckross; therefore, I must put that right. That was to show that I take a national view despite being parochial on occasion. In any case, Muckross and Killarney are very special and Members will be very welcome there as I know they will all be engaging in the home holiday market this year. I look forward to seeing them all in Kerry, particularly Killarney.
Unfortunately, more Members wanted to speak than was permitted by the time constraints. It was a worthwhile debate. I hope the Minister of State will come back to the House shortly when we arrange another opportunity to deal with other aspects of this subject before the House rises in July.
Unfortunately, we cannot accept the amendments. I recognise very much the good intentions of the Members opposite. As was pointed out in regard to the Fianna Fáil amendment, while we have no problem with and fully subscribe to the second and fourth paragraphs, as we heard from the Minister in regard to the first and third paragraphs, no decision has been made on the matter, the consultation process is ongoing with the employers and the unions, and the matter will then come back for consideration and decision by the Cabinet. The Leader intends to give Members an opportunity to deal with the Duffy-Walsh report. Let us await the Government's decision concerning which we will hear more in due course.
Equally, the Sinn Féin amendment has very laudable objectives. I do not know about the availability of the money but there is a commitment to the Aughnacloy-Derry road project.
It is going ahead.
Yes. It is not for me to speak about the impact on the budgetary situation of the other proposals. Unfortunately, however, because of the other matters——
It is State money.
——we are not able to accept the amendment. I am very grateful to the Sinn Féin Senators for proposing their very laudable objectives and also to all other speakers and all Senators for subscribing to the substantive motion proposed.
I refer again to the Sinn Féin amendment. There is wonderful co-operation between North and South, as Senators are well aware. It is a very useful idea, to which I subscribe, which the Leader and I discussed last week and as Senator Labhras Ó Murchú suggested, to invite the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to the Chamber in due course to discuss tourism further. Perhaps on that day the Minister of State might grace us with his presence.
I would be delighted.
Unfortunately, I am not in a position to accept the amendments, but I sincerely thank everyone concerned.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Crown, John.
- Cullinane, David.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Power, Averil.
- Reilly, Kathryn.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D’Arcy, Jim.
- D’Arcy, Michael.
- Gilroy, John.
- Harte, Jimmy.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O’Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O’Keeffe, Susan.
- O’Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Whelan, John.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.