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Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 5 Apr 2022

Vol. 284 No. 4

Tourism: Statements

I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad this evening to speak on tourism.

Sular bhuail ráig Covid-19 an domhan bhí turasóireacht ar cheann de na hearnálacha ba mhó agus ba thapúla fás sa gheilleagar domhanda agus chuir sí go mór le cúrsaí eacnamaíocha agus sóisialta in go leor tíortha, cathracha agus réigiún. Tourism has proven to be a vital industry in Ireland that sustains communities and drives regional development in a manner that other sectors cannot match. Apart from its economic value, tourism also plays an important role in promoting Ireland's image abroad, generating a positive impression of Irish people, our landscape and culture for our visitors.

The tourism landscape has changed drastically in the past two years. The outbreak and spread of Covid-19 have had a devastating impact on the tourism industry in Ireland and across the world. The pandemic struck Irish tourism towards the end of the first quarter of 2020 by which stage only 10% to 15% of annual overseas spending would have accrued. After the first quarter, there was a collapse in overseas travel and the OECD estimates that international tourism worldwide fell by 80% overall that year.

During this time, the Government committed to providing supports for the sectors worst affected by the crisis, including tourism. A tourism recovery task force was established in May 2020 and delivered a tourism recovery plan with recommendations on how best the Irish tourism sector could adapt and recover in a changed tourism environment. Later that year, I appointed a recovery oversight group to oversee the implementation of this plan. This group has reported regularly to me and has provided valuable inputs to the Government on the measures required to assist the sector. The recovery oversight group is continuing its work and will continue to report with updates on the implementation of the recovery plan and recovery in the sector more generally.

In 2020, more than €44 million was allocated to deliver business continuity supports and adaptation grants for the tourism sector to adapt premises to meet Covid-19 safety requirements. In 2021, we saw a short and successful summer season from a domestic tourism point of view, but given the consequential and necessary public health measures that were put in place, many of the jobs supported by tourism were either lost or their survival hinged on State support. A full recovery in the sector was further hampered by the fact that inbound overseas tourism could not fully recommence.

In budget 2021, I secured a record level of funding for tourism overall that included €55 million for a dedicated tourism business continuity scheme to help strategic tourism businesses survive the pandemic and drive recovery. This funding was supplemented by the outdoor dining scheme 2021 and the urban animation scheme 2021, which allowed Fáilte Ireland to deliver a number of targeted capital grant schemes to help tourism businesses adapt to the changed operating environment.

A further €50 million was secured from budget 2022 for additional business continuity supports and a €35 million increase to the tourism marketing fund to support the delivery of a marketing strategy to help restore inbound tourism to Ireland. This current investment is complemented by significant capital investment and I was very pleased to have been able to secure a large capital allocation of €36.5 million to Fáilte Ireland for tourism product development in budget 2022. I am continuing to engage closely with the wider tourism and hospitality sector, in close consultation with the Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland.

Throughout the pandemic, tourism enterprises have also benefited from wider horizontal supports such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, restart grants, the €2 billion Covid-19 credit guarantee scheme and the €16 million support package for pubs, bars and nightclubs, as well as the warehousing of tax liabilities. There is no doubt that the past two years have proven to be extremely difficult for all involved in tourism but hopefully the worst effects of the pandemic are behind us. While the outlook is certainly better now, we must remain conscious of the further challenges that lie ahead. Like many sectors of the economy, recruitment is a significant challenge for the tourism and hospitality sectors, with up to two thirds of businesses reporting reduced capacity due to staff shortages. My Department and Fáilte Ireland have been collaborating with industry and other Departments to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach to addressing the labour and skills shortages.

In February, Fáilte Ireland published its most comprehensive research to date on the tourism and hospitality labour market. This robust and wide-ranging research programme covers the views of 1,000 employers and 3,500 workers with tourism and hospitality experience as well as international benchmarking, a review of education provision and consultation with recruitment agencies. This research is shaping Fáilte Ireland's work programmes for this year which will focus on providing support to the industry to address the immediate labour and skills supply challenges which will be critical to the short-term recovery of the sector; supporting businesses and the wider industry to work together to drive the long-term repositioning of the industry as an appealing and rewarding career choice and workplace, and ensuring a future pipeline of talent; and building the capability of individual employees to help businesses to bridge the skills gaps they are experiencing and also drive greater employee retention by improving the quality of training across the business.

Fáilte Ireland also chairs the tourism and hospitality careers oversight group, which will continue to work closely with industry bodies, education providers and other Government bodies to support sustainable employment in the tourism sector with an immediate focus on recruitment and retention initiatives, as well as focusing on the long-term repositioning of the industry as a career choice.

The tragic events in Ukraine also have the potential to impede the recovery of overseas tourism to Ireland. The recent spike in oil prices and rising inflation are making accommodation and transport services more expensive, adding extra pressure on businesses, consumer purchasing power and savings. It is important to remember, however, that our research tells us that Ireland's reputation as a safe, friendly and welcoming country will be a valuable asset in the short, medium and long term.

With specific regard to the ensuing refugee crisis, Ireland has welcomed more than 18,000 Ukrainian refugees to date. Planning and preparatory work is being ramped up across government to provide supports to those who have arrived here already, as well as the large numbers of further people expected to arrive. My Department and Fáilte Ireland are continuing to work with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to identify longer term accommodation options beyond the hotel sector.

As Senators know, President Zelenskyy will address this House and the Dáil tomorrow morning. I look forward to hearing his historic address and I have no doubt that Irish people will continue to play their part in the humanitarian response to this horrific and unjust war. Ireland firmly stands in solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

As we enter the recovery phase for tourism, the competition globally to attract tourists will be more challenging than ever and I am more than confident that Tourism Ireland is equally equipped for and up for the challenge. To this end, Tourism Ireland has started to roll out the green carpet and welcome back international visitors as they work to encourage as many overseas holidaymakers as possible to book Ireland for their next holiday destination. The concept revolves around creating a commitment to travel, by pressing the "Green Button" - green being the universal colour signifying "go" and instinctively connected with the island of Ireland. I was happy to help Tourism Ireland launch this new Green Button campaign in the United Kingdom, the United States and the United Arab Emirates in recent months when I travelled to all three markets to engage with our industry partners and reassure them that Ireland was open and waiting to welcome back visitors. During those trade missions, I saw at first-hand the excellent work undertaken by Tourism Ireland in highlighting Ireland's world-class tourism experience to international tour operators.

The importance of tourism to the economy on both sides of the Border and the clear logic in taking a joint approach to the promotion and development of the sector led to tourism being one of the areas chosen for formal North-South co-operation, through the structures created by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. That co-operation has been hugely beneficial, with the tourism sector now an exemplar of what can be achieved when we work together on this island with a shared purpose and for clear mutual benefit.

In January, I took part in a shared island dialogue event hosted by the Department of An Taoiseach, which focused on all-island tourism.

More than 160 tourism and civil society stakeholders from across the island joined the event online to discuss the success of tourism co-operation on the island of Ireland over the past 20 years, and explore how best to enhance opportunities for domestic and international visitors in the years ahead. Over the course of the dialogue a number of key themes emerged, including the opportunity for greater alignment and linkages between tourism initiatives on the island, and further developing on a cross-Border basis the on-island tourism that has grown in response to the pandemic travel restrictions.

My Department will continue to work with the Department of An Taoiseach on implementing our commitments to the North-South development of tourism as included in the shared island chapter of the renewed national development plan. This includes supporting Tourism Ireland in its mission to grow tourism into the island of Ireland; promoting the recovery of the sector post pandemic; and working with the Northern Ireland Executive, when it is restored, on developing large scale North-South tourism initiatives which will support the sustainable growth of the sector, including cross-Border walking and cycling trails, as well as new marketing opportunities.

As part of its marketing strategy this year, Tourism Ireland has established a recovery framework which will be underpinned by an extensive programme of promotional activity throughout 2022. The organisation has a flexible, three-phase plan to restart, rebuild and, ultimately, redesign demand. Over €80 million will be invested in the programme in 2022, which will allow Tourism Ireland to ramp up its campaigns in key international markets.

Fáilte Ireland is doubling its domestic marketing investment in 2022 to drive domestic demand, including short breaks all year round. In that regard, it has embarked on extensive marketing and communications campaigns, including its Keep Discovering campaign, which continues to encourage domestic holidaymakers to take vacations in Ireland, particularly during quieter shoulder seasons.

With specific regard to capital investment, I look forward to seeing the delivery of projects that will support a sustainable tourism sector from an environmental, social and economic perspective. The new NDP provides for the delivery of enhanced amenity through investment in tourism product development. Priority areas for tourism capital investment include the development and enhancement of tourist attractions, and activity-based tourism, to provide the type and quality of experience that visitors seek.

Air access is a good measure of recovery and an indicator of future international tourism demand. As things currently stand, inbound air access from almost all overseas tourism markets is back close to where it stood pre pandemic. Last week, I visited Meitheal in Killarney, Ireland's biggest business-to-business international travel trade fair, and witnessed firsthand the pent-up demand in the inbound tourism sector. Closer to home domestic tourism is set to return to pre-pandemic levels this year.

As we begin to regrow our tourism sector, it has never been more important that we ensure the sector's future development is based on a sustainable and balanced approach. Environmental protection, economic competitiveness, community and visitor awareness and involvement all play a part in successfully achieving and benefiting from this approach. Both public bodies and private enterprises must continue to ensure that these principles are central to our tourism offering in order to maximise the future competitiveness of Ireland as a leading sustainable tourism destination.

Late last year I brought to Government a report developed by the Sustainable Tourism Working Group that identifies key actions that will promote sustainable tourism practices in the short term. This year our tourism agencies will focus on the delivery of this interim action plan which will enhance evidence-based decision-making for effective reduction of the tourism carbon footprint. The successful implementation of this plan will lay the foundations for a green transition of the tourism industry, and our destinations by providing better access to information and tools for visitors to practise responsible tourism and give tourism businesses and destinations the ability to measure the impact that tourism has on the environment.

In line with the programme for Government commitments, officials in my Department have commenced the development of a new national tourism policy that will seek to mainstream sustainability. The development of this new policy will involve consultation to help set out a path for the coming years, which will support a sustainable recovery and enhance the resilience of this vital sector. It is clear that the traditional model of tourism is changing. The development of this new national tourism policy gives us an opportunity to set out what type of tourism sector we want in the years ahead. Overall, we are returning to a good place with tourism in Ireland. The outlook has changed considerably after some very difficult times over the last two years. While I am conscious of the further challenges we face, I am confident that, with the ongoing support of Government, we will regrow and reshape our tourism ecosystem in a smart way that will ensure resilience and sustainability as tourism reinforces itself once again as one of our most important indigenous economic sectors.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí as a gcuid ama inniu. Ba mhaith liom mo thiomantas do chur chun cinn an chláir oibre turasóireachta inbhuanaithe a athdhearbhú agus táim ag tnúth le haistriú glas ár n-earnáil agus ár n-áiteanna turasóireachta.

I congratulate the Minister on today’s announcement of the pilot project for musicians and artists because music is a huge part of tourism in County Clare.

First, I will cite the definition of sustainable tourism: "Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities.” I know that the following is before the Minister's time but, and I mean no offence to Fáilte Ireland, it has not always dealt properly with host communities. I remember that the national regulator, at a cycling conference, said that for one of the greenways that was promoted, sold and funded by Fáilte Ireland it had to retrospectively build connections and routes to local schools and villages. Fáilte Ireland had been so focused on getting tourists across a certain section that it forgot to include local communities

We still have a bit of work to do in tourism. The Lonely Planet guide says that the Burren eco-tourism network in County Clare has transformed Ireland's Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark into a global leader in sustainable tourism, which is brilliant. It is a great organisation and the work is done by a lot of volunteers. The Minister has visited the place and praised the staff but the new Cliffs of Moher plan puts cars and buses first. The plan seeks to bring bus services that only serve tourists and transports them from a village or town to the cliffs and back. In fact, a loop service would be much more sustainable and would include villages in north County Clare. If we are going to embrace communities as part of our success then one needs to analyse the proposed transport. A shuttle service that only travels to and from a venue means tourists will just go to the venue whereas a loop service will give tourists an opportunity to visit local villages, spend some money there and then go on to see the cliffs. At present 1.2 million people visit the Cliffs of Moher and it is hoped that the number will increase to 2 million but a lot of tourists are bused in and out so the local economy does not benefit. The county council owns the site but I would like to see the local villages thrive. If 1.2 million people visit an area then that should be reflected in all of the surrounding villages so the new plan must be adjusted. At the front of the plan is a proposal for more parking for coaches and cars with a 0.5 km expansion on either side of the Cliffs of Moher, which is the walking route. There is an amazing walking route that stretches from Liscannor to Doolin but it has been neglected apart from a small section at the cliffs. Such treatment of a walk is not best practice if we are serious about having sustainable tourism. The plan is to create walking and cycling routes in order that people can get to the cliffs but the plan is very vague. I thought that the initiative would have been front-ended if we were serious about creating sustainable tourism. We must place a stronger emphasis on such tourism. Most people say that they come to Ireland for its people but the reason tourists return is because they have met our people. If one has a tourism model where tourists can simply kiss the Blarney Stone or visit the cliffs then tourists may not return; we must consider this.

In the programme for Government, under the heading of Reigniting and Renewing the Economy, and tourism, the following statements are made: "work to ensure that ferry companies provide access for foot passengers without cars"; "as an island, we depend on connectivity in our tourism sector"; and "we recognise the huge value of our maritime and aviation sectors in supporting economic development, international connectivity and tourism via our ports and airports". I have emailed the ferry companies and British Ferries replied saying there is no way that it will let foot passengers on its ferries. I got very excited when British Ferries launched its new service to Bilbao because I thought I could travel guilt free with the possibility of getting on a ferry here and getting off in Bilbao. A ferry service would give me another option outside of flying. Sometimes it is good for us all to leave the island but I like to do so in a sustainable fashion. British Ferries, in its reply to me, said the company has no intention of ever carrying foot passengers on its ferry. I know that British Ferries is a private company but we have a climate emergency and every enterprise be it private or public will have to play their part and seek carbon reductions. I realise that we have some work to do around that aspect.

It is good that the Minister has established a sustainable tourism working group but she cannot keep an eye on everything. We must have clear targets because one often sees the suggestion to put the word "sustainable" into everything. I will give an example. I have read the report on the Cliffs of Moher. On paper the report sounds brilliant but it is very vague on commitments to reduce dependence on cars and has one-hit wonders with a bus in and out of the place.

We have work to do. I would push back against Fáilte Ireland. It is great at encouraging tourism but it is not great at ensuring communities benefit from it. That is something we have to get right if we are serious about sustainable tourism in Ireland. It is what people come to this country for. They want to meet the people.

The Minister is most welcome to the Chamber. As we come into the summer months, the high season for tourism, a €9.5 billion industry, it is essential we examine the unique challenges facing the sector and that Government and stakeholders co-operate in addressing them. As we continue to take in refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, the need for long-term housing solutions will only become more pressing. We must rehouse families in the interests of their mental health and physical well-being. At the moment, hundreds of Ukrainians are simply being deposited in hotels, many of them having no idea of the services available to them or of the pathways towards further integration into life here with regard to schools, medical services and employment. There is a secondary concern from the perspective of the tourism industry in Ireland. The use of these hotel spaces by tourists boosts the economy and their rental by Government dampens it. More hotel rooms being available means greater capacity for tourists. The transition of refugees and asylum seekers from private hotels to more sustainable long-term accommodation is of double benefit.

Of course, before any would-be tourists find themselves at the front desk in a hotel lobby, they will most likely have had to navigate Dublin Airport, which seems to be operating as some form of lobster pot at the moment. You can get into the country all right but you will need good luck to get out. As airlines have begun rolling out their packed summer flight schedules, passengers have been reporting delays of more than three hours to get through security, with flights being missed altogether due to the backlog. With voluntary redundancies, Covid-related work absences and changes to security screening processes at a European level, the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, has said these conditions are the result of a perfect storm. However, more can certainly be done to alleviate pressure on this key part of the system. The DAA must examine pay and conditions to attract more security workers.

Staffing issues are, of course, not limited to the area of international travel. As many as nine out of ten hospitality businesses are experiencing significant problems in recruiting essential core staff according to the latest figures from Fáilte Ireland. From chefs to bar staff, managers and kitchen porters, there are as many as 40,000 vacancies across the hospitality sector. Covid lockdowns and the inability to do business during them led to the closure of many establishments but also led to the flight of many skilled hospitality workers who may have left the country to work elsewhere or entered a different field to avail of remote working opportunities. Many restaurants and hotels have started to look abroad for staff, but venturing outside of the EU brings with it the nightmare of international work visa applications, which puts many off.

As a sector, hospitality has become more competitive in its wages to attract workers. This is to be welcomed but it cannot come at the risk of putting smaller businesses under. The Government must look at what it can do to lend a hand in this regard. One area to consider is the fast-tracking of Irish work visas for the chefs and key hospitality workers required by our businesses.

To take a step back and look at areas of interest in the sector in the long term, the years to come will be marked by sustainable initiatives which must penetrate to the very core of the operation of tourism and hospitality in this country. Not only will such changes be necessary to meet climate change targets, but tourists and consumers are becoming increasingly aware and conscious of the impact of their lifestyles on the environment and will ever more so prioritise businesses that are at the forefront in integrating sustainable practices into their operations. From buying and cooking local to partnering with the right producers and taking measures on waste management and energy efficiency, small steps in every area of business will be essential if progress is to continue.

As well as the day-to-day operations of hospitality venues, businesses must also examine how business tourism and events can affect change. The meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, MICE, industry forms a lucrative part of the tourism industry in Ireland. Every day, dozens of events take place throughout the country, many of which generate substantial environmental impacts. Event organisers and host venues must collaborate to reduce these impacts, where possible. The elimination of single-use plastics in favour of reusable or recyclable alternatives is to be encouraged. Energy and water consumption must be handled strategically to avoid waste. The minimisation of light and noise pollution should become an industry standard, particularly for outdoor events as we move into the summer months.

Overall, I am hopeful for the future of tourism in Ireland. I believe the challenges facing the sector will not prove impossible to overcome and that, if we act together, our reputation as a top-quality destination for international tourism will continue for years to come.

I welcome the Minister and thank her for the details she has outlined in respect of the tourism sector. One of the phrases she used towards the end was the "tourism ecosystem". She spoke about making sure we protect and grow that. It is a great phrase. It is something that has really grown over the past 20 to 30 years. When I started out in political life back in 1999 as a young councillor, one of my first appointments was as director of Meath Tourism. Back then, the CEO, Ms Bríd O'Connell, always passionately drove home to us the need for local and national government to back tourism in a very real way, beyond Dublin and Kerry, knowing the value it has for our economy, our brand and regional development in particular. Since then, that whole tourism ecosystem has grown substantially beyond the main tourism areas to places like Meath, which 20 years ago did not have that vibrancy. It had all of the key components with regard to its history and what it was able to offer to tourists, but it did not have the infrastructure because there was a lack of focus. Such focus has evolved over the past 20 years. Money is now generated, as the Minister has said, and 260,000 people are employed, with 70% of those employed outside of Dublin. The sector is worth €7 billion in direct spend to our economy, which is significant.

The sector has also come under pressure. In the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation's spring report, it is said that the industry has "been scarred by the experience of the pandemic", which is very evocative. However, it also says it is confident of rebounding in full this year and compliments the supports provided to the sector by Government and the Minister's Department. The confederation spoke, as did the Minister, about the likelihood of international tourist numbers returning to 70% or 80% of the pre-pandemic figure for this particular summer, and it welcomed the Government’s €93 million fund for airports to incentivise airlines to reinstate services. Notwithstanding all of what has been said about negative experiences, I am hopeful the issue facing outbound tourists from this country will be resolved.

The staffing issue that has been touched on is quite significant. I remember when we had a debate on this same matter last year. Prior to coming into the Chamber, Noel Anderson, who represents the licensed trade here in Dublin and who is very well known to us all as managing director of Lemon and Duke and the restaurant Bridge 1859 in Ballsbridge, spoke about how he had lost top-quality chefs to the haulage industry despite him being a very good employer. The skills shortage has come about as a result of such exits. I note the language the Minister used in her speech with regard to providing support to the industry to address the immediate labour and skills supply challenge. I ask that, in her summation, she expand on that support and the form it is taking. It is a profession that has provided great employment. Before I fell into the debauchery of political life, I had considered applying for a course in hotel management through the CAO. Instead, I fell into this very fine profession. I know from my time as a student working in the hospitality sector that it is something every single young person should experience to provide them with life skills beyond the course they themselves choose.

There is, however, a very real fear that this summer the hotel industry will be under severe pressure because of the skills shortage. The Minister can only help and work with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland in providing long-term solutions, but there is a very real fear in the here and now.

I know that the hospitality sector, a key component of the tourism sector as a whole, has made representations in respect of supports for the sector. Has the Minister considered that in advance of this summer in conjunction with the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, or anyone else? The sector was very significantly hit during the most recent lockdown.

I commend the Minister and the Department on all that has been done. As I said, the federation says it is confident of a very good summer ahead for this sector. I hope that comes to fruition. I ask the Minister to address in her summation the employment element. That would be very helpful.

The Minister is very welcome. I compliment her on the work she has done in her Department. It is probably the busiest Government Department, but I compliment her on the way her Department has reacted and provided supports for the industry. I am chairman of County Longford tourism committee and have been since I went into local government ten years ago. I compliment the Hidden Heartlands team within Fáilte Ireland. I was involved in pushing for a dedicated brand for the midlands. The local Hidden Heartlands team, including Paddy Matthews and Grainne Cornally, work with us in Longford and do an excellent job promoting our region.

The Minister mentioned in her statement the difficulty finding staff. We will discuss that at Oireachtas joint committee level tomorrow, when I think we will have Paul Kelly from Fáilte Ireland and other representatives before us. We have spoken to Center Parcs, which is the largest product of its kind in the country and is trading very successfully in my county. It is attracting staff; the problem now is getting accommodation for those people. There are people willing to come from abroad to work in the industry but they cannot get accommodation. That has proven to be a difficult issue for them.

Fáilte Ireland recently undertook a survey on the industry that showed that the proportion of consumers taking short trips during 2021 was 54%, slightly below the 2019 mark of 57%. Some 49% intended to travel within Ireland for a short break and 18% intended to travel for a long break. That is strong for the market, but there is an issue with passports, which every one of us will have seen in our offices. The reality is that there has been a huge surge in the number of people looking to travel abroad. That will have a significant impact on our industry at home and particularly on families. That is what I have noticed. A great many of the people looking for passports are young families looking to travel abroad. The Minister mentioned in her statement the domestic campaign. I have not seen that campaign in recent weeks as strongly as it was seen during the summer. We have to get that campaign up and running now to perhaps get people to change their habits and their thinking as to what trip they are planning and, it is to be hoped, to get them to stay in Ireland. I looked up the CSO figures for inbound travel into Ireland in February 2022. The total number of passengers was 787,000. Broken down, there were 408,000 continental passengers, 319,000 from the UK, 38,000 from the USA and 28,000 long-haul. That is 35% down on the figure for February 2020. If that follows through the year, we will be looking at roughly a 35% reduction in the inbound numbers of people coming into the country. That is why it is important we advocate that Irish people holiday at home as strongly as we did during Covid. I have not seen that campaign as actively as we saw it last year. That needs to be started straight away to get people to make different decisions and get them not to travel abroad but rather make them stay in Ireland and support the industry.

I am in favour of retaining the 9% VAT rate, which the Tánaiste spoke about recently. In light of the predicted figures for the year ahead, it is important we set out a clear statement to the industry that we will support it and support that 9% rate for at least another 12 months.

I am a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media. We have met with various people from the industry. There is an issue in that Fáilte Ireland has on occasion said it represents not hospitality but tourism. We need to send out a strong statement that Fáilte Ireland represents the tourism and hospitality sector. There are positions on the board of Fáilte Ireland that are not filled at present. Will the Minister make sure that people are appointed to them? Applications to those positions are open, but I ask the Minister to ensure that one of those positions be filled by someone from the hospitality sector and the pubs and restaurants and that all areas of tourism and hospitality are represented on the board of Fáilte Ireland.

Once again, I thank the Minister for the work her Department has done in supporting tourism. I look forward to hearing her comments on the 9% VAT rate and having a hospitality sector representative on the board of Fáilte Ireland.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I appreciate her time here, given the six portfolios she has to her name. I was delighted to see Tourism Ireland invite over the directly elected mayors of greater Manchester and Liverpool city. It is great to see the link-up between Ireland and those cities so close to us. It is welcome that the night-time economy was a feature of those discussions. I know that Sacha Lord, the night-time economy advisor for greater Manchester, was here, invited by Tourism Ireland, and was part of a delegation on the night-time economy. I appreciate the reports at the weekend but I will await announcements by the Ministers involved on what exactly the new licensing reform or regime will look like.

Nightclubs deserve their own licence. We need to recognise nightclubs as culture and entertainment. They should not be locked into a pub licensing system as an add-on. If that is the case, nightclubs will be forced into a pub licensing system that is crippling financially and no one will open any new nightclubs. There were 522 nightclubs in 2000, and now there are 85. There are no big-room clubs in this city for 1,000 people or 1,200 people. The kinds of events in Manchester to which people, including me and friends of mine, travel are those held near Manchester Piccadilly station or those held by the Warehouse Project. In this city we had Tripod, at the top of Harcourt Street, which could hold 2,000 people. It is now gone, replaced with vacant lots. If we hold a mirror up to Dublin, are we attracting enough footfall at night? Are enough people travelling for weekend trips for gigs, concerts and festivals? Are we using our spaces into the night? The city is stripped of venues. Insurance costs are hurting businesses, and licensing laws, as most people now accept, are archaic. It is not an easy business environment in which to survive. I think that is why people my age, for example, rather than creating events and festivals, are opening venues and cafés instead.

I have some statistics as to how cities depend on the quality of their nightlife as part of their visitor attraction. The inbound spend in Dublin in 2016 was €9.2 billion. Nightclubs identified 4,500 full-time equivalent jobs nationwide. The music industry, which is built on live performance and the availability of venues and audiences, contributes €703 million to the economy. The wider arts sector, so much of which is experienced at night, had a gross value added of €1.5 billion in 2010.

The Minister has played her part in this area, particularly with a step change in respect of Government policy, but I want to see the Government take on a more active role in securing spaces in this city. We need a large flagship venue for club nights or gigs and music venues. I am talking about a venue with a capacity of 2,000 or 3,000. There must be loads of spaces in this city not being used. The Minister has an input when she talks to businesses at events in places like the Digital Hub and Guinness.

What about the National Concert Hall and the capital plan for contemporary gigs, conferences and club nights there? There is a shortage of these venues, and the State should step in. The Minister's input in identifying and securing spaces would be considerable and transformative.

Has the Minister considered new theatre licences? Has she spoken to the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, about them? Can we return to the old position on theatre licences? There were fewer than 100 theatre licences at the time the arrangement was changed. The number is minimal by comparison with the 11,000 alcohol licences in this country. Could we examine the licensing regime again? With regard to a specific nightclub licence, the uptake will not be huge. Importantly, however, a specific nightclub licence has the potential to be fit for purpose and workable. It would remove the barriers to entry that exist in terms of the pub licence.

I, too, welcome the Minister to the House. There can be no doubt that the Irish tourism industry has gone through a devastating time. Covid-19 has had a profound impact on all sectors of it. In the past month or so, Fáilte Ireland presented the most comprehensive and robust research undertaken to date on staffing and skills in the tourism and hospitality sector. Thirty percent of businesses surveyed said they could face closure if recruitment challenges are not resolved. Fáilte Ireland's CEO, Mr. Paul Kelly, warned that staffing and competitiveness are the two most significant challenges facing the recovery of tourism in 2022. The pandemic has had a profound impact on the industry's skill base, with a mass exodus into industries that reopened earlier, according to Mr. Kelly. Mr. Kelly went on to say that plans, which we have set out today, aim to continue to drive domestic demand. These involve a €10 million domestic marketing investment to promote short breaks all year round, as the Minister mentioned.

Looking to the season ahead, Mr. Kelly said he expected a strong recovery, which is good news for everybody involved in inbound tourism, with forecasts indicating that 83% of the 2019 air passenger capacity will be regained by the end of the year. Other priorities to support the recovery of the tourism industry were also outlined on the day. Included are a digital audit of over 800 hotels and the development and implementation of four regional tourism strategies. These concern the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands and Dublin. There are 27 localised destination-development plans, which will be critical to delivering and driving the long-term recovery of tourism across Ireland.

I have spoken to many publicans and hotel owners over the past two years. Particularly in my conversations over recent weeks, I noted the owners are very glad just to be open again. I am sure many Senators are hearing this in their conversations with the owners. The problem is recruitment, however. As the Minister mentioned in her speech, many pubs and restaurants are unable to open entirely or in part because they cannot get the personnel to do so. The Minister mentioned in her speech that she is working with the industry to train staff and identify new ways to help with recruitment. I ask her to continue in that regard. It is vital to the future of the Irish tourism sector. I know of local businesses that are not in a position to reopen because of the lack of staff.

I also want to mention section 254 licences, particularly concerning my county, Kildare. They have made a difference. I would like to know where they stand in the Minister's plans as we move forward. They have made a difference and can change the streetscapes of many of our towns and villages. Again, the Government should continue to support this.

An important issue raised with me almost weekly as we enter the summer months concerns mobile food outlets. They are a new part of tourism in Ireland. Many of them are coming up against bylaws and problems with local authorities. Maybe the Minister has some direction for them concerning how they can play their part in tourism. I am aware that mobile food outlets can play a part in attracting tourists to many hard-to-get places, such as forests and mountains, and in maintaining these attractions. However, they are having a lot of difficulty in getting past the bylaws of local authorities. Maybe the Minister could investigate this.

I join my colleague Senator Warfield in welcoming the discussion on the night-time economy and the later opening hours, to 6 a.m. However, any arrangement introduced would have to be matched with workers' rights and pay. I am sure we will discuss this further in the coming weeks and months.

It would be remiss of me not to talk about County Kildare when I get the opportunity to talk about tourism. I am aware that the Minister launched the strategic plan for tourism in Kilkea Castle last November. My colleagues from County Kildare and I joined her there. The plan outlines a vision for Kildare as a rural escape from the bustle of the city. Never a truer word could be said considering Kildare's exceptional thoroughbred experience, warm welcome and rich culture.

I want to mention two projects in which I am personally involved. The first is the Shackleton Museum in Athy. Given the recent discovery of the Endurance, Shackleton's ship, the Government should continue to support the project. Kildare County Council is actively involved in this regard. With the renewed interest in polar exploration, the project could put not only Athy and Kildare on the map but also Ireland. I hope the project is one that Kildare County Council and the Government can continue to support.

The second project is the Barrow blueway, which is only half finished. I hope the Minister will come down to open it when it is eventually finished, which, according to a recent reply I received, will be at the end of this year.

As always, Kildare is open for business. We hope to invite as many people as possible to the best county in Ireland and see them there.

We move from one Lilywhite to another Lilywhite.

The Minister is very welcome. I commend her on her announcement this morning of the living wage scheme for artists, artistes and musicians — so many wonderful people whose talent brings so many people to our shores. We will be able to use them to sell and support tourism internationally. The announcement was a revolutionary move. I really congratulate the Minister on it. It has been wonderful to go back to see live theatre recently. I had the opportunity to go to both the Abbey Theatre and my local theatre, the Riverbank Theatre, to see wonderful performances on stage.

The Minister mentioned Ukraine in her opening statement. The Abbey Theatre is having a concert for Ukraine on Sunday night, organised by Denise and Angie Gough. All proceeds are going to support the Ukrainians here.

This is a really important discussion because it recognises the significance of tourism in our country and its potential to support businesses. Tourism, as we know, is an important contributor to job creation. It makes a very positive impact in areas in terms of jobs. Even being a tourist in one's own town or country is significant, as many of us would have learned over the past two years.

The issue of VAT has been raised. It is important that VAT remain at 9% in the industry, if possible. While the supports the Minister spearheaded at Government level were very welcome, significant and important, this is a difficult time. We need further investment to support the whole tourism industry.

With regard to County Kildare, I thank the Minister for taking up the invitation to launch the strategy last November. It is a very exciting strategy. The Minister will have noted at first hand the enthusiasm of Into Kildare and the very many stakeholders in the business.

I was reared on Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Many of us are very familiar with the legend of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and that of the Fianna. The Fianna were probably the first to have people had races on the Curragh. Racing is still growing by way of the Thoroughbred County initiative and Kildare's three racecourses. I was speaking earlier today to Mr. David Mongey, the chairman of Into Kildare, and he told me that the Punchestown festival at the end of April is practically sold out. Thirty-two percent of the bookings, or almost one third, are from the UK. It is wonderful to see people coming back to Ireland for festivals. One can imagine what it means to the local economy and that in Dublin in terms of accommodation, meals, etc.

One can imagine what that means to the local economy and the economy in Dublin in terms of accommodation, meals, etc.

I would also like to give a shout out to the blueway and greenway. They will be incredibly important in opening the smaller areas of Kildare, such as Robertstown, Rathangan, Monasterevin and on into Athy. It will give so many local businesses an opportunity to develop and expand. Of course, as my esteemed colleague mentioned Shackleton, when we look at international tourism, Shackleton will be key in Kildare. The only one who can overcome Shackleton is Brigid. I know the Minister is a supporter and fan of Brigid. It is fantastic that we will have the first bank holiday next year. There are many opportunities to be able to expand on that as a key tourism point, not just for Kildare, but for the country.

For the past two years, we have had the Hill of Allen lit up in white on the eve of St. Brigid, which symbolises the start of spring as well. There is a plan from Into Kildare to expand that around the country and possibly even internationally, and to look at many different ways that we can develop the incredible legacy of Brigid – her spiritual and environmental heritage. In addition, she was the first feminist icon that many of us could aspire to. There is much room for potential in supporting Brigid and supporting that festival around the bank holiday.

We are a county that is full of culture on so many different levels. Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park is an incredible asset. Again, I would extend an invitation the Minister to come down and see a small place that, in a way that no one else has, has heralded and celebrated the bog and how important the bog has been, not just to Kildare, but around the country. The Minister is incredibly welcome and I look forward to her further innovation and support of the tourism industry.

Táim ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis na Seanadóirí Lombard agus Dolan. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim comhghairdeas léi as an méid oibre a dhéanann a Roinn. Tá a lán ráite anocht faoin obair atá déanta agus an t-airgead atá ar fáil do rudaí atá ar siúl ar fud na tíre.

I want to focus on two things. The Minister and I would be familiar with the same area, having served in the same local authority, so these will not be new issues to her. There are two things in particular. The first is in relation to tourism promotion. Dublin gets a good shout on the tourism promotion front, but I feel Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown does not get a big enough shout. There are so many things in my area that are worth leaving the city centre to visit, from the village and town centres, such as Blackrock, Dún Laoghaire and Dalkey, to the food offerings that we have, including the excellent delicatessens, shops and food providers, from Glasthule to a two-star Michelin restaurant in Blackrock. There is so much to offer, as well as countryside amenities such as our parks, coasts and sea swimming, as well as the literary heritage. There is so much to see. It just feels like when tourism is being promoted, particularly for Dublin, those in the suburbs, particularly what we call Dublin’s riviera, which is slightly tongue in cheek, get left behind. There is room for them to be remembered, particularly.

The second matter I raise is a project that goes hand in glove with that, namely, the Sutton to Sandycove, S2S, which is related to the Sutton to Sandycove coastal promenade and cycleway on the outside of the DART line. I am not talking about the coastal mobility route. I am talking about a dedicated space next to the sea that would allow people to easily cycle out, without contacting traffic or having to dice between lorries, buses or anything like that, but a dedicated cycleway that would be a tourist amenity beyond compare in this country. It would be a fantastic way to see the south-east coast of Dublin and well worth promoting.

I will be very brief because time has been limited. I would like to raise two things. One is the cruise liner industry and where we are going with it. In Cork, it has a huge impact on our tourism trade. It is a real driver for our economy. However, we need to make sure that we get the boats down to Cork. We have more than 100 boats traditionally. Our liners sort of came to Cobh on a traditional basis. There seems to be an issue in Dublin Port that it is limiting the number of cruise liners coming in. If they cannot come to the capital city, the knock-on effect is they will not come to the second city. Will the Minister comment on where she believes the future of the cruise liner industry is going and what we can do to promote it, not alone in Cork Harbour, but places such as Baltimore and Bantry, which have had significant trade in the past few years?

The second issue I seek the Minister’s comment on, if she possibly could, is Airbnb. Where does she believe Airbnb fits into the market? I am very close to Kinsale, which is literally having anything up to 80 or 90 Airbnb properties on the market everyday, but no rental market because it has been sucked up by Airbnb. When will the promised regulations be put in place? I believe that Fáilte Ireland is involved, but I might be wrong and the Minister might correct me and give me her view on where Airbnb fits into the whole ethos of the tourism market.

I thank the Minister for her time today. I welcome her announcement. As the Minister heard, all across Ireland there are incredible attractions. However, we need to talk about our natural resources as well, such as our cycleways, walkways and railways, and how we are connecting people and bringing them together. We have that in heart of Ballinasloe.

I ask the Minister about the Fáilte Ireland and perhaps the River Shannon master plan. How will we promote the tributaries that come into the River Shannon, such as the Sooke River and the water-based activities around those rivers? This is so crucial to well-being, mental health and local communities, especially when we do not have parks in many of our towns. Imagine living out in the countryside but not having a safe place to walk because there is no park. I also ask the Minister the importance of waymarked trails, such as the Hymany and Beara-Breifne ways, coming through Cork and all the counties. That is such an important route. I know there is a focus on investment in that as well. It is going through so many counties.

How does Fáilte Ireland see its role in promoting conservation projects, in terms of the tourism and education value, and particularly, for example, Galway’s Living Bog in Mountbellew? We also have the Ballydangan Bog red grouse project, which is number one in terms of protecting curlews and red grouse. They are driving ahead and forging a path. How can we also use that to promote tourism?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach agus tá fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Seanad an tráthnóna seo. Like many others, I want to welcome the Minister’s statement earlier today on artists. It is ground-breaking. It has been very much acknowledged and recognised. I met with the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, MEAI, today and it is very happy with what the Minister proposed. It will be very important and significant in terms of developing the whole area of arts, whatever form of art it is. I have been involved myself, mainly through broadcasting.

This evening many Members on every side of the House have spoken about the challenges. The first message I have coming from the sector is to say thanks for the supports given and the constant engagement. It was a rough time, but it is acknowledged that with the support of Government we managed to keep the business going. It is good to see in budget 2022 we have a record level of funding for tourism, at €288.5 million overall. That is an increase of €67.5 million over 2021 allocation. Some €241.7 million is the current funding and €46.7 million is in the capital funding.

Like many others, I raise the issue of staff. I know a number of restaurants and hotels in my county, Roscommon, are struggling badly because they cannot get staff. It is sad to see fine establishments closing one or two days a week. That is what is happening. I was just thinking about this and I talked to a hotelier in Roscommon the other evening. There are a lot of semi-retired but not elderly people who worked as chefs and cooks in many establishments, sometimes in the Army or other institutions. We should look to a scheme encouraging them back in the short term. It would be a huge help. Many of them would come back. They will not want to work a full week, but they might do 20 or 30 hours a week. I know one hotel owner had a staff member who could not come in the other day.

The young lady in question, who has a young family, had to spend 15 hours cooking in that hotel to help the chef. That is the type of sacrifice those people have to make to keep their establishments going. Perhaps we could suss out some way of addressing that. Maybe we could establish some type of scheme to encourage staff who worked in particular areas as chefs and cooks to come back. Hopefully, as things return to normal, some of the pressure will come off the sector. That is important.

The Minister is well aware of the importance of the 9% VAT rate. It is vital for the recovery of the sector. Like everyone else, I believe staycations will be very important. While all the people coming from abroad are very welcome and spend a lot of money here, it is important that we promote staycations as part of the recovery programme.

For many years, my county, Roscommon, was not spoken about. It has some of the most hidden beauties in the Hidden Heartlands. People are only beginning to discover the fantastic facilities, such as Lough Key Forest Park, the Arigna Mining Experience, Loughnaneane Park in Roscommon town and all the villages along the River Shannon, including Termonbarry, Rooskey and Lecarrow. The real gem is Strokestown Park House. I am aware the Minister spoke about it some time ago. A €5 million development of the National Famine Museum is ongoing. We will welcome the Minister to the town. The development is ahead of schedule and should be opening in the coming months. It is one of the biggest projects in the Hidden Heartlands and it will bring a significant increase in tourism to our locality.

That is all very important. There are many gems in my county and around the west and midlands that are still only in the process of being discovered. Hopefully, the more we discover them, the more tourism will grow and the more revenue will be available to the State. Really and truly, we are going to have to look at tourism more and more in terms of revenue. People regularly see me on social media walking the glorious hills of Slieve Bawn. I invite everyone to visit the area. It is the most fantastic place. As Senator Carrigy will be aware, a wind farm was installed in the area some years ago and all hell broke loose. Everyone enjoys the area fantastically now, and the history of the mountain has been opened up. The walking trails are fantastic and they are great for one's health as well. There are many gems in the county. Local communities are working hard on many projects. Despite all that is going on in the world, we are in a positive place in terms of tourism in this country. I commend the Minister's work and that of the Government in the area.

I thank the Minister for coming to discuss this important issue. The issue of skills shortages was raised and I, too, would like to raise it. I know, from speaking to many in the hospitality industry, that while the support that was put in place during Covid was most welcome and kept many businesses afloat, it has had knock-on effects. I am sure the Minister is aware of that. I note that there has been a loosening-up in the rules around work permits. There are many people coming into the country now, in particular, Ukrainians, some of whom I met last night. They want to go out and start working as soon as possible. Perhaps we could look at retraining people and getting them to work. Certainly, they are willing to work. Many businesses still cannot open on a Monday or Tuesday.

I welcome the announcement of the basic income for the arts pilot scheme, or the living wage at least. It is most welcome news. As a member of Limerick Arts Society, I have spoken to many artists. Many have found it hard to keep going and perhaps have had to get another job because they have not been not able to keep themselves afloat through selling their paintings. During Covid, some artists improvised and hung their paintings on railings. They were not making enough, however, so today's announcement is most welcome.

There was a good news story in County Limerick today, with the announcement that Shannon Heritage had handed King John's Castle back to the Discover Limerick Designated Activity Company, which is a subsidiary of Limerick City and County Council. The contract was signed over at the weekend. I welcome that the council is now back in control of the marketing and promotion of the castle. It is a huge tourist attraction that brings people to Limerick.

I am also aware that Shannon Airport is at the forefront, with 22 new offerings of routes into the airport, including three new transatlantic routes. Tourist numbers are beginning to move in the aftermath of Covid. There has been a lot of collaboration between Shannon Airport and the council over the last ten months. This shows how two semi-State organisations can work together for the betterment of the people. They are also looking at marketing the area collectively and different options are being considered. The expansion of schemes like that is most welcome, because if groups in the region work together, it encourages the tourists to stay in the region as they arrive and spend money there. That is what we all aim to achieve in our regions. I thank Shannon Heritage for looking after the castle for the past 25 years. It is back with its rightful owner, Limerick City and County Council, today.

There are many attractions in our country. While we should encourage tourists arriving in the country to spend money here, we also need to encourage Irish holidaymakers to stay within the country. Many incentives were launched last year for people holidaying at home. I wonder whether the Minister would consider ways of trying to encourage our own people to holiday here. Last year, many people visited parts of Ireland that, possibly, they were never in before. I met people who spoke about discovering places they had never visited. We need to encourage people to stay in Ireland. Huge support was provided to the hospitality industry, for example, for outdoor seating. I pay tribute to the Minister and her Department for the attention and resources provided to local authorities and Fáilte Ireland to deliver those projects. I wonder if they will be expanded.

I wish to make a few points and ask some quick questions of the Minister. As she is aware, I come from County Clare. There is a skills shortage, as previous speakers articulated. While I believe our Ukrainian visitors may actually help to alleviate the pressure in the short term, in the long term, we will need to get our act together when it comes to bringing back training for those in the hospitality sector, including chefs, and so on. At this stage, the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality industry needs to be permanent. There cannot be too many peaks and troughs. That is important.

The Cliffs of Moher are a gold-plated tourist attraction. If it is not the first, I think it is the second most visited attraction in the country. My fear is that the plans that Clare County Council has for the Cliffs of Moher will turn the attraction into a city or town of its own and suck the potential of all the other villages in north Clare. We need to grow all our villages organically. We must complement the Cliffs of Moher. We need people to be attracted to stay in north Clare and the rest of the county. If the council continues with the type of grandiose plans that are being talking about for the Cliffs of Moher, we will kill the goose that lays the golden egg. While a few million visitors a year are going to the cliffs, the north Clare community does not benefit to the degree that it should.

I support the suggestion made earlier that a representative from the pub, restaurant and gastropub industry be appointed to Fáilte Ireland. People come to our country to experience the gastropubs and restaurants.

We can look at the number of restaurants now with a Michelin star or which are featured in the Michelin Guide. In County Clare we are delighted with the number of restaurants mentioned in the list of top 100 Irish restaurants in last weekend's newspaper. It is fitting and appropriate that there would be a representative from the restaurants and gastropub associations on Fáilte Ireland. For the life of me I cannot understand why that is not the case. Apparently, Fáilte Ireland's brief does not cover pubs and restaurants, and that oversight should be dealt with. If it requires a small piece of technical legislation, it can be introduced and we will initiate it here in the Seanad with no problem whatever. Perhaps it would only take the Minister signing a regulation to extend the board's remit or brief. If that is the case, I encourage the Minister to do that. In the first instance, having a representative of restaurants and gastropubs on the board should be possible because it should reflect a broad skill set.

I wanted to raise a number of other matters but, unfortunately, we do not have the time. It would be useful for the Minister to return in the term after Easter for further and more in-depth or detailed engagement on tourism.

The House is scheduled to adjourn at 8.15 p.m. but the Minister may take a few more minutes if required.

I thank the Senators for their comments and kind words on the launch of the pilot basic income scheme for the arts today. I will address as many matters as possible in the time given to me. If I do not reach a specific question, my officials will follow up with the relevant Senators.

Senators Garvey and Conway asked about the plan for the Cliffs of Moher and I will speak with Fáilte Ireland about that before following up with the Senators. Senator Garvey asked about ferries access and I will liaise with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on the matter because it comes under his remit. The Senator also mentioned the sustainable tourism working group and one of the matters being progressed with that is evidence-based targets.

Senator Keogan spoke about visas and Senator Byrne may have touched on the issue as well. That comes under the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment but it is relevant to my sector and I will continue to liaise with the Tánaiste on the matter. Senator Keogan also spoke about business and tourism and I fully support Fáilte Ireland's efforts in that area. I am attending a conference on it this Friday to lend my support to such efforts in a visible way.

Senator Keogan also mentioned Dublin Airport and I know the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, has been holding daily briefings with the chief executive officer of the airport and other senior DAA staff. It has implemented a number of measures recently and informed the Minister of State that these have improved the immediate position significantly. It appears that queue times at the weekend, for example, were substantially shorter than the previous weekend, with 95% of passengers through terminal 2 on Sunday having to queue for less than 35 minutes and 100% queued for less than 45 minutes. At terminal 1, 87% queued for less than 35 minutes and 92% queued for less than 45 minutes. The Minister of State will, of course, continue to monitor the position.

Senators Conway, Keogan, Byrne, Cassells, Carrigy and Murphy spoke about skills shortages. On the question of staffing, my Department and Fáilte Ireland continue to collaborate with the industry and other Departments to ensure there is a co-ordinated approach to addressing the labour and skills shortages. The additional fund I have obtained for tourism in the 2022 budget will allow for targeted investment in human capital, skills development and education to help address particular employment challenges faced by tourism. It is about tracking talent, assisting skills development and retaining staff.

Fáilte Ireland has an extensive plan in place to support the tourism industry and address both its immediate and longer term recruitment challenges to ensure businesses can recover. I will continue to support the industry alongside the Fáilte Ireland agency to address that immediate crisis in skills supply. There are included initiatives, such as a marketing campaign to drive up awareness of jobs in the sector, a range of supports to build the industry's recruitment capabilities and the new transition year work placement programme to provide tourism and hospitality businesses with a direct link to students looking for work experience. There is also a programme to support businesses in accessing people on the live register via the Government's new Pathways to Work strategy. Businesses will also be linked with local third level students and in co-operation with the industry, there will be an effort to link with industry to identify the international markets with the best potential for pools of talent, as well as the most effective labour access points.

Senator Keogan mentioned sustainable tourism. Under the arts section of the Department, we are working on the arts and festival piece. It was mentioned in the recommendations of the arts and culture recovery task force. There is a real desire in the arts sector to "green" the festivals. On the tourism aspect, we have measures that we hope will shine a light on areas and destinations at home that are striving to be best in class in terms of sustainability and provide better access to information and tools. The tourism industry needs tools to help visitors to practise responsible tourism and I see real potential in how we reshape and reimagine tourism post-Covid. We see how the domestic market will thrive and there is a yearning for the outdoors. Tourism Ireland had done great work on this and we need tourists to leave the cities and go into the hidden heartlands to use our blueways, cycleways and walkways. The potential is massive, particularly when we take in our food industry. Everything is there for the taking when it comes to sustainable tourism and we will work on that in our new plan. As I said, our officials have already commenced development of the new national tourism policy that will mainstream such sustainability.

I absolutely share Senator Warfield's enthusiasm for and interest in breathing new life into the night-time economy. I see tourism and cultural benefits in doing that and in all the Senator suggests, including the opening of spaces for arts and culture. As he knows, we are doing substantial work on the night-time economy area and I have a great working relationship with the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, who is very supportive of that. I will share with her the specific suggestions the Senator made today about the licensing system because it is under her remit.

I was delighted to support the outdoor dining measures that were mentioned by Senator Wall, along with the tourism projects he mentioned in Kildare. To respond to Senator Ward, I will speak with Fáilte Ireland as I know it has plans to promote the wider Dublin region. There is much to offer in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area, although I noticed he only mentioned what is in his own part of the locality. He is not here but I will mention the facilities in my part of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, from Glencullen, Dundrum and Stepaside to Goatstown, Stillorgan and Churchtown. The list may be endless. We have promotions and sights to see there as well. I will mention his comments to Fáilte Ireland and speak with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, about a cycleway. I will also speak to the Minister about Senator Lombard's query about Dublin Port.

Senator Lombard mentioned Airbnb in reference to Housing for All. Overall responsibility for delivery of that plan rests with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage but we have a lead role in the implementation of Action 20.4, relating to the new regulatory controls requiring short-term and holiday lets to register with Fáilte Ireland. I have engaged with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on the matter and Fáilte Ireland has had significant engagement with the Residential Tenancies Board in the final quarter of 2021. My officials meet on an ongoing basis with officials from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as well as Fáilte Ireland.

Funding was allocated in the 2022 budget to Fáilte Ireland, which is being tasked with the design and implementation of the short-term lettings registration system and the agency is currently recruiting staff to work on the project with the project lead in place. My officials are also working on scoping the legislative provisions that will be required to underpin the system with a view to these provisions being enacted this year.

Senators Carrigy, Conway, Murphy and O'Loughlin raised the question of VAT. I know the sector is concerned about the matter and is seeking an extension of the reduced VAT rate. I have pressed for an extension of the reduction of the VAT rate beyond August 2022 but the very strong support package I secured in the 2022 budget is already assisting the tourism sector to get firmly back on its feet in the summer. Taxation is ultimately a matter for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and he has commented that the extension provides support for those eight months to the end of the 2022 summer season, allowing a longer period of recovery for tourism. Should the economic position on tourism demand alter, he has said the VAT rate applicable to tourism will be reviewed as part of the budgetary cycle.

I was glad to hear Senator O'Loughlin's report of the positive outlook for key Kildare tourism destinations, especially with the Great Britain market, which is one of our most important tourism markets.

I see the huge potential of the bank holiday of St. Brigid from a spiritual and a feminist point of view. Our officials are working on how best to celebrate that bank holiday and drive the tourism market as well.

Senators Conway and Carrigy raised the issue of Fáilte Ireland board appointments. There are currently four vacancies on the board of Fáilte Ireland. The previous chairperson resigned on 15 August, with three further board resignations in September 2020, November 2020 and November 2021, respectively. Mr. Paul Carty, a previous ordinary board member, was appointed chairperson in February 2022, which has resulted in a further ordinary board member vacancy. The terms of office for four further ordinary board members were due to expire on 27 May 2022 but all four have been reappointed for a second term of two years' duration after 27 May. The process for filling the four existing vacancies has now commenced. It could not proceed until the chairperson vacancy was filled and the four reappointments were confirmed. It is open to anybody from any sector to apply for appointment to the board.

Senators Byrne, Murphy and Carrigy raised the issue of domestic marketing. Fáilte Ireland is doubling its domestic marketing target in 2022 to drive domestic demand for short breaks all year around. It will also delivery four new regional tourism strategies, setting out a ten-year vision and a five-year action plan for each vision. It aims to ensure that tourism businesses are visible, searchable and most importantly bookable through its digital that delivers programme. It remains focused on helping businesses to promote Ireland as an international destination but it is domestic tourism that is the focus. Fáilte Ireland estimates that domestic tourism will be back to 2019 levels this summer.

Overall, I think we can agree that tourism has turned a corner, thankfully. When I was at the trade event, Meitheal, in Killarney last week, the interest arising from that pent-up demand was phenomenal. We can expect a very good summer and bookings for next year. I was very proud of the various regions that were on display at Meitheal. Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland did a stellar job, as they always do. I believe that with the right support and direction, we can begin to reshape and regrow our tourism sector. However, we have to be careful not to grow just for the sake of growing. We have seen in the recent past that such growth can be unsustainable. We must grow in a way that means that future generations will also benefit from Ireland as a tourist destination, whether as visitors or as part of the industry.

That is a good note to end on. I thank the Minister.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 8.23 p.m. go dtí 9.50 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 6 Aibreán 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 8.23 p.m. until 9.50 a.m., on Wednesday, 6 April 2022.
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