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Tourism Industry.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 17 February 2005

Thursday, 17 February 2005

Ceisteanna (8, 9, 10)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

7 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the uneven spread of tourists throughout the country despite increased access; the measures he proposes to put in place to remedy this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5344/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Gormley

Ceist:

25 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the measures which are in place to tackle the growing disparity in tourism levels among the regions, particularly the underperformance of areas outside the major urban centres in which there is no major airport close by; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5161/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

30 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his response to recent remarks from Fáilte Ireland which highlight the need for balanced infrastructural development if tourism is to be expanded in the regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5324/05]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (25 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

As these are three oral questions, not more than 18 minutes is allotted.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 25 and 30 together. I do not think we will need that much time. I refer Deputies to my earlier reply to Question No. 4.

A number of questions have been tabled. While the Minister provided a very comprehensive answer earlier, there are other questions to ask. One of the reasons for the fall off in tourist numbers in the midlands and west is our seeming failure to communicate to tourists from the United Kingdom a reason to come to Ireland. Previously, tourists came here because we successfully communicated reasons of landscape and culture. Current research indicates that British tourists no longer consider themselves to have a good reason to come here. It is very important for Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to sell reasons for people abroad to come here.

The major collapse in the British leisure market has been manifested in the declining number of walkers, golfers, anglers and pleasure boaters coming to central Ireland. Does the Minister have any views on how we can better communicate the message that tourists should come here? Does he have any proposals to arrest the decline in the British leisure market and the numbers coming here for leisure activities? I am sure the Minister agrees that the nature of holidaying has changed. People take three or four short breaks each year rather than the traditional two weeks.

Will the Deputy ask a question?

While the midlands and west benefited from traditional holidays, does the Minister have any plans to rebalance the market between these parts of the country and the east, which is doing very well?

In replying to Question No. 4, I set out the details of plans we have made and implemented with a view to redressing the imbalance to which Deputy Deenihan referred. It certainly exists. Last year saw the largest number of visitors ever to our shores of 6.4 million. Revenue from tourism also increased. While the number of tourists from mainland Europe and the United States of America increased substantially, the difficulty arose with a slight drop off of approximately 1% in the number of visitors from Britain. Several factors were involved in this trend, not least of which was competition from within Britain itself where a major campaign was launched by tourism interests with a view to keeping people at home. In addition, independent former eastern bloc countries ran major campaigns in Britain.

It is sometimes forgotten that intrinsically attached to fluctuations in visitor numbers from Britain is the exchange rate between sterling and the euro. Currently, the value of the dollar against the euro disincentivises some Americans from travelling to Ireland despite the growth of the market. Tourism Ireland is engaged in the most aggressive marketing campaign in which it has ever been involved in Britain where we are spending approximately 38% of our total marketing fund this year to redress any difficulties which arose last year. Incidentally, a decrease of 1% in the British market last year represented a pretty good result by international standards. Given the decline in visitor numbers from Britain to other countries, one could describe the Irish experience as a heel against the head. I hope sincerely that Ireland has many heels against the head on 27 February at Lansdowne Road.

The Minister will be aware that the questions related more to the geographical spread of visitors than to tourist numbers. Does he think an opportunity is being missed in the context of access for walkers? High profile parts of the west are still the subject of ongoing, serious and contentious problems notwithstanding the work of Comhairle na Tuaithe. Members will recall the debate on public rights of way in the House. Can the Minister do anything to ensure that the numerous scenic walkways in the midlands and Ulster become the focus of a marketing initiative by Fáilte Ireland?

That is outside the scope of the question.

People could be encouraged to visit these unspoilt walking areas which are away from Killarney, Dublin and Clifden.

You have made your point and are speaking outside the scope of the question.

On a separate note, the decentralisation of Departments might help.

Most parts of Ireland experienced an increase in visitor numbers last year. While the south west and north west did not experience an increase, Dublin saw an increase of the significant order of 11%. I have acknowledged that while numbers increased, not every area and sector benefited. While the hotels sector did well, the bed and breakfast and farmhouse-guesthouse sector did not. While Dublin did extremely well, the south west, north west and west were not as successful. Our challenge is to establish a degree of equality or equivalence among sectors and regions. I outlined in reply to Question No. 4 the steps being taken to ensure that happens.

Deputy Gogarty is correct to imply that walking holidays are of immense importance. Comhairle na Tuaithe was established to resolve the problems landowners had with access and liability for accidents which occurred on their properties. Recent judgments on the Occupiers' Liability Act 1995 have been of great benefit to landowners who may now feel encouraged to allow walkers to access their lands with a degree of confidence. I encourage and respectfully request landowners to assist the national cause of tourism by opening their lands to walkers. It is important to the country and might even be described as a patriotic act.

Hear, hear.

Does the Minister have any evidence to support the claim that visitors to the Dublin region are mainly young people on short holidays rather than families? The loss to the sector involves the reduction in the number of families coming here. Short holidays seem to be popular with young people. As we know with regard to wedding fairs etc., we have such visitors. We are losing out on families coming to Ireland. Young people come for festivals or international gigs to see bands such as U2 and others. We receive many such visitors, but in the overall context, families are not coming here. When they do, they do not visit the west and other similar regions. With regard to partying, the holidaymaker is focused on where the action is.

I have heard a lot about the action at stag nights and hen parties, but have not been invited to any.

The Minister is past it.

The Deputy should speak for himself. If he is past it, that is his business. He is right in that many visitors coming from Britain are young people and they come for the events he described. They are more than welcome. However, we are also getting other kinds of visitors. Family visitors tend to spread out into the regions.

It is interesting to note from data that visitors coming to Ireland from the United States are normally over the age of 35, fairly educated, used to travelling and discerning. That is important because that kind of visitor spreads out into the regions, which is why we are so interested in growing the American market to have equivalence among the regions. We have a good marketing campaign in the US. There are eight large travel agent seminars this year in major cities in the US, and such seminars are very successful. I attended and spoke at one in Los Angeles last week. The major players in the trade in California were at the event and this has been replicated in other US cities.

I anticipate a substantial increase in the number of visitors from the US and, because of the age profile and other profiles attached to visitors from there, I anticipate an increase in the number of visitors to the regions this year. Allied to the other measures which I mentioned in reply to Question No. 4, this should ensure a much greater degree of equivalence. I am expecting that 2005 will surpass our best year, 2004. I hope this is reflected not just in Dublin but in the regions and sectors.

One of the reasons less people travel to the midlands and west is because fewer people bring cars to Ireland, especially from the UK. They come for shorter breaks and they travel by air. There is an increase in the number coming to Ireland by air, and this is likely to increase further in future.

The Deputy should confine himself to questions. Otherwise he may run out of time.

Will the Minister try to address the market that traditionally came by car and also encourage more people to come to Ireland by ferry? Will he try to address the issue of car hire? It has become more competitive but it could be more attractive.

Regarding the issue of regional tourism authorities, RTAs, will the Minister outline the review he is carrying out and which he promised on a number of occasions? It is also contained in the New Horizons report. A dynamic RTA can encourage many people to visit a region, which is important in the context of spread.

The Minister has been successful in bringing "Lassie" to Ireland.

The Deputy should confine himself to questions.

Will "Lassie" become the symbol of Irish tourism?

I will first deal with the issue of dogs. On a serious note, we are very pleased that Classic Media has decided to locate the"Lassie" film in Ireland. Filming begins in April of this year, and it is an exciting project. When discussing this with Classic Media last week in New York, I brought along a representative of Tourism Ireland to discuss the possibility of the film being joined up for tourism purposes in terms of the promotion of the island of Ireland. Classic Media was quite excited about this.

My question was therefore appropriate, even though the Ceann Comhairle tried to cut me off.

There is a possibility of sequels and that Classic Media will become increasingly engaged with Tourism Ireland in terms of promoting Ireland in conjunction with promoting the film or films. We are particularly suited to Classic Media because all film relief uniquely applies not only to films but also to television projects. Classic Media has many property rights in the television market and is the provider of "Lassie".

With regard to the question of car hire, one of the most disappointing occurrences in Ireland in recent times is that visitors coming in from abroad who are over the age of 70 find it difficult to get insurance. That is desperately unfair, not just on the country but on the people coming in seeking to hire cars. It is a complaint which I heard in the US on a number of occasions. Just because a person is over the age of 70, he or she should not be denied insurance. Where this occurs, it should be reviewed and examined as a matter of urgency.

It is true there was a decline in the number of people travelling to Ireland by ferry last year and this obviously had an adverse effect on the tourism industry. This would be indicative of a decrease in the number of visitors from Britain, which at approximately 1% was very slight. A major marketing drive, which takes up about 38% of our marketing funds for 2005, is taking place in Britain and should yield significant results.

The RTAs are being reviewed in the context of the New Horizons report and the implementation group is specifically looking at the relationship between the RTAs, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. This is necessary because despite that we transferred functions from Fáilte Ireland to Tourism Ireland and defined the functions of Fáilte Ireland, we never really defined the relationship between the RTAs, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. We increased funding for RTAs this year by 20%, underlining the importance I attach to the regions. It is important the RTAs become ever more viable in order that we ensure they are in a position to market their regions effectively on the national and international stage.

I am particularly pleased at the increase in the domestic market during 2004. This is our largest market and it increased by 16% and was worth revenue of €1.2 billion.

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