The Irish Short-stay Visa Waiver Programme was introduced as part of the Government's Jobs Initiative last year to promote tourism from emerging markets. Following a positive review of its impact, my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality decided in March to extend the Programme for a further four years.
Tourism Ireland, the agency responsible for promoting Ireland overseas, has been working hard to maximise the benefits of the Visa Waiver Programme, promoting it to travel trade contacts, industry partners and consumers through extensive marketing activity and media relations in relevant markets. Since the Programme was first introduced, there has been a noted increase in demand from tour operators for visits to Ireland. 24 new tour operators and travel agents who already programme the UK are programming the Republic of Ireland in 2012 for the first time on the back of the new visa arrangements and further growth is anticipated for 2013. There is also evidence of increased interest in Ireland from individual travellers from these markets and, since seventy-two per cent of wealthy Chinese people are now opting for an individual, high-end travel experience, Tourism Ireland is also targeting this demographic by highlighting the new short-stay visa. With additional tours and other visitors availing of the waiver, the Irish tourist industry is clearly benefitting from this extra business.
I am committed to attracting tourists from beyond our traditional markets and to exploiting the long-term opportunities presented by developing markets such as the countries covered by the Visa Waiver. Tourism Ireland continues to target potential holidaymakers in these markets by working closely with airlines and tour operators to increase exposure and demand for holidays to Ireland, and to highlight the improved access to Ireland from Asia and the Middle East.