Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Ceisteanna (45)

Marc MacSharry


45. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has allocated specific funding or resources to attracting tourists from the Chinese market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40155/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (9 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

Has the Minister allocated specific resources to attracting tourists from the Chinese market? Perhaps he will enlighten us as to what he has done in that regard. The tourism action plan for the period from 2019 to 2021 does not once mention China or the Chinese market despite the fact that the Chinese are, by some considerable distance, the biggest spending tourists in the world. Chinese tourists make 130 million journeys and spend $277 billion per annum.

The Deputy is right that China is a very important market that deserves considerable attention. I hope he will be satisfied that the tourism agencies are well aware of this and are acting accordingly.

Under the Government's global Ireland strategy, we are committed to developing tourism from new and emerging tourism markets with potential for Ireland. This year, Tourism Ireland has commenced the implementation of a strategy for growth in these markets. In budget 2019, the Government provided almost €4 million in additional funding to Tourism Ireland for this purpose. China, as the largest source of outbound tourism in the world, is one of the main emerging markets we are targeting.

While the resources allocated to any particular market is an operational matter for Tourism Ireland and not for me, I am aware that the additional funding provided has allowed the agency to substantially increase its activity in the Chinese market this year. It has doubled its investment to €1 million and increased its on-the-ground marketing team to 12, including a presence in Hong Kong. It has also increased its publicity, digital and social media activity in the market and continues to interact with the travel trade in the market.

To make the most of the potential from a market such as China it is important that the industry in Ireland is sufficiently prepared to be able to offer visitors a quality experience that meets their requirements. To this end, Fáilte Ireland is working with Irish tourism businesses across the country to help them capitalise on this potential by training them in how to meet the specific needs of the Chinese visitor. Its Get China Ready programme was developed in partnership with Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland and is jointly delivered with the support of the Centre for Competitiveness, which is the licensed provider of China Outbound Tourism Research Institute programmes in Ireland. With the support of Government, the work being done by the tourism agencies both in China and here in Ireland, together with the industry, leaves us well placed to attract increased tourism from China in the coming years.

Some of the points the Minister makes are certainly welcome. What is the language capability of Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland in the supports they are providing to the industry? Are specific initiatives being taken for the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, accommodation providers and so on to upskill in Cantonese and Mandarin and to facilitate them in getting China ready, as the Minister described it? I suggest that €1 million is not a very large investment given the kind of market we are seeking to attract. A good example of a country with a similar population to Ireland is New Zealand. Although one could argue it is closer to the Chinese market, New Zealand has some 450,000 Chinese visitors a year. The best example is probably Iceland. While Ireland had between 70,000 and 75,000 Chinese visitors last year, Iceland, a country of just 340,000 people, welcomed 130,000 Chinese tourists in 2016 and those numbers have continued. Will the Minister consider asking Tourism Ireland to increase its commitment to the Chinese market given that Chinese tourists are the biggest spenders, Chinese people undertake the largest number of outbound journeys and China is the fastest growing tourism market? Will he do more and commit more to attracting Chinese people to Ireland and, at the same time, commit to getting our own industry China ready?

I am quite prepared to have a conversation with Tourism Ireland on the commitment to which the Deputy referred. I believe the number of Chinese tourists coming here per annum is nearly 100,000. While €1 million may seem a small amount, one must remember that China is a very long way away. It has an enormous population but I acknowledge that if we were to get a very small number of its overseas tourists, it would be a very large number for us. I will not interfere with Tourism Ireland's judgments on how much of its funding allocation from last year it should spend on the Chinese market. That is Tourism Ireland's job. I will, however, convey the Deputy's comments to Tourism Ireland and his view that the Chinese market may be underexplored at this stage. We have a staff of 12 in the tourism agencies in China who are obviously realising the potential that exists.

Tourism Ireland estimates that 100,000 Chinese tourists visited the island of Ireland in 2018. While visitor numbers from China to Ireland are small when compared with established tourism markets, it should be remembered that Chinese visitors spend more than the average tourist and typically stay longer than visitors from markets closer to home.

I ask the Minister to conclude. He can contribute again for one minute.

Some 55% of Chinese outbound tourists spend in excess of €2,260 per visit so they are valuable.

The Minister is depriving others of speaking time. Deputy MacSharry has one minute.

I will take less time to make it easier for the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

On the Fáilte Ireland side, I ask that we seek to increase the resources specifically allocated to getting our industry China ready, as the Minister described it. I agree with the Minister that many of our providers, specifically the average hotelier, feel somewhat challenged when welcoming Chinese visitors because they do not have the language or cultural understanding that might be required to give Chinese tourists an adequate experience. Tourism Ireland has invested €1 million in the Chinese market and the Minister has agreed to ask the agency to consider increasing that figure.

Could a specific unit within Fáilte Ireland be enabled and resourced to enhance properly the capability of our service providers of accommodation, restaurants etc. so that they are confident in welcoming Chinese visitors?

I will convey what the Deputy says to Fáilte Ireland and will not express a view on it particularly. I will ask its views and whether it thinks this is worth doing as the Deputy suggests.

In response to any criticism that suggests we are not doing enough, there are direct flights, as the Deputy knows. Hainan Airlines operates a direct flight to Dublin from Beijing and Cathay Pacific operates direct flights from Hong Kong to Dublin. These flights are suspended for the winter but are expected to resume next year. There are also hopes of new flights from China coming on stream next year. While there are many indirect flights available from mainland China and Hong Kong into Ireland, maintaining direct flights and adding new routes is seen as very important to developing increased tourism from China into Ireland. That indicates the importance the Government attaches to this in that it has agreed there should be direct flights between here and China.