Dáil Éireann - Volume 387 - 23 February, 1989

Ceisteanna-Questions. Oral Answers. - Tourism Statistics.

2. Mr. Kavanagh asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if his attention has been drawn to the concern of many people in the tourist industry regarding (a) the accuracy of tourism statistics and (b) what constitutes a tourist; if he has any plans to use available technology to reflect more accurately the performance [1458] statistics of Bord Fáilte's promotional activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

4. Mr. Nealon asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport the method used in calculating the tourist statistics as used by his Department and Bord Fáilte; the agency or agencies involved in the compilation of the figures; the manner in which a particular visitor to the country is classified as a tourist or otherwise; and if he has satisfied himself with the accuracy of the tourist figures.

Mr. Lyons: I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 4 together.

The Central Statistics Office are the agency responsible for the compilation and publication of statistics on tourism and travel. I understand that these statistics, in so far as they relate to overseas visitor numbers to Ireland, are arrived at by means of two all-year round surveys — country of residence survey and passenger card inquiry survey — conducted by the CSO at major airports and sea ports. The results of these two surveys are subsequently subjected to minor adjustments by Bord Fáilte to take account of overseas visitors who come to this country via Northern Ireland.

In classifying visitors as tourists Bord Fáilte use the internationally accepted World Tourism Organisation definition of a tourist, that is visitors staying for any reason at least 24 hours, but not more than one year, in the country visited.

As by far the major element of total tourist traffic and revenue is generated on air and sea routes into Ireland, the CSO and Bord Fáilte are satisfied that their survey methods and resultant statistics provide an accurate measure of overseas tourist numbers.

For the purposes of market research, Bord Fáilte supplement CSO statistics with their own sophisticated survey on the performance of detailed segments of the market to which promotional activities are directed. While this survey is undertaken in conjunction with the air [1459] and sea carriers and contains much sensitive commercial information, increasing use is made of more computer-based analyses in examining the effectiveness of marketing strategies.

There is a provision in this year's budget of £0.25 million being made available to enable Bord Fáilte to develop a data base on tourists coming to Ireland, including details of all types of holiday taken. The intention is to boost tourist numbers by increasing the number of return visits. Tourism businesses will be able to use this data base to target their marketing thus making their promotion effort more effective.

The board are also currently developing a major, new, computerised tourist information and reservation system which will provide further data for market analyses.

Mr. Kavanagh: Would the Minister not agree that tourism statistics are now becoming a joke since, as a result of emigration, many visits are made by people coming to see friends or attend funerals? Following an exposé in yesterday's Irish Press it is estimated that the number of tourists from Britain last year was 112,000, while the statistical information from the Central Statistics Office indicates that 1.5 million people came here on holiday last year. Does the Minister not agree that it is necessary to have better statistics in order to judge the performance of Bord Fáilte? We have the necessary technology and we must be able to assess Bord Failte's success in attracting pure tourists rather than visitors.

Mr. Lyons: I accept that there continues to be questioning as to the numbers coming in through the ports. People are asking what constitutes a tourist or a visitor and are trying to draw a distinction between them. Very often figures are used to say that our predictions are not being achieved because people are coming for reasons other than tourism. Is it not wonderful that people can come in such numbers because of the access transport which is available?

[1460] Mr. J. O'Keeffe: That is a big joke from a Cork Minister.

Mr. Lyons: Is it not just as well that they are here to spend their money, whether they are visiting family or friends or here as businessmen attending various promotions? It all adds up.

Miss Quill: It adds up to nothing.

Mr. Lyons: I do not know if Deputies opposite are prepared to define a tourist. The World Tourism Organisation's definition of a tourist, which is used by Bord Fáilte, is mentioned in the reply. In compiling the number of overseas visitors, the CSO ask respondents to indicate the main purpose of their visit, i.e., business, tourism, VFR or other reasons. These are the categories on the passenger inquiry card. In 1987 CSO figures for overseas visitors for all markets were 2.037 million, under the following headings: business, 17 per cent; tourism, 35 per cent; VFR, 41 per cent; others, 7 per cent. The Department and Bord Fáilte have been in consultation with the CSO, particularly during the past 18 months, regarding all statistics relating to tourism numbers, revenue and employees. Bord Fáilte are satisfied with the accuracy of the overall figure for visitor numbers. However, they are worried about the market breakdown of this figure and feel that estimates for continental Europe, for example, are probably too low. The question in the CSO survey should relate to holidaymakers, not tourists. This is particularly the case in relation to the UK market. Most respondents give visiting friends or relatives, rather than tourism, as their primary purpose in travelling. In reality many of them have come here to holiday.

Mr. Nealon: Is the Minister aware that of the 1.5 million so-called tourists who came here from Britain last year it is now accepted by all involved in tourism that only 120,000 were tourists in the true meaning, using tourist facilities and hotels? Would be accept that the claim of a boom in tourism has been shown [1461] to be a total sham and, indeed, slightly fraudulent? Would he withdraw that type of figure in order to establish a proper concept and plan properly for tourism? Regarding the definition of a tourist, would the Minister claim that a young emigrant from an area near Knock airport, coming back five times in a year for overnight stays to help his parish win a championship competition, should be classified as five tourists in the statistics?

Mr. Lyons: I have indicated that the subject of the Deputy's long question comes down to the problem that the figures for the pure tourism market——

Mr. Nealon: Tourists creating jobs, using facilities.

Mr. Lyons: Bord Fáilte and the Central Statistics Office——

Mr. J. Mitchell: They create fictional figures to sustain themselves.

An Ceann Comhairle: I have to advise the House that the allocation of time for Priority Questions is exhausted and I must now proceed to deal with other questions.

Mr. Carey: The Minister is crucifying the industry.

An Ceann Comhairle: I hope the Minister will have regard to the statement I have just made. I have no discretion in this matter. It is laid down in Standing Orders.

Mr. Lyons: I know the concern of Deputies is genuine. We are addressing the problem.

Mr. Nealon: John Wilson's “Fairytales of Ireland”.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order. I am calling the question in the name of Deputy Hegarty.

[1462] Mr. Kavanagh: I wish to raise on the Adjournment the subject matter of this question.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will communicate with the Deputy. Number 5, please.

Mr. J. Mitchell: On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy further erode the precious time for Questions?

Mr. J. Mitchell: It is a point of order of some seriousness. What recourse has the House to pursue Ministers who give fictional figures for jobs or tourists?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order.

Mr. J. Mitchell: It is a very serious matter.

Mr. Lyons: If the Deputy puts down a question, I will answer it. It is as simple as that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Minister, I have called No. 5.

Mr. Lyons: I beg your pardon.