Dáil Éireann - Volume 557 - 20 November, 2002

Written Answers. - Tourism Industry.

  63. Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on recent comments by the chief executive of the Consumers Association of Ireland regarding prices and standards in the tourism industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22481/02]

  Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism (Mr. O'Donoghue): I am keenly aware of concern among consumers about value in certain parts of the tourism sector. The comments of the chief executive of the Consumers Association of Ireland in relation to Ireland's image as a tourist destination are broadly consistent with some of the findings contained in recent visitor attitude surveys carried out by Bord Fáilte. Nevertheless, it is clear that there are strong messages coming through from the consumer and we must heed them. While they continue to represent a minority view among the total numbers surveyed, the number of continental visitors, in particular, who see Ireland as a good value for money destination has declined in recent years.

  I have repeatedly stated that, as a tourist destination operating in an increasingly value sensitive market place, Ireland cannot afford to lose its competitive edge. We need to remember that value for money is the real issue, not price. Price and quality are the key determinants of value for money. Any increase in price levels which is not accompanied by an increase in quality and standards runs the risk of undermining the sector. Visitor concerns about price levels seem to relate to the cost of goods and services purchased during their stay rather than the price of holiday offers, access or accommodation. There is little in the visitor attitude surveys to suggest any deterioration in standards of service or the quality of the facilities on offer. The most recent survey shows that more than 90% of visitors were satisfied with the friendliness and hospitality experienced while on holiday here.

  At a time when we are spending an unprecedented level of money in marketing Ireland [1424] abroad, the greatest threat to our image is negative word of mouth. A reputation for poor value for money would be hard to shake off and would make the task of marketing Ireland harder. Ireland continues to offer good value for money, but we cannot afford to be complacent. I recently launched the new Discover Ireland brochure which contains great value for money packages. I urge people to avail of them. The quality of service and facilities on offer in Ireland has never been better. In response to recent challenges, many tourist operators have responded with excellent value for money packages which have brought increased business, particularly on the domestic front, which has continued to grow despite the controversy around price levels. Consumers vote with their feet and Irish holiday makers continue to spend a good portion of their holiday budgets at home.

  In policy terms, maintaining standards and quality in the tourism sector is clearly identified as a priority in An Agreed Programme for Government. The establishment of a new National Tourism Development Authority will bring Bord Fáilte and CERT together to promote the development of sustainable tourist facilities and services, including the promotion of training, human resources and marketing skills. The new authority will be ideally placed to help the industry address the new set of challenges facing tourism in the future, including issues such as value for money, competitiveness and quality.

  Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 61.

  Question No. 65 answered with Question No. 56.

  Question No. 66 answered with Question No. 61.