Dáil Éireann - Volume 623 - 06 July, 2006
Other Questions. - Tourism Promotion.
Mr. Sherlock Mr. Sherlock
Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the establishment of a tourism product and business innovation fund to facilitate innovation and research and development in the area of tourism, in line with the recent Irish Tourist Industry Confederation report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26939/06]
Ms Shortall Ms Shortall
Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to a new report by the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation on competitiveness in the tourism industry; if his attention has further been drawn to its conclusion that pricing is one of the factors adversely affecting the competitiveness of the tourism market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26938/06]
Mr. G. Mitchell Mr. G. Mitchell
Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will introduce a soft loan scheme as outlined in the recent ITIC report, Ireland’s Competitive Position in Tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26671/06]
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the cost factors currently affecting the development of the tourism industry; if he has in mind proposals to address the issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27615/06]
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he is satisfied that tourism locations here are sufficiently competitive with similar locations in Europe and worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27616/06]
Mr. O’Donoghue Mr. O’Donoghue
Mr. O’Donoghue: I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 11, 14, 342 and 343 together.
As I have often said, maintaining and growing competitiveness is the major challenge facing the tourism industry. The industry operates in a fiercely competitive environment and faces major challenges if it is to remain on the path of sustainable and well dispersed growth. Tourism policy has been reviewed and re-invigorated following the report of the tourism policy review group in autumn 2003. The challenges facing the industry have been well described and the path towards addressing them laid out in the New Horizons report on Irish tourism policy. New Horizons identified the restoration of competitiveness as one of the greatest challenges facing the industry. It set out a practical action plan with more  than 70 recommendations. Good progress on the implementation of these recommendations was reported on in the final report of the tourism action plan implementation group, which was published in March 2006 and is available on my Department’s website. The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation was closely involved with the work of the implementation group.
I have welcomed the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation’s Report on Ireland’s Competitive Position in Tourism, which is an intelligent contribution to the debate on the state of Irish tourism, as it reflects many of the issues and challenges that surfaced in the New Horizons report. The ITIC report puts forward a useful agenda for the tourism industry to lift its game and the various players involved need to give it careful attention. The tourism strategy implementation group, which I have recently appointed, will work with the industry and Departments and agencies to address a number of key areas, in particular, competitiveness, productivity and skills, sustainability, regional spread and product development. ITIC is closely involved with this process.
As for specific recommendations in the ITIC report on a tourism product and business innovation fund and a soft loan scheme, I will await the outcome of the work of Fáilte Ireland on its new Tourism Product Development Strategy 2007-2013, which is being finalised by the high level group set up by the body and chaired by Mr. Dan Flinter and which will be a valuable input to the work of my Department on the next national development plan. The tourism agencies continue to monitor Ireland’s competitiveness as a tourism destination. Overall Ireland is not perceived as an expensive destination to get to but that there are issues about the relative cost of some on-the-ground amenities.
In 2005, Tourism Ireland undertook a pilot project that focused on benchmarking Ireland’s availability on-line against our key competitors in the top four markets — Great Britain, the USA, France and Germany — regarding cost availability and choice of flights, hotels and car hire. Overall Ireland is very competitive in these sectors in the on-line arena. Fáilte Ireland’s visitor attitude survey shows that the area of value, price and good all-round value for money remains an important prerequisite for visitors when considering Ireland as their holiday destination, as does the availability of reasonably priced accommodation and competitively priced air and sea fares.
The reality is that Ireland is not a cheap or low cost destination. The economy operates on a partnership basis and tourism is a services industry, which relies heavily on labour. Economic and social policy operates on the basis of seeking to ensure those in employment are paid fair wages, which impacts on costs. No one wants to turn back the clock in this regard. Nevertheless better management can secure greater productivity and  more efficient uses of resources employed with a knock-on benefit in operating costs. Fáilte Ireland has a range of programmes to help the industry in this area.
At more than €140 million, Exchequer support for tourism is at unprecedented levels this year. The needs of the industry are increasingly reflected in Government policies and analyses across a wide spectrum. In addition to its economic benefits, tourism plays an important role in supporting the peace process where it is the leading area of North-South economic co-operation. Despite all of the shocks and uncertainties in the international marketplace over the past four years and the destructive nay-saying that is all too common in certain media circles, Irish tourism has managed to weather the storm and continues to grow. The official CSO tourism and travel figures for the first four months of 2006 reflect the healthy state of the industry. Visitor numbers increased by almost 13%. This follows on a record visitor number performance in 2005 with almost 7 million overseas visitors. However, despite the record performance, we cannot be complacent.
The industry, not the Government, delivers visitors. The industry has to aim, at all times, to operate at optimum competitiveness and to seek to deliver value for money and a good visitor experience. The Government has given an unprecedented level of commitment and support for the Irish tourism industry. It is working in partnership with the industry to help it meet its current challenges and will continue to do so in the future.
Mr. Wall Mr. Wall
Mr. Wall: The report mentioned in the question states an estimated €1 billion is required for the lifetime of the development plan. What is the situation regarding such figures compared with the last development plan? In his press release of June 20 the Minister stated he would call on all players identified in the report to give careful consideration to the actions proposed.
During the past week the “Morning Ireland” programme on RTE has had a regular investigative spot on tourism. The overall picture is that in many instances local authorities fail regarding signposts and tourist facilities. How can we relate the international marketing worth €325 million to what is required at local level? Local authorities have a major role to play. How does that bill compare with what we spent previously? How will the Minister, local authorities and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government try to improve basic tourist facilities such as signposting and the cost of food? According to “Morning Ireland”, these issues upset tourists.
We spent €325 million on marketing and €210 million on developing tourist spots and other products. How will those amounts be related and is it feasible? What is the breakdown for local authorities? A proposal was made regarding development and training involving an amount of  €175 million. A need for training was also mentioned during the debate on “Morning Ireland”.
The Minister stated he must wait for Fáilte Ireland’s proposals. How realistic are these figures in terms of the national development plan? What connection can be made between the Departments of Arts, Sports and Tourism and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities to implement this package which would give us a competitive edge in tourism?
Mr. O’Donoghue Mr. O’Donoghue
Mr. O’Donoghue: I will answer the final question first. The group established to examine the tourism industry and bring forward specific recommendations made more than 70 recommendations in its final report, New Horizons for Irish Tourism An Agenda for Action. This includes the question of interaction with State agencies, including local authorities, with a view to improving the product which also includes signage.
The implementation group I subsequently established engaged with the authorities, agencies and Departments concerned with a view to progressing the recommendations contained in the original report. I recently appointed a new implementation group which will not be as intensive as the previous group but which, nonetheless, will monitor progress to ensure the recommendations are implemented.
The previous implementation group had a considerable degree of success and I expect the same level of success from this group. Therefore, a group is in place which has the objective of liaising with State agencies, local authorities and Departments to ensure the recommendations contained in New Horizons for Irish Tourism An Agenda for Action are implemented. It is pointless to have such an elaborate report if it is not implemented. It is a waste of time and money. This report is being implemented. It is good value for money and is not a waste of time.
Regarding how the request for €1 billion in the ITIC report compares with the past, I imagine during the past ten years between the public and private sectors anything up to €4 billion was spent on building up the Irish tourism product. That is a ballpark figure. The figure mentioned by ITIC may not be achieved in the context of what will be provided in the new national development plan. However, we will seek to have an elaborate tourism policy and strategy and funding for it contained in the plan.
It is important for the outcome of the analysis taking place to be input into the plan before we state precisely what we seek. Our plans will be ambitious and we will seek to improve the product considerably. We do so because we face increasing competitiveness from eastern European countries in the immediate future. If we are to continue with the progress we have made, and I am encouraged by the early results for this year which show a 13% increase, we must continue to  improve and provide a quality holiday experience.
Mr. Deenihan Mr. Deenihan
Mr. Deenihan: Is the Minister concerned that according to recent figures, the US market seems to have decreased and the trend of bed night losses in the west seems to be continuing? In that context, the ITIC report specifically mentioned business tourism. At present, one does not pay VAT when one attends a business conference in Northern Ireland. However, one does so in the Republic of Ireland. Will the Minister entertain proposals put forward by the industry for a VAT refund for business tourists who come here? It is a lucrative market and we do not fully capitalise on it.
Regarding the soft loan proposal, a large number of our tourism products have gone stale. They need upgrading and to be made more interesting, and they require the use of modern technology. Many of them were put in place in the 1980s and 1990s when we did not have the same methods of presenting products and holding exhibitions. Those centres need a grant scheme and they may also need a loan scheme. It should seriously be considered. In 2004 the west coast region had 3.2 million or 3.3 million fewer holiday bed nights than in 1999. How will that be addressed?
Mr. O’Donoghue Mr. O’Donoghue
Mr. O’Donoghue: I stated I was very pleased with the Central Statistics Office figures published earlier this month which showed a double digit growth in overall visitor numbers for the first four months of the year, driven by the British market which represented a growth of 12% or 127,000 visitors, which was quite considerable. The number of European visitors increased by more than one fifth, leading to an additional 97,000 visitors during the same four-month period. It is simply not correct to state the North American market was down for the first four months of the year. In fact, the year to date has shown an increase in the number of North American visitors of 1.7%. It was particularly pleasing that in the last month of the four month period examined by the Central Statistics Office, the increase was a whopping 12.6% from North America.
These figures overall confirm a pick-up of considerable proportions and even long-haul markets were up by over 3% after a slow start to the year. I am not saying these figures are reflected in every region but we are showing continued strong growth for the first four months of the year. That is not reflective of a stale product or one which people reject. It is the opposite. It is reflective of a product chosen by discerning visitors because of its quality. I have never denied the need to improve that. As I said to Deputy Wall, we will seek to do so through the new national develop ment plan but we should not talk down our product.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.
Dáil Éireann 623 Other Questions. Tourism Promotion.