Dáil Éireann - Volume 661 - 24 September, 2008

Written Answers. - Tourism Promotion.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to provide €300 million to assist the industry, tourism agencies and local authorities in delivering the ambitious world-class product outlined in Fáilte Ireland’s Tourism Product Development Strategy 2007 to 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29315/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to place a greater emphasis on the protection, conservation, interpretation and access to Ireland’s natural and built heritage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29316/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made in regard to the commitment in the programme for Government to deepen North-South co-operation on tourism in view of the success of Tourism Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29317/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to establish, through Fáilte Ireland, an innovation fund to promote and support the development of tourism products that are new to the market here and to promote best practice, particularly in terms of environmental sustainability and accessibility for tourists with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29318/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to develop with Fáilte Ireland, rural-based, package-style holidays through which bed and breakfast owners and farm holiday operators can offer activities such as walking, angling, golfing and cycling in addition to the provision of accommodation and quality home-cooked meals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29319/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to develop a rolling programme of national culture, musical and literary festivals to enhance the tourism product here, in particular through the establishment of a new fund of €28 million for the creation of a small number of major annual events over the period to 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29320/08]

[580] Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to work with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to capitalise on the beauty of the countryside here and to promote Ireland as a healthy activity holiday destination for walking, cycling, angling, golfing, sailing, equestrian and marine holidays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29321/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to invest €335 million under the national development plan in marketing tourism here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29325/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to seize the opportunities presented by the open skies arrangement with the US to substantially increase the number of US visitors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29326/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to provide significant infrastructural development in the mid west area, as well as marketing support to the Shannon region for a transitional period to help consolidate existing markets and develop new sources of business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29327/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to build on the opportunities presented by the increasing availability of low-cost flights from mainland Europe and the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29328/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to undertake a strategic review of new and developing markets to identify the investment and actions needed to realise their potential; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29329/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to put in place a strong promotional programme for the new national conference centre in Dublin with a view to doubling the level of business tourism to Ireland from €400 million to €800 million per year over the next ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29330/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to investigate the feasibility of a regional conference centre in the Shannon and Limerick area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29331/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to encourage the tourism agencies to highlight national games to a greater degree in their promotional activities and continue the policy of attracting here suitable major international sporting events; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29332/08]

[581] Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to seek, with the tourism agencies and local authorities, suitable areas to develop and promote eco-tourism, as well as enhancing the existing north west project, the Green Box; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29333/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to invest in new information and communication technologies for marketing and customer relations management and training work with the regional tourism development boards, in conjunction with local authorities and the tourism industry, to develop comprehensive, interactive local area tourism websites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29334/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to invest €149 million under the National Development Plan 2007 to 2013 in training and human resources in the tourism sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29335/08]

Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress made regarding the commitment in the programme for Government to implement in full the Fáilte Ireland Competing through People Programme, which looks to people working in the industry as a principal source of competitive advantage, and their skills as a key variable in delivering strong business results; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29336/08]

  Deputy Martin Cullen: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1072 to 1090, inclusive, together.

I am setting out a schedule which lists each of the relevant tourism commitments and the progress thereon pertaining to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and the bodies under its aegis.

Provide €300 million to assist the industry, tourism agencies and local authorities in delivering the ambitious world-class product outlined in Fáilte Ireland’s Tourism Product Development Strategy 2007-2013.

Progress to date:

An allocation of €137 million has been provided under the National Development Plan, 2007-2013, to support, by way of grants through Fáilte Ireland, investment in tourism infrastructure, attractions and activity products over the Plan period. An additional allocation of €180 million has been provided under the NDP for the construction and operation of the National Conference Centre in Spencer Dock in Dublin.

To date, Fáilte Ireland has mostly targeted infrastructure provision (e.g., walking and cycling routes, beach management works, access to angling waters etc) by local authorities. Up to early September 2008, grants totalling over €25 million were announced for expenditure on projects around the country.

Separately, grants totalling almost €2.2 million were approved in September 2008 under Fáilte Ireland’s Historic Towns Initiative, for the further development of historic walking trails in 35 towns around the country.

[582] As the Plan continues, the focus of the investment will move towards investment in Visitor Attractions and the expansion of various commercial Visitor Activities. This programme is known as the Tourism Capital Investment Programme (TCIP), and applications for funding were invited before the end of April 2008. This Programme will provide support for the development of major visitor attractions and visitor activities.

Fáilte Ireland received almost 150 applications under the TCIP, which were evenly split between Attractions and Activities. Fáilte Ireland’s priority is to firstly evaluate the attractions seeking upgrading, and to assess activity projects put forward by the private sector subsequently.

Place much greater emphasis on the protection, conservation, interpretation and access to Ireland’s natural and built heritage.

Progress to date:

Fáilte Ireland’s Tourism Product Development Strategy 2007–2013 was subject to an environmental assessment. Issues around protection, conservation, interpretation and access to Ireland’s natural and built heritage are a key part of the Strategy with specific actions scheduled to be rolled out as appropriate.

Fáilte Ireland has also adopted an Environmental Action Plan which provides a framework for its work in sustainable tourism development over the period 2007-2009.

Under the TCIP, investment in Visitor Attractions will concentrate on bringing alive and increasing visitor access to our natural and built heritage.

Environmental conservation and sustainable design provisions have been incorporated into the guidelines for the assessment of projects under the mid-Shannon Corridor Tourism Infrastructure Scheme which was launched by An Taoiseach in June 2008.

Deepen North/South cooperation in tourism, building in particular on the success of Tourism Ireland as a dynamic and innovative cross-border body leading the way on mutually advantageous all-island economic co-operation.

Progress to date:

North South Ministerial Council Tourism Sectoral Meetings were held on 8th November 2007 in Dublin Castle and 29th May 2008 in Enniskillen. At the November 2007 meeting agreement was reached on Tourism Ireland’s Business Plan for 2008 and a Corporate Plan for the period 2008-2010.

Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board have produced an agreed paper on tourism priorities, under PEACE/INTERREG funding. Advertisements inviting applications for funding for suitable projects were published earlier this year and applications are currently being examined.

Tourism Ireland markets the island of Ireland as a holiday destination in over 20 markets across the world. Northern Ireland is presented prominently in all of Tourism Ireland’s global destination marketing campaigns which reach a potential audience worldwide of 200 million each year.

[583] Establish, through Fáilte Ireland, an innovation fund to promote and support the development of tourism products that are new to the Irish market and to promote best practice, particularly in terms of environmental sustainability and accessibility for tourists with disabilities.

Progress to date:

Fáilte Ireland have launched an innovation fund which offers assistance in respect of feasibility studies for innovative tourism products. This fund complements a range of other product development schemes which have been launched over the past year to support tourism infrastructure, attractions and activity projects, with an emphasis on innovation and environmental sustainability.

Fáilte Ireland has brought tourism suppliers together on a pilot basis in the South East region to innovate a “Family Fun” product, and will be rolling out further initiatives elsewhere for product offerings based on Adventure and Celtic Culture.

In line with its Environmental Action Plan 2007-2009, Fáilte Ireland has published a Review of Good Environmental Policy and Practice in the Tourism Sector.

Develop with Fáilte Ireland, rural-based package-style holidays through which B & B owners and Farm Holiday operators can offer activities such as walking, angling, golfing and cycling in addition to the provision of accommodation and quality home-cooked meals.

Progress to date:

A partnership of the Town and County Homes Association (TCHA) and Irish Farm Holidays (IFH) has come together, with the encouragement of Fáilte Ireland, to develop a number of theme-based holiday packages. Over 30 B&B owners in 14 counties have been selected and have agreed their specialist areas. The owners participated in a series of workshops between November 2007 and March 2008. Fáilte Ireland has continued to build on the initiatives and supports developed and tested in 2007 and the early months of 2008.

Irish Home Operators are being encouraged to become members of regional activity hubs. To date an adventure hub has been established in Cork/Kerry, a family-friendly hub in the South East, a rural activity hub in the Glen of Aherlow, a salmon centre of excellence in Ballina and a cultural hub in the Western islands of Inishturk, Inishbofin and Clare Island. A further heritage initiative in the Boyne Valley area is at the early stages of development.

Over the last year, Fáilte Ireland has financed a €0.5 million programme of marketing and support for the small accommodation sector which has focused on the development and enhancement of e-Business capability and providing operators with supports to target and develop new business. This has resulted in significant investment in websites, booking systems, search engine marketing campaigns and targeted promotions in key trade and consumer events.

Fáilte Ireland has established the Irish Homes Bed and Breakfast Working Group with an independent Chair to develop recommendations on the strategic development of the sector. The group includes representatives of the B&B sector as well as officials from both Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Irish Tourist Board. This group has met a number of times since May 2008 and is in the process of developing and recommending an action [584] plan to drive the growth of the sector in the context of the competitive tourism market and the evolving needs of consumers. It is expected that the Group’s final report will be available by the end of 2008.

It is anticipated that the report will include recommendations for further development and promotion of themed based holiday experiences and packages. The “Report on Standards and Quality Options for the B&B Sector in Ireland”, published by the B&B Associations in August will be a useful contribution to this work.

The marketing and communications plan for 2009 and beyond will be informed by this report in addition to further consumer research commissioned by Fáilte Ireland.

The training and development programme for the end of 2008 and 2009 will include additional eBusiness programmes for operators and more specialist workshops to encourage operators to add value to the guest experience in areas such as food, outdoor activity and special interest groups.

Develop a rolling programme of national culture, musical and literary festivals to enhance the Irish tourism product, in particular through the establishment of a new fund of €28 million for the creation of a small number of major annual events over the period to 2013.

Progress to date:

Fáilte Ireland is committed to continued support for a number of key festivals in 2008 and subsequent years under the Festivals and Cultural Events Initiative, the primary aim of which is to encourage the spatial spread of visitors throughout the country by strategically investing in attractive and sustainable festivals and cultural events that enhance the local tourism product and in turn expand regional tourism.

The Initiative operates by supporting existing and new festivals and cultural events throughout the regions which can best assist in achieving Fáilte Ireland’s objective of providing new and enhanced attractions for visitors both from overseas and from within Ireland.

Under the Festivals and Events programme, Fáilte Ireland has introduced a tiered investment model that enables it to offer multi-annual funding to key festivals across many regions of the country.

Over €3 million has been committed to level 1 and level 2 festivals for 2008 with a further €0.8 million allocated to smaller festivals by the regional tourism offices. This figure includes funds awarded to 16 festivals under the regularly funded scheme which will end in 2009. These 16 festivals were identified as major national festivals that can add significant benefit to the economy in their area and include festivals from a broad spectrum of arts disciplines.

After the acclaimed success of the re-Joyce and Beckett Festivals, in 2007 the Department supported the 50th anniversary of the Dublin Theatre Festival. This year it is supporting the centenary of the Hugh Lane Gallery, the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Gate Theatre, the Quadcentenary of the Flight of the Earls, and the Bicentenary of Thomas Moores’ Melodies.

[585] In light of their value to cultural tourism it is proposed to continue funding appropriate and commemorative cultural initiatives in the future. For example, the Department is currently providing seed funding for a major visual arts festival in Dublin in 2010 under the broad aegis of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Work with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to capitalise on the beauty of the Irish countryside and promote Ireland as a healthy activity holiday destination for walking, cycling, angling, golfing, sailing, equestrian and marine holidays.

Progress to date:

A fund of approximately €28 million has been earmarked under the Tourism Development Programme of the NDP for Fáilte Ireland to support investment in a set of outdoor and other activity pursuits.

Fáilte Ireland issued a call earlier this year for applications for investment support under the Tourism Capital Investment Programme for new activity pursuits for tourists.

Failte Ireland, in consultation with industry partners, has reviewed marketing strategies for activity and special interest holidays. Activities such as walking, cycling and angling provide excellent opportunities for tourists to visit and stay in rural areas. Looped walking routes, cycle hubs and improved angling infrastructure developed with NDP funding is being marketed internationally in partnership with Tourism Ireland and the tourism industry.

Building on the impetus generated by the hosting of the Ryder Cup in Ireland and the potential offered by the forthcoming Solheim Cup, growth in golfing holidays is being targeted through co-ordinated marketing campaigns designed to promote bundled value offers, “hidden gems” golf courses and ‘trophy’ themed tours.

Invest €335 million under the National Development Plan in marketing Irish Tourism.

Progress to date:

Tourism Ireland implements an extensive marketing programme each year for the island of Ireland in Great Britain, Mainland Europe, North America and in New and Developing Markets. In 2007, overseas visitor numbers and revenue earnings increased by 4% and 4.5% respectively in the South. In the first half of 2008 CSO Statistics show an increase of 2.5%in overseas visitor numbers.

In the context of Tourism Ireland’s 2008-2010 corporate plan, the objective is to continue to seek to win market share from our competitors. The plan sets the target of generating €16 billion for the island of Ireland in overseas revenue over the three-year period.

The Tourism Services budget of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism for 2008 is €170 million, including €50 million specifically for overseas marketing — the largest ever tourism marketing budget.

Tourism Ireland has completed a fundamental review of Tourism Brand Ireland in 2007 to ensure that the brand proposition will continue to resonate with visitors into the future having regard to the changes that have taken place in Ireland and the world marketplace [586] in the interim. New advertising and promotional materials will be produced in 2008 for rollout in 2009.

Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland have worked closely in developing a regional marketing strategy to help support a wider spread of overseas visitors across the island. This strategy highlights ease of access and the variety of things to do and see, particularly in the regions.

Seize the opportunities presented by the Open Skies arrangement with the US to substantially increase the number of US visitors. To this end, we will provide significant infrastructural development in the Mid West area, as well as marketing support to the Shannon region for a transitional period to help consolidate existing markets and develop new sources of business.

Progress to date:

An Economic and Tourism Development Plan for the Shannon Airport Catchment Area, developed by the Minister for Transport in cooperation with other relevant Ministers, was published in January 2008.

A special €3 million overseas marketing programme, designed to address the challenges to the Shannon Airport catchment area post Open Skies, was launched in February 2008. The marketing programme is the result of close collaboration between Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and a Tourism Working Group which has been specifically formed for this purpose. The new campaign — “Discover Ireland’s Wonderful West” — highlights the many attractions of the Western regions from Kerry to Donegal, including ease of direct access from many gateway cities, the good value fares and inclusive packages available, as well as showcasing a range of compelling offers from local industry.

The Mid-Shannon Corridor Tourism Infrastructure Investment Scheme was launched by An Taoiseach in June 2008. Since then, the Board, which will approve and certify projects submitted under the Scheme, has commenced its work, supported by Fáilte Ireland and Shannon Development, and the agencies have also organised several information seminars with tax practitioners and tourism operators to outline operational details of the Scheme.

Tourism Ireland’s strategy, “North America; Land of Opportunity” was launched by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism in 2006 and seeks to attract a significant increase in visitor numbers to the island by the year 2009.

Build on the opportunities presented by the increasing availability of low-cost flights from mainland Europe and the UK.

Progress to date:

Tourism Ireland works with airports and carriers in marketing campaigns to highlight the direct, competitive and convenient air access to Ireland.

Co-operative campaigns were implemented with a range of carriers in 2007, including Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Aer Arann and Easyjet, and are being continued in 2008. In addition cooperative campaigns have been implemented with sea carriers such as Stena, Irish Ferries and P&O.

[587] Particular emphasis has been placed on carriers and airports serving the regions of Ireland.

Undertake a strategic review of new and developing markets to identify the investment and actions needed to realise their potential.

Progress to date:

A review of new and developing markets, undertaken by Tourism Ireland, was launched at the end of 2007. The review sets out ambitious targets for both visitor numbers and revenue earnings over the period to 2013.

In order to position itself to secure increased business from new and developing markets, Tourism Ireland has established an office in Shanghai, China and has appointed representatives in Mumbai, India and Dubai. Tourism Ireland also plans to set up, with North South Ministerial approval, a Hub Office to manage the Asian markets.

Put in place a strong promotional programme for the new National Conference Centre in Dublin with a view to doubling the level of business tourism to Ireland from €400 million to €800 million per year over the next ten years.

Progress to date:

Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and the Dublin Convention Bureau are working closely with the Convention Centre Dublin — the operators of the new National Conference Centre — in marketing the Centre to secure bookings for 2010, when the Centre is scheduled to open, and beyond.

Construction of the Convention Centre Dublin is well-advanced and on schedule and already a number of conferences have been secured for September, 2010 onwards.

The Business Tourism Section of Fáilte Ireland working with Tourism Ireland and industry partners through the Business Tourism Forum, is implementing co-ordinated marketing strategies to grow high yield conference and incentive business from key overseas source markets to Ireland.

Investigate the feasibility of a Regional Conference Centre in the Shannon/Limerick area.

Progress to date:

The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism asked Fáilte Ireland to arrange an objective and independent study of the feasibility of such a facility. Consultants engaged to carry out the feasibility study have submitted a report to Fáilte Ireland, and this report has recently been presented to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.

Encourage the Tourism Agencies to highlight our National Games to a greater degree in their promotional activities and continue the policy of attracting suitable major sporting events to Ireland.

Progress to date:

The GAA from its most senior administrative level and throughout the regions and local areas are being encouraged to become more aware of the tourism potential of Gaelic Games and to work with the Tourism agencies on issues of information and access. Fáilte [588] Ireland, in association with the Heritage Council, has also been engaged in discussions with the GAA in connection with the future development of the GAA museum.

Fáilte Ireland’s International Sports Tourism Initiative (ISTI) is designed to attract major sporting events that can showcase Ireland as a major tourism destination. The events targeted have the ability to generate significant international media coverage and bring economic benefit to all the regions of Ireland.

The major sporting event supported in 2007 was Rally Ireland, a round of the World Rally Championship. This cross-border event took place in November 2007 and is estimated to have attracted approximately 150,000 spectators. It is estimated that the event generated revenue of €48 million on both sides of the border.

Galway will be one of eleven host ports in the Volvo Ocean Yacht Race 2008/2009. With Government support, Fáilte Ireland has agreed to sponsor the event for €8 million over 2008/2009. The race is expected to bring in over €35 million in revenue to the local economy.

The Solheim Cup is to be hosted by Ireland at Killeen Castle, Co. Meath in 2011. The Solheim Cup is a biennial transatlantic team matchplay competition which is considered the Ladies equivalent of the Ryder Cup. Government sponsorship — through Fáilte Ireland — for the Solheim Cup 2011 amounts to €2.5 million over 5 years.

Seek, with the Tourism Agencies and Local Authorities, suitable areas to develop and promote eco tourism, as well as enhancing the existing Northwest Project, the Green Box.

Progress to date:

The Tourism Infrastructure Fund, from which local authorities and other public bodies are eligible for support within Fáilte Ireland’s Product Development Programme, emphasises the provision of environmentally sustainable and enhancing infrastructure, so that an ecologically-friendly offering is developed.

The EU “Flower” symbol for accommodation which complies with specified eco-friendly criteria has been launched on a pilot basis within the Green Box area, and will feature, in 2008, for the first time on Fáilte Ireland websites and other marketing media.

Invest in new information and communication technologies for marketing and customer relations management and training.

Progress to date :

Fáilte Ireland’s suite of websites was redesigned and re-launched in 2007, with enhancements introduced, including an advanced interactive mapping facility to speedily allow the consumer to access accommodation and attractions of interest.

The Small Accommodation Sector support programme provides funding and support for the development of eBusiness capability and marketing through the provision of matched funding for investment in websites, booking systems and search engine marketing campaigns. Significant supports have been agreed for 2008 with all the representative bodies and associations.

[589] An eBusiness programme for small and medium accommodation providers has been designed to help operators promote their business online and sell more rooms through this channel. The programme is offered at two levels, Introductory, for those with little or no knowledge of the internet or email and at intermediate level, which will encourage operators to use the tools of the internet to grow and develop their business. Over 30 programmes, catering for over 350 operators took place between May and the end of June 2008. It is planned to deliver over 40 additional programmes, targeting over 500 businesses from October 2008 to June 2009.

Fáilte Ireland recently launched a new Web support initiative aimed at assisting tourism SMEs in the area of e-business and web development. This initiative is part of a broader e-business strategy designed to support SMEs in developing their web capability. Last year over a half of tourists who came to Ireland used the internet to plan their holiday and this is projected to increase to 75% by 2010.

The first phase of the Fáilte Ireland Web Support Initiative “WEB-CHECK” is well under way with 200 SMEs currently taking part in the programme. The businesses involved reflect the broad spectrum of the tourism industry with B&Bs, self catering, equestrian, activity, golf, hotels and attractions all actively engaged in the initiative.

WEB-CHECK essentially involves an SME being partnered with an e-business specialist who works onsite for one full day with the individual business in identifying e-business/web needs while providing guidance towards the appropriate solutions. Participating businesses gain practical, one to one advice from an expert who helps the individual SME through the process in order to maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

WEB-BUILD, the second phase of the initiative which will be launched later in 2008 will allow for the implementation of the agreed improvement measures as identified in WEB-CHECK. It is anticipated that approximately 80 SMEs will participate at this stage. Areas of focus within WEB-BUILD will involve delivering improvements to web-site functionality, on-line sales and e-marketing campaigns. The final phase, WEB-SKILLS, will provide additional training support through a series of regionally run workshops to continue strengthening the SMEs web presence.

Fáilte Ireland North West have undertaken a pilot project with 19 Hotels in Donegal, looking at the “On Line Marketing” techniques available to the industry. The course covered topics including how to optimise a website to increase traffic, the creation and operation of loyalty schemes and the distribution of e-zines. 19 Hotels have generated close to €0.5 million in bookings during the first half of 2008 on this programme.

Work with the Regional Tourism Development Boards, in conjunction with Local Authorities and the Tourism Industry, to develop comprehensive, interactive local area tourism websites. These will carry details of all possibilities in an area for tourists and will have a booking facility.

Progress to date:

The Discover Ireland website www.discoverireland.ie is the main tourism website for the Irish domestic holiday market and is powered by the National Tourism database known as the Tourism Contents System or TCS which is a comprehensive database of all activities, attractions, accommodation, events and businesses in the tourism industry.

[590] Hosted within discoveireland.ie, each region has its own website, thereby achieving significant economies of scale for hardware and software e.g. www.discoverireland.ie/west or www.discoverireland.ie/southwest. Within these sites the Tourism Contents System provides all the data relevant to tourism in that area. The TCS is updated on a daily basis within each region e.g. with details of upcoming festivals and events.

As a subset of the regional sites, a number of sub-regional sites have been created to focus on particular areas of tourism interest e.g. www.discoverireland.ie/connemara or www.discoverieland.ie/lakelands. As a subset of the regional site, each county is also represented under discoverireland.ie. For example, www.discoverireland.ie/cork or www.discoveireland.ie/offaly. This presents the data from the Tourism Contents System relevant to that county.

A comprehensive programme of activity of upgrading and optimising the information in the TCS and the websites is ongoing and is an essential focus for Fáilte Ireland.

All of the websites provide the consumer with the opportunity to book accommodation online. All registered and approved accommodation is available to book.

Dublin Tourism has recently upgraded its website www.visitdublin.com.

Regional Tourism Development Plans for the period 2008-2010 have been published by all the Regional Tourism Development Boards.

Invest €149 million under the National Development Plan, 2007-2013, in training and human resources in the tourism sector.

Implement in full the Fáilte Ireland “Competing through People” programme, which looks to people working in the Industry as a principal source of competitive advantage, and their skills as a key variable in delivering strong business results.

Progress to date:

The National Development Plan, 2007-2013, includes a Training and Human Resources sub-programme of €149 million.

In 2007 over 13,000 tourism personnel participated in training and education programmes aimed at developing practical skills and building capability in key areas of customer service and enterprise management. A similar number are expected to participate in these programmes in 2008.

Fáilte Ireland is broadening the range of skills development opportunities available to both existing tourism staff as well as those developing entry-level skills in preparation for joining the industry. This involves a continuing emphasis on training design and innovative delivery methods, as well as a strong focus on practical work experience.

An innovative programme of training for front-line staff was conducted over three months from April through to June 2008. Reflecting demand in the industry for training for staff that interact with customers on a daily basis, Fáilte Ireland created a short customer service module designed to be delivered on-site, primarily in the hotel sector. Over the three months in question, some 3,000 staff in 200 hotels participated in the training — all of which took place at a time convenient to the group itself and on-site at [591] their place of work, so minimising time lost and operational disruption. The initiative was well received, and will be repeated in 2009.

A new tour guide programme has been developed to train multi-lingual tour guides to work in the coach tourism sector. The programme reflects the increasing demand for tour guides to have language skills that match the nationality of the tour group. The innovative element of the new programme is the creation of a strong on-line learning resource which allows students to access content during their training, and also serves as a readily available reference during their preparations for each new tour group. Research into the skills needs in the tour sector (specifically guides and drivers) was also funded.

A new training and support programme got underway in April 2008, and was formally launched in July. The WEB CHECK programme — details of which have been set out earlier — is designed to support owners/managers in tourism SMEs who wish to improve their capability to trade on-line.

The “Competing Through People” Strategy made sixteen specific recommendations which were to be actioned by Fáilte Ireland in the period to 2010. To date thirteen of these have been fully implemented and a fourteenth is currently underway and will be completed by the end of 2008. The remaining two (which relate principally to research programmes in the labour market) will be actioned in 2009.

An independent mid-term evaluation of progress against the targets set in “Competing Through People” was completed at the end of 2007. The review is being used by Fáilte Ireland to identify areas of best practice and areas where significant progress has been made in the implementation of the strategy together with areas where further progress is required.