Thursday, 13 October 2005
Question 5: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the growing concerns that visitors here for next year's Ryder Cup golf tournament will be exploited by hoteliers and retailers significantly increasing prices to take advantage of the influx; the efforts he will make over the next 12 months to combat this; if his attention has further been drawn to the negative impression of Ireland this will convey to many visitors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28426/05]
The Ryder Cup 2006 will be one of the greatest sporting events ever to come to Ireland. It will be a landmark not just for Irish golf but for Irish tourism generally, with 40,000 people attending the K Club each day along with 2,000 members of the media and 1 billion people worldwide watching the event on television.
It is already nearly impossible to book accommodation for Ryder Cup week within 80 miles of the K Club. This provides the clearest possible indication of the appeal of the event and I trust that all these enterprises and other tourism service providers will do Ireland proud on this great occasion and give Ryder Cup visitors a traditional Irish welcome and a quality experience to remember. The value of word of mouth publicity cannot be underestimated and we want our visitors to return home with glowing reports about their stay here and confirmation that the hospitality and friendliness for which we are renowned really does exist. More importantly, we want them to be able to say that the golf was excellent, that they received value for money and that they want to come back again.
I am aware of concerns being expressed by some about the risk of excessive prices being charged by certain elements of the Irish tourism and hospitality industry during next year's event. The State tourism agencies are being particularly vigilant in this area and in all their dealings with the industry are taking the opportunity to encourage a commonsense approach to the pricing of our tourism product. Notwithstanding the operation of free market forces, I particularly urge service providers to take a long-term perspective on the benefits of the event. These will only come about from positive word of mouth when our visitors return home. Golf tourism is important to us, which makes it all the more necessary that there should be no short-term or opportunistic exploitation of our visitors. It is my intention to raise these issues, as appropriate, in my regular contact with the industry in the build up to the Ryder Cup.
I believe that Ireland will deliver value for money during the staging of the Ryder Cup. The vast majority of visitors will have purchased packages that have been priced now for quite some time. Furthermore, all approved accommodation providers will have published maximum prices that they cannot legally exceed. I intend to ask the Director of Consumer Affairs to undertake a special initiative around the time of the Ryder Cup to ensure that price lists in restaurants and public houses are displayed prominently.
All sectors of the tourism industry are acutely aware of the value for money issue and the available research from Fáilte Ireland through its visitor attitude surveys suggests that, in an overall context, the consumer is satisfied with the cost of accommodation and the cost of the golfing product in Ireland. As the level of overseas competition continues to grow, I am assured that there is no complacency around the issue of value for money and that the tourism industry fully recognises that if we do not look after the consumer, we will lose market share.
I welcome the thrust of the Minister's reply and the action he has outlined to ensure that the tourism industry does not suffer following this world famous event. We have seen the figures quoted in magazines and newspapers about the cost of houses and accommodation close to the course. That can be damaging. Keeping a watching brief on this is of utmost importance. I hope that through the various agencies, especially overseas and in the American market, the Minister's remarks today about conducting price analyses of what is provided will be emphasised. Every effort should be made to produce progress reports from the Minister, Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland that will appear in golf magazines and tourism brochures outlining the situation and assuring people that there will not be a rip-off.
Not only will the K Club and adjacent golf courses benefit from this, it is an ideal opportunity to create a golf haven. We generally hear that Portugal and Spain are the golf havens of Europe but this tournament provides an opportunity to ensure that Ireland is included in that group. I hope the Minister, his Department and the agencies will do everything possible to promote that concept, especially on the American and European markets from where most of the followers of this event will come. What efforts will be made by the Department and the agencies to develop accommodation and other facilities for this world famous event?
Every effort has been made to remind the industry of the need to offer value for money and the industry is responding. It remains a cause of concern that while the majority of visitors still say they really enjoyed their visit and would recommend Ireland to a friend, nonetheless, issues such as the cost of drink and eating out are still regarded as not giving value for money. The Department has made this point to the industry and it is responding.
Golf tourism is important to the country. In the last year for which figures are available, 2003, 133,000 visitors came to play golf and they generated a revenue of €126 million. A golf visitor is worth up to three times more than an ordinary visitor because they stay longer, an average stay being 13 nights and they go to several locations. Last year Ireland was voted the number one golf destination in the world. The country contains one third of the links championship courses in the world. I do not play golf but some would argue that the whole country is a golf course because more than 400 golf courses are affiliated, which is a record for the size of the population.