Dáil debates

Thursday, 13 October 2005

4:00 pm

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
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Question 6: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has received a copy of a new study commissioned by the Irish Tourist Industry Federation that the recent trend among visitors here of taking shorter trips to urban centres may be in decline; his views on whether this represents a significant threat to the economic well-being of these towns and cities and to the tourism industry in general; his plans to encourage better marketing of towns and cities as weekend destinations for tourists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28317/05]

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Question 14: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the efforts he is making to encourage tourism in non-east coast and western parts in view of falling visitor numbers to the regions; his views on whether tourism in regional areas is in serious decline; the way in which he plans to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28319/05]

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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Question 39: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the steps he will take to address the increase in regional imbalance within the tourism sector; the specific steps which he will take to support tourism in the Border, midlands and western region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28305/05]

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Question 42: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his plans to implement the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on regional tourism structures; his views on whether the existing structures are able to meet the needs of modern tourists; the timeframe for the implementation of this report's recommendations; the main findings of the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28321/05]

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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Question 43: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the future role for regional tourism associations in the context of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28298/05]

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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Question 47: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his proposals for the reorganisation of local tourism bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28085/05]

Photo of Michael NoonanMichael Noonan (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
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Question 49: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the timescale for the implementation of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the regional tourism authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28328/05]

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 14, 39, 42, 43, 47 and 49 together.

As the House is already aware, I have no direct responsibility in relation to individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned. These are day-to-day functions of the State tourism agencies.

The ITIC report referred to indicates that, contrary to the Deputy's suggestion, an increasing share of holiday bed nights is being spent in urban as opposed to rural locations in Ireland and that this decline is attributable in the most part to a decline in bed nights from the British market.

The ITIC report has made a number of recommendations to address this difficulty, many of which are already being advanced by Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, Shannon Development and the regional tourism authorities. National tourism policy has been evolving in recent years, with a particular emphasis on putting policy measures in place to achieve a wider spread of tourism business arising from the New Horizons policy review.

The development of good quality direct access to the regions has been a major impediment to growth in the past. Fortunately, this has improved greatly in recent times and this summer has seen the greatest ever number of air seats to Ireland and particularly servicing the regions of the west and north west. These new routes from Britain, mainland Europe and the US continue to be promoted heavily by Tourism Ireland in order to optimise their tourism impact.

The ITIC report is confined to examining trends in overseas holiday business to Ireland. If domestic tourism was included, the picture would be significantly different as a large proportion of this business favours the regions rather than Dublin. As the ITIC report rightly identifies, visitors cannot be forced to go to a particular location against their will. The responsibility primarily lies with the individual communities and operators in the regions to present and market compelling attractions, facilities, accommodation and experiences that deliver value for money and quality service.

As I have already advised the House, Fáilte Ireland, in response to a recommendation in the tourism action plan set out in the report of the tourism policy review group, towards the end of last year commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a major study of regional tourism structures, as it sought to determine how best to carry out its new development mandate countrywide. The report has been published and is available on the Fáilte Ireland website. This work was supplemented by a short engagement facilitated by a small independent group, chaired by Mr. John Travers, with the relevant parties in order to satisfy interests in the Dublin region that the mechanisms of consultation were complete.

The PWC report highlights the need for a much wider brief for regional tourism, playing a strategic rather than administrative role and inputting more directly into national policy. It recommends a greatly increased emphasis on targeted marketing, product development and enterprise support. It suggests establishing an integrated linkage between regional tourism strategy and national policy and exploiting avenues to leverage increased resources.

At the end of July, I indicated to Fáilte Ireland that I was satisfied it should proceed with the proposed revision of regional tourism structures on the basis of the PWC and Travers reports. An implementation group is being established to assist Fáilte Ireland in implementing the recommendations. Mr. Finbarr Flood has agreed to chair this group and has already begun his work. Fáilte Ireland expect that changes will be seen in the regions by the middle of next year.

At a time of overall national tourism growth, I remain concerned that the issue of regional spread should be proactively and energetically addressed. In that context I am pleased the programmes and initiatives being operated by the State tourism agencies and the action plan set out in the report of the tourism policy review group fully reflect this objective. Such programmes and initiatives include the strategic investment in the sustainable development of tourism capital infrastructure in underperforming areas through the tourism product development scheme, which aims to match the quality of the product available on the ground with ever greater consumer expectations; the different levels of support offered to regional tourism authorities for marketing purposes; an expanded domestic tourism marketing campaign; the use of predominantly rural imagery in the advertising and promotion of Ireland, both at home and abroad; the regional coverage with respect to visiting media; and the specific focus on achieving a wide spread of visitors in respect of access to transport policies.

In total this year, Fáilte Ireland is investing in the order of €27 million on developing regional tourism, from supporting local festivals to building capability and strengthening the tourism product. To assist the promotion and development of tourism by the regions, Fáilte Ireland is channelling in the region of €7.4 million directly into the regional tourism companies to strengthen and enhance their operational and marketing capabilities this year. This investment is designed to ensure both a high quality visitor servicing experience at key tourism information offices and also a strong overseas promotional effort.

In their programmes for 2005, both Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are rolling out a number of innovative approaches which should heighten the regional impact of Ireland's marketing activities both nationally and overseas. All regions will feature prominently in the full range of marketing activities; a dedicated marketing fund for tactical co-operative initiatives with the regional tourism authorities and their members is available for 2005; a region to region approach is being adopted in Britain which is capitalising on direct access links to the regions; specific marketing campaigns involving joint co-operation activities by the regional tourism authorities and other regional interests have been launched for both the western seaboard and the north west this year; a sponsor a region approach has been adopted in Europe whereby each market office is focusing attention alternately on a particular Irish region in order to enhance the awareness of the local trade of what that region has to offer; an enhanced consumer website with increased functionality and a strong regional input is providing for more dynamic and up-to-the minute packages to entice the domestic traveller; and a strong focus on event-based holidays is being complemented by a more streamlined and targeted festivals and cultural events fund which will continue to favour the lesser-developed regions.

Photo of Jack WallJack Wall (Kildare South, Labour)
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I thank the Minister for such a detailed reply. It seems Ireland has become a short-stay destination. The Ryder Cup was referred to in the previous question. Golfers stay longer and I am hopeful the Ryder Cup will have an influence in tempting people to travel outside the Pale and visit golf courses in the regions. I suggest they be given a badge to allow them visit all the golf courses in a particular area as is the custom for racecourses.

The CEO of Fáilte Ireland has stated Punchestown will be highlighted as being a national festival, on a par with Cheltenham. This aspect of promotion of value for money can be repeated in other areas of tourism. The Galway races has its own niche in the tourism sector. I note that national hunt racing does not seem to be a problem yet the only big days for flat racing are when the classic races are run and the biggest day is derby day. We do not seem to be successful in attracting interest from the US and Europe for flat racing compared to national hunt racing. Has Fáilte Ireland or other tourism agencies examined the uses made of grant funding? We certainly have a wide spectrum of opportunities, including the website, which must be oriented towards developing tourism. Are we getting true value for the money being invested to attract visitors from the United Kingdom? Given the high value of the British pound against the euro, one would expect to see a major increase in the British market, but that does not appear to be the case. This is reflected in what I said earlier about flat racing. We have the Curragh meeting and many other classic flat racing events but we do not seem to be drawing British tourists to them.

What can be done to increase the percentage of visitors from the United Kingdom? It seems obvious from a monetary point of view, given the value of the pound, that British tourists should be attracted to this country.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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The festivals and cultural events initiative has been an enormous success. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the support given by Fáilte Ireland to various festivals throughout the country, which has not been and possibly cannot be quantified, has been an enormous success. The numbers of visitors coming to festivals that have been supported by Fáilte Ireland is quite impressive.

It is more difficult to attract visitors to flat racing meetings. However, it should be noted that in excess of 60,000 visitors come to Ireland every year for horse racing. Punchestown is a good example of an outstanding festival and others like Fairyhouse, Galway, Listowel, Tralee, Killarney and Laytown have also proven to be tremendous successes. There is a great deal of synergy between Horse Racing Ireland and Fáilte Ireland and a recognition that they should work together to ensure we maximise the potential which these events have for attracting visitors to the country.

The Ryder Cup is simply enormous for Ireland and in particular for Deputy Wall's native county of Kildare. It will attract approximately 40,000 visitors per day, which is the maximum amount the course can hold, and the television audience will be massive. It is estimated that the television audience could be up to 1 billion people worldwide. The kind of coverage that this event will afford the country could not be bought if one went to the marketplace seeking to do so. It is important that the Ryder Cup is an enormous success and I have no doubt that it will be so. All the portents suggest that people are organising extremely well for it in Kildare and that the country in general is prepared for what will be a massive influx of visitors. Even now it is almost impossible to book accommodation within an 80 mile radius of the K Club for the duration of the Ryder Cup.

Last year we were concerned that there was a 1% decline in UK visitor numbers. That is quite serious in terms of the British market because 4.75 million of our visitors come from Britain, so a 1% drop represents 47,500. However, the first six months of this year show an increase of 2%, which is very encouraging as it represents an increase in UK visitor numbers of 95,000. That is due to an increased marketing fund and a very aggressive marketing campaign that has been going on in Britain for almost a year. That campaign has focused on promoting the regions because visitors who bring their cars to Ireland, with their families, are the ones who go out into the regions. That is why we have been working so hard to attract back the British visitors. During the World Cup, when the inclination might be to back some side against England, people might remember our British visitors.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister envisage that the recommendations contained in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report will be implemented for the 2006 tourism season? If not, it would be advisable to postpone any proposed changes until the 2007 season. We had difficulties this year in north Kerry when the transition from Shannon Development to Fáilte Ireland meant that promotion of the region never really got off the ground. People were appointed too late and promotion simply did not happen. If major changes are planned for the regional tourism authorities, RTAs, that will lead to disruption and will affect the promotion of tourism in the regions. Will the Minister confirm whether the changes proposed will be in place by 2006? If not, I suggest that they are put in place for the 2007 season.

There are approximately 61 tourism information offices throughout the country. People in places such as Listowel are fearful that some of these offices will be closed following the review. Will the Minister clarify if this is so? Will he give a commitment that none of the existing tourism information offices will be closed following the review?

The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation report, referred to in the question, identified north Kerry as a special pilot area for marketing and future development. Will the Minister give a commitment to this House — I understand he has already given one to Kerry representatives from Cork Kerry Tourism — that north Kerry will be declared a pilot area for future tourism marketing and development because it has underperformed for some time now?

Is the Minister concerned that the number of visitors from the United States has decreased this year? In terms of regional tourism, US visitors traditionally went to places like Kerry and the west because, generally speaking, that is where their ancestors came from. There has been a decline in tourism along the western seaboard and in the regions because the number of tourists coming from the US has dropped.

The number of hill walkers coming to Ireland has almost halved since 1999. This is because a number of walkways are no longer accessible to walkers because landowners have fenced them off. Also, in some parts of the country there is a hostile reception for walkers. Does the Department or Fáilte Ireland have any proposals to encourage more hill walkers to come here? I understand that there is an initiative by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, who has brought together a type of rural forum, but it does not appear to be making any progress.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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The hill walking issue is the responsibility of my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív, who set up a council known as Comhairle na Tuaithe, which is charged with trying to open up the countryside. I understand that the council has made some progress in this respect and it is important that it does so. The number of hill walkers coming here has been reduced significantly because of a decision by a minority of landowners to close off their lands to walkers. However, there are vast expanses of the country where hill walkers are quite welcome and where landowners do not inhibit walking in any way. We should accentuate the positive whenever we can.

With regard to the marketing of north Kerry, arrangements may have been reached at the Cork Kerry Tourism level which would not have reached Fáilte Ireland or Tourism Ireland. I will investigate the matter and communicate with the Deputy.

With regard to the US market, the first six months of this year indicated a decline in the numbers coming from the United States, despite the fact that we have increased capacity. This should level out, particularly because of the decision of American Airlines to fly into Ireland this summer. The increase in capacity from approximately 1 May was 17.5% from the United States, which should have been reflected in increased visitor numbers. We will only know this when we see the figures from the Central Statistics Office.

Reports that tourism offices throughout the country will close as a result of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on regional tourism is not correct. I am not aware of any suggestion that offices should close in Listowel or elsewhere. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report indicated that there was a greater role for regional tourism authorities, that there should be six of these, that there should be an umbrella group, that the chair of each regional group should be on the umbrella group and that the tourism groups at a regional level should be involved in future product development, enterprise support and marketing.

Mr. Finbarr Flood, who is chair of the implementation group, has already begun his work and I expect all the work will be completed by the middle of next year and that all the relevant structures should be in place by then. That is the assurance I have been given. Before going into high season next year, the relevant authorities and their powers will have been reinvigorated, renewed and expanded.