Dáil debates

Wednesday, 31 May 2006

Priority Questions.

Regional Tourism Authorities.

1:00 pm

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Question 11: To ask the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the implementation of the PricewaterhouseCoopers reports on the RTAs; the way in which the new arrangements will address the decline of pure holiday tourism in the regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21129/06]

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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Individual actions and measures relating to tourism promotion or development at regional level are day-to-day functions of the State tourism agencies.

As the Deputy is aware, Fáilte Ireland is proceeding with the revision of regional tourism structures and is also gearing up its own structures to line up with the proposed new arrangements at regional level. A new senior management position of director of regional development is expected to be filled shortly and a due diligence process with each of the regional tourism authorities is almost complete. Fáilte Ireland has advised me that it expects that the changes will be implemented by the end of the summer.

CSO statistics for overseas tourism for 2005 show a positive result both in terms of overseas numbers — up 6% or 400,000 additional visitors, to almost 7 million — and revenue earnings up almost 8% to €3.455 billion, excluding carrier receipts and cross Border tourism. On both counts, we are ahead of targets for the year.

As global competition intensifies and consumer preferences evolve, these results represent a robust performance by the sector and confirm how dynamic and responsive the Irish tourism sector is.

It is widely acknowledged within the tourism sector that growing the pure holiday component of the overseas tourism business has proven difficult in recent years, both at a regional and national level. In 2005, the holiday segment of all overseas travel to Ireland grew by 2.7% in revenue terms, significantly lower than the 8% overall revenue earnings growth. This clearly impacts on the holiday business at a regional level. Both Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are working to help the industry to address the issues behind this trend, which is very much a global phenomenon.

It is also important to emphasise that the visiting friends or relatives or VFR component of the overall tourism business continues to be of immense strategic importance. It grew by more than 17% in revenue terms in 2005.

The home holiday market is an increasingly important component of the tourism business in Ireland, particularly in terms of seasonal and regional spread. Some 86% of holiday trips and 89% of holiday nights by domestic tourists are now spent outside the Dublin area. This offsets, to some extent, the relative strength of Dublin in the overseas visitors market. In 2005, expenditure on domestic tourism was up across all regions, albeit at different rates.

The fact that all regions and sectors are not benefiting to the same extent from our tourism success continues to be a matter receiving attention from my Department and the State tourism agencies as we evolve our tourism policy and programmes. I am confident, however, that the new regional tourism arrangements, with enhanced functions being put in place at local level, will help tourism to grow in the regions to a greater extent than at present. The various region-specific initiatives introduced this year by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland Ltd. will further help to address this situation.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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How will these new arrangements help to stop the obvious east-west tourism divide in this country? How will the new arrangements, which are really scrapping RTAs, help the ailing bed and breakfast industry? Traditional bed and breakfast establishments, which were hitherto the pillar of rural tourism, are now closing right across the country every day. How will the new arrangements bring back the growth of activity holidays here? We have been losing market share in areas such as golf, hill-walking, angling, equestrian sports and cruising to Scotland, Wales, England and continental Europe. How will these new arrangements — the breaking up and scrapping, more or less, of the RTAs — help stem the difference between east and west and the other factors to which I referred?

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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The enhancement of the powers of the RTAs should not be considered in isolation. It is the case that enhanced powers will be given to the RTAs in terms of marketing and product development. However, it is also important to realise that we have broken up the country into three regions for the purposes of marketing to improve regional spread — the regions are south, east and west. The idea is to emphasise not just the urban advantages but the advantages of the rural hinterlands. The local marketing initiative, which will provide funds to local marketing groups to enable them to market, should also be taken into account. In addition, there is an innovation fund which will help to build up the product in specific regions where innovative proposals come forward. Region-specific marketing campaigns are continuing on the Continent, in Britain and further afield.

I am pleased that we had a record number of visitors — 6.9 million — to Ireland last year. The initiatives we have undertaken will help to spread more visitors to the regions. There is an opportunity, in particular with regard to outdoor activities such as golf, through the Ryder Cup, to market Ireland's countryside to a greater extent than ever before.

Deputy Deenihan is correct that there is a difficulty with regard to bed and breakfast accommodation. There is a far greater number of hotel rooms and hotels in Ireland today than ten years ago. Many of the hotels can be relatively competitive when compared to bed and breakfast accommodation, which causes difficulty for the latter. It is also correct to suggest that the demographics of bed and breakfast accommodation are causing concern in the sense that younger couples are not as inclined to stay in them as was the case, perhaps because both partners or the husband and wife work outside the home.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister agree there is concern that confusion will arise when the PWC report is put in place in the coming weeks? Five RTAs will be diluted and scrapped. Two RTAs, those of Dublin and Shannon, and three super-regions, as the Minister refers to them, will remain to market Ireland. There will be total confusion.

Will the Minister state how pure holiday tourism will be promoted in the regions? Pure holiday tourism, as the Minister more or less indicated, is on the decline in all regions outside Dublin whereas it is on the increase in Dublin.

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Minister, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Kerry South, Fianna Fail)
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The PWC report makes clear that six new regional tourism partnerships, RTPs, should be established and that each of the RTPs will include regionally based industry representatives, city and country borough managers, local authority representatives and Fáilte Ireland nominees. The chairperson of each RTP will be nominated from within the partnership and will have relevant commercial experience, and these chairpersons will become members of a regional tourism council, which will also include nominees from ITIC, Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. There is a great degree of integration.