Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Ceisteanna — Questions

Tourism Industry.

10:30 am

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the manner in which the numbers of overseas visitors to Ireland are estimated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29233/07]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The Central Statistics Office estimates the number of overseas visitors to Ireland using actual passenger numbers supplied by the airport authorities and shipping companies combined with a large-scale sample survey conducted in Irish airports and seaports. The country of residence survey is a continuous large-scale sample survey where incoming and departing passengers are interviewed. This provides country of residence breakdowns for passengers which are applied to the total passenger numbers, giving estimates of overseas visitors to Ireland as well as Irish visits abroad.

The survey was redesigned in 2005 in line with international best practice. The sample size of the country of residence survey in 2006 was slightly more than 665,500 passengers, equating to an overall sampling fraction of more than 2% of all passengers. The most recent results from the overseas travel release to the end of December 2007 showed trips to Ireland totalled 8,012,200 compared to 7,709,000 in the same period in 2006, an increase of 3.9%.

11:00 am

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions and I require clarification. Are the figures for overseas visitors based solely on the numbers entering this jurisdiction through airports and seaports with no distinction drawn between actual visitors and Irish people returning home? This was the case and if it is still the case, it means the figures are not at all indicative of the true factual position.

Does the Minister of State accept that Irish people travel overseas in ever greater numbers and their return journeys are included as numbers accessing Ireland? Has any examination or methodology other than the return of numbers entering via airports and seaports been explored, employed or considered in order to have a more accurate picture of the real throughput of visitor numbers? Does the CSO co-operate with Tourism Ireland in determining numbers? Will the Minister of State consider evaluating hotel, bed and breakfast and other accommodation bed-night numbers as a more certain indication of the real numbers visiting our shores on an annual basis?

These figures reflect only visitor numbers coming through airports and seaports across the Twenty-six Counties. The Minister of State indicated previously that of necessity progress will be made on having an all-island approach to determine the true statistical visitor numbers and that the ports of Larne and Belfast and Belfast City and Belfast International Airports would all be included. The numbers already cited, which I believe are inaccurate, are further skewed given that a significant and perhaps growing number of visitors enter the island of Ireland through Northern access points. Will the Minister of State indicate what progress has been made in this regard? Will he come clean on the accuracy of the figures he presented? Does he agree with this Deputy that the figures are not reliable?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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To answer the first question, Deputy Ó Caoláin is correct to state the figures include Irish people returning home. Two sample surveys are done on passengers. The first is the country of residence survey which asks two questions, namely, where people are from and the number of trips they made abroad. The second is the passenger card inquiry, PCI. These are carried out by the CSO.

The country of residence survey provides estimates of the number of inbound and outbound passengers to the Republic of Ireland by country of residence. The PCI provides additional information regarding reasons for journeys, ticket type and expenditure. The country of residence survey is used to provide analysis of arriving and departing passengers by country of residence and the survey is conducted at the airports in Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Knock and Kerry and the ports at Rosslare, Ringaskiddy, Dún Laoghaire and Dublin. This selection is done in such a way as to ensure proper representation of airport and port pairing, day and night and weekday and weekend flights and sailings. On selected sailings and flights, a one in five systematic sample of passengers is selected and their countries of residence are recorded by a CSO interviewer.

Sample results are grossed up to total passenger numbers travelling from each airport and port pairing in the Republic of Ireland as provided by the airports and ferry companies. Where an airport and port pairing was not covered in a survey month, results are imputed on the basis of nearest neighbour. The survey allows the CSO to measure the number of non-Irish residents travelling into the Republic of Ireland and the number of Irish residents travelling abroad. As the country of residence survey does not establish the reason for an individual's trip or length of stay, those travelling for reason of remuneration for more than one year to this country cannot be excluded.

Deputy Ó Caoláin has previously raised the matter of co-operation between North and South. Apart from joint work on statistical reports, such as Ireland North and South A Statistical Profile, active contact also takes place between the statistical authorities North and South on matters of common interest. Unlike in the Republic where most surveys are conducted and published by the CSO, in Northern Ireland's statistical system many departments have responsibility for publishing the official statistics on a given topic. In the case of tourism, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has responsibility for collection and the CSO is in regular contact with its officials.

A great deal more co-operation is taking place since we last spoke on this matter. I inquired about this issue and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will conduct a pilot scheme similar to our country of residence procedure. It is vital to have co-operation on tourism and that our tourism board uses the material compiled. The bottom line is that the figures show that in December 2007 trips to Ireland totalled 8,012,200 compared to 7,709,000 in 2006. This is the most relevant figure.

Comparing the first three quarters of 2006 to the first three quarters of 2007, one sees that visitors from Great Britain decreased by 1%, those from the USA and Canada increased by 1% and the number of visitors from other European countries increased by 15%. The number of those visiting from other areas increased by 2.5%. This shows an increase in visitors from Europe which is extremely positive. These figures are vital for our tourist bodies and are used to focus on where the markets need to be improved.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Does the Minister of State agree a far more scientific approach to determining these figures must be found? It is as reasonable to suggest the travel numbers from this island to the neighbouring island may have reduced, that more Irish people go to Europe on holidays and their return from destinations such as France, Spain and Portugal could explain the 15% increase. I do not mean to discredit the statistics. I understand the limitations, but another method must be found. Does the Minister of State agree that all-island analysis and co-operation is required and will he undertake to address this matter with the CSO and the tourist bodies and enable us to have confidence in the figures?

I was concerned to note that last September the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with responsibility for integration policy, Deputy Conor Lenihan, indicated the 2006 census seriously underestimated the number of foreign nationals here. He instanced his view of the Polish population in this State. Does the Minister of State recall his suggestion that the number of Polish residents in this jurisdiction was more of the order of 160,000 to 200,000 than the 62,495 reported in the 2006 census? On what was the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, basing his figures?

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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A Cheann Comhairle, this relates to the next set of questions.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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A Cheann Comhairle, are we dealing with Questions Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive?

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Ceann Comhairle; Kerry South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are dealing with Question No. 1 only. However, we are beginning to stray a little, to say the least, Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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With the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence I will conclude with the point that it is important that we have statistical accuracy across the board. That is the correlation I am drawing with the statistics of the Central Statistics Office. I would appreciate the Minister of State's comments on this. Is it possible that our census statistics and report are as inaccurate as the figures he has already shared with us on annual visitor numbers to this State?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy's last question, as other colleagues have pointed out, is the subject of the next set of questions. I look forward to dealing with the accuracy of the census figures in some detail then. I stand by the very good work by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. I will convey the Deputy's views to our friends in the CSO on the need for more work on the detail of the census figures.

Concerning people coming from, as we call it "other Europe", an element of that consists of Irish people coming back. There is a greater two-way flow between many new accession states and ourselves because of the large numbers of residents from those countries who have come to Ireland to live and work. I will deal with this issue in the next set of questions.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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Has the Minister of State looked at systems to estimate visitor numbers in other countries? Are they the same as ours or do we have a special system?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The most basic way of examining visitor numbers is through passenger figures supplied by the airport authorities and shipping companies. After that, one has to dig deeper for specific information.

Photo of Emmet StaggEmmet Stagg (Kildare North, Labour)
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I know that and I accept the Minister of State may not have the information I am seeking to hand.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I will raise the matter with the CSO. There is much contact between ourselves and the relevant agency in Northern Ireland — they do things differently there — and other statistical bodies in EU member states.