Wednesday, 31 May 2017
Like other Senators, I do not want to go over the figures but we all know that since 2010 or 2011, tourism has been a reason for the stabilisation of our economy. In 2016, 20,000 extra jobs were created in the tourism industry. Along with agriculture and foreign direct investment, it has been the saviour of our economy.
The 6% drop in the number of British tourists coming to Ireland in the first quarter of 2017 was correctly predicted. It shows that we cannot become complacent and that tourist numbers will not keep going up if we do not work at maximising the number of visitors from Great Britain, Europe and the rest of the world. Much work is being carried out. State agencies such as Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland deserve much credit for the way they have targeted their money, marketing and branding in order to get people into the country. However, although the reduction is only 6% approximately, the worrying aspect is that British tourists make up over 40% of the total. We cannot say that we will get the tourists from the rest of the world and not worry about Britain. There is also the issue of Brexit.
As Senator O'Sullivan mentioned, there are issues apart from Brexit and weak sterling. One issue is the spiralling cost of hotel rooms in our capital city in particular. It needs to be addressed. It is difficult to do so because when the 9% rate was brought in approximately six years ago it was a saviour because the tourism and hotel industry was going through horrific times. However, there has to be a quid pro quo. The issue may be a lack of rooms, which has been spoken of here today. One solution could be getting more tourists to travel to regions outside Dublin. If one goes to a country, the capital is where one would usually go. One reason for that is that the capital is the brand name for the country. I have travelled abroad several times on holidays. It is only when one researches areas outside capital cities that value for money can be obtained and a good experience similar to that in a capital city can be had. That is possible in Ireland. The Wild Atlantic Way and so on has been brilliant in regionalising tourism. Tourism is the hidden gem in every part of the country. We need to get people directly into the regions rather than visit them as an add-on to a trip to Dublin.
Airports and transport accessibility is a huge vehicle in this regard. There have been massive developments in that regard in terms of travel tax and so on. Figures released yesterday or the day before showed an increase of 4.1% in passenger numbers at Dublin Airport but the biggest increase in the country was in Ireland West Airport Knock. It is a percentage increase on a much smaller figure but it is significant. I welcome that the Government has put €11 million into that airport since 2011 for marketing and so on. It is money well spent and great value has been obtained for it. The airport currently caters for the whole north-west region that was mentioned earlier. It has more passengers than all the other regional airports combined. Yesterday it was announced that it is to be designated a strategic development zone which will enable it attract new investment such as a hotel near the airport. That would be a great vehicle for extending the visitor experience in the region because I have heard visitors to Dublin over the past couple of years complaining about the spiralling cost of hotel rooms. Prices in other areas of the country are a fraction of those in Dublin. There needs to be a way of getting that message to our tourists as well.
I fully agree with many of the measures that the Government is implementing and policies such as extending the season and the shoulder season. The Women's Rugby World Cup will take place later this year in Ireland. It would be phenomenal if Ireland were to win the bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The massive benefits from that event would be spread across the country. Sports tourism can be wider than that. I have long made suggestions for the expansion of sports tourism. There were just over 30,000 spectators at a major hurling match in Munster last weekend between Cork and Tipperary . There were approximately 12,000 empty seats in the stadium in Thurles. There is no reason the tourism agencies and the GAA could not link up in some way. I am sure there were thousands of tourists in the region who would have loved the experience of going to that match. Even if tickets were offered at reduced rates, it would mean more bums on seats and a full stadium.
Hopefully, Ireland will win the bid for the Rugby World Cup. However, we have an offering every year from February until the end of September which would show our culture and games to visitors. That should be explored. Activity holidays, greenways, golf and so on are fantastic but there are enormous possibilities that would not cost much and would improve the visitor experience not just in Dublin but in the whole of Ireland, from Casement Park to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and from Croke Park to McHale Park.I will finish on those thoughts. It is important that we continue to do what is necessary to keep tourists coming from right around the world.