Wednesday, 31 May 2017
Ba bhreá liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire, dar ndóigh. It is clear that massive work is being done on tourism. As a country we should be very grateful to all of those who put their shoulder to the wheel and who have their hands on the plough - and any other cliché one cares to use - in the hard and important work of promoting Ireland. Senator O'Mahony has said how important a feature tourism is in our economic health, taking into account agriculture and inward investment also.
When one looks at the figures we can see €4.7 billion being spent by international tourists, another €1.5 billion is being spent in terms of air and sea carriers, and 220,000 people are working in the sector, which is one in nine people. It is an ambition to have 250,000 people working in the sector by 2025 with a €5 billion spend by international tourists in Ireland. It is important that the good work is being done but also that there is the ambition to do more and achieve more.
It is impossible to talk about the success of our tourism effort in recent times without thinking of the "waw" factor, which is the Wild Atlantic Way. It appears to be a prominent and dominant feature, which we would all welcome. While saying that, and in congratulating all of those involved in promoting the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and Dublin - A Breath of Fresh Air, I want to focus on the need to promote the midlands in Ireland. I feel that region has been left behind in these heavily backed State tourism exercises. The chief selling points associated with Ireland's Ancient East are heritage and history, and this is good and well. To date, I believe the midlands counties have not been promoted in a way that could showcase their extensive natural beauty to international visitors. These districts have waterways, lakes, forests, mountains, bogland, rolling hills and flat landscape suited to outdoor holidays involving walking, cycling, angling, horse riding and golf.
The central spine of the country, if the Minister of State thinks about it, from the Silvermines to the drumlins of Cavan, could be developed as a thematic package in the new multifaceted tourism initiative. Counties such as Tipperary, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Cavan and some of my own county of Galway, have been somewhat forgotten by the Government in its recent tourism push. Towns such as Roscrea, Athlone, Tullamore, Longford and Carrick-on-Shanon have major growth potential and have a range of existing services and offerings to build upon. We are all aware of the decline of our towns in rural Ireland. There has been much talk about it and programmes devoted to the issue in recent years. We should always see tourism as a part of that process of giving life back to our rural towns.
The locations I have mentioned have been undervalued and much more could be done in a co-ordinated and coherent way to improve and transform the midlands as an attractive region in which to stay. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister of State on the efforts being made by his Department and the satellite agencies under his aegis to create a majestic midlands experience that would appeal to visitors of all ages, especially those who enjoy the outdoors.
Obviously this requires investment but it would be money well spent. A feasibility study was done around Ireland's proposed lakelands brand, which would focus on the midlands and the Shannon. I hope the draft report will offer some hope to those in the tourism industry in that wider area. The midlands is more than just a collection of inland lakes, of course. The region's relatively flat and open environment makes it particularly suitable for new eco-tourism initiatives.
If the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Fáilte Ireland can execute marketing campaigns for the regions - be it for the east or west of the country - then surely a cohesive marketing initiative can be created for the midlands in the heart of the nation. I note that when the Minister, Deputy Ross was in the Chamber last March he committed his Department and associated agencies to strong, regional dispersal in tourism.