Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Tourist Accommodation

10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

This morning, I want to raise again the issue of the use of hotel accommodation in response to the humanitarian issue of refugees fleeing Ukraine and other conflict zones and the impact that is having on the tourism sector, in rural areas where a lot of tourist accommodation is currently being contracted to the State.

I raised this issue with the Minister, Deputy Martin, probably almost a year ago and have been consistently raising the matter. The Minister is well briefed on the issue and Fáilte Ireland keeps her briefed on the issue in terms of the impact on the sector. Recently, Mr. Paul Kelly, the chief executive of Fáilte Ireland, raised concern over the continued use of hotel accommodation to house refugees.

While acknowledging there is a humanitarian response needed, that it is a deeply challenging situation for the State, and people need to be housed and have a roof over their head, for somebody from a rural area in County Mayo in the west, tourism is a major employer. Sometimes this is not appreciated. It puts food on the table, it pays the bills and it is a significant part of the local economy in rural areas. Having tourist accommodation available is hugely important, not only for the accommodation providers but for all of those knock-on industries - the pub, the coffee shop, the restaurant, recreational facilities, places where people go to do activities, etc. There is a whole industry built up around tourists coming to the region.

Our tourism is seasonal. It is not 12 months of the year, but from the St. Patrick's weekend right up until the October bank holiday weekend. That is when we get most of our tourists coming in. As I said, many smaller industries and businesses rely on that tourism and those people coming into the area.

We also rely on repeat business, and that is a really important element of this. We rely on new people coming to visit but, because they have such a good time in the likes of Mayo, in particular, in Westport, Achill and north Mayo, they come back year after year. If they do not get to come this year or next year, we are losing out on that potential repeat business as well.

According to Fáilte Ireland, 12% of registered tourist accommodation has been withdrawn for humanitarian purposes. That is the registered accommodation with Fáilte Ireland. There is much unregistered tourist accommodation that does not come under the remit of Fáilte Ireland. That figure will probably be higher in terms of what has been taken out of the available stock.

Fáilte Ireland estimates that between €750 million and €1.1 billion has been lost to the Irish economy because of the loss experienced by the tourism sector. It should be borne in mind that this is a sector that is still recovering from losses because of the Covid pandemic. While they are experiencing a surge in demand, things are going well and there is huge demand for accommodation, with people coming to visit from the UK, the US and across mainland Europe, nonetheless those businesses are still recovering from the recent Covid pandemic as well.

Acknowledging that this is a difficult situation and people have to go somewhere, what Fáilte Ireland is pushing for and what I am pushing for are alternative solutions, that the State put in place a properly funded specific provision for refugee accommodation and that we stop contracting with hotels. That needs to be the long-term plan: that we stop contracting with hotels and tourism business and that we get those beds back into the tourism sector because we need them back. The Minister committed to doing this a year ago. I have yet to see a detailed plan from the Department of tourism as to how the Minister, Deputy Martin, plans to achieve that. There has been a little bit of football going on back and forth. That is not the Minister's problem. That is the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman's problem. That is somebody else's problem.

That is why my Commencement matter was specifically relating to the tourism industry, the loss to that industry and the plans from that Department to get that accommodation back and to make sure that we have enough capacity to meet the demand that is there. I would like to see a plan from this Minister. There is an acceptance that we lost last year. We are heading into 2024 now. What is the plan for 2024? I asked this nearly a year ago. I still have not got that plan. What are we doing for the medium to long term to get that bed capacity back into the tourism sector?


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