Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Tourist Accommodation

10:30 am

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Chambers for raising what is an important issue and I offer this response on behalf of the Minister for tourism, Deputy Martin, who is unable to be here today.

I will, first, attest to the many fine qualities of Mayo as a tourism destination, having holidayed there myself with my family on a number of occasions and always found it a brilliant place to holiday in.

The importance of the tourism sector, not only to Mayo but to the Irish economy and to communities in every corner of Ireland, is well understood by Government. The responsibility of the Minister for tourism is for the development of overall tourism policy and the sustainable development of the tourism sector. A key part of this is ensuring there is a balanced regional supply and an overall development of a broad mix of accommodation on offer.

The tourism sector continues to play a significant role in supporting the State's humanitarian effort in response to the unjust Russian war against Ukraine. Fáilte Ireland's analysis of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth data shows that, in November 2023, as the Senator outlined, 12% of all registered tourist accommodation stock was under contract to the State, down from 13% in June 2023. An additional quantum of tourism-type accommodation that is not registered with Fáilte Ireland is also contracted to the State. On foot of this information, the Department of tourism has, at the senior officials group on Ukraine, which is led by the Department of the Taoiseach, communicated the potential challenges arising for the tourism ecosystem, especially in those parts of the country where high proportions of the tourist accommodation stock are directed to humanitarian purposes.

The Minister, Deputy Martin, is making up to €10 million available for a programme of supports targeted at tourism businesses experiencing particular challenges linked to the reduction in footfall in regions most impacted by tourism bed-stock displacement. This programme of supports includes investment in sustainable tourism development and promotion, industry digitalisation, promotion of domestic tourism and festivals, and recruitment and retention initiatives. The Minister recently approved Fáilte Ireland's proposal for a specific business support scheme for tourism activity and attraction businesses that have experienced particular trading challenges related to tourism bed-stock displacement. Fáilte Ireland is now working on the operational details of this scheme which it will explain to the sector at a webinar on 4 March.

As of January 2024, Mayo county has seen a substantial investment in tourism development and enhancement, with a range of projects and funding initiatives spanning various aspects of the industry. These initiatives include the development of state-of-the-art facilities for water-based activities at Keel Beach and Carrowmore, alongside an immersive heritage and cultural attraction at Westport Estate. Funding from Fáilte Ireland has also supported enhancements in destination towns such as Belmullet, outdoor dining schemes in Claremorris and Castlebar, as well as substantial investments in outdoor recreation infrastructure across the county. Moreover, Mayo's tourism businesses are benefiting from the Digital that Delivers programme, which aims to facilitate digital transformation within the industry, showcasing a comprehensive approach to bolstering Mayo's tourism appeal and infrastructure.

Furthermore, the Department of tourism hopes to publish in the next couple of months a new national tourism policy framework that will mainstream sustainability - environmental, economic and societal - across the entire tourism sector. The framework will shape how our tourism industry develops in the period to 2030. In this regard, while we want to see the sector grow, we want it to do so in a manner that is consistent with our broader sustainability targets and ensure Ireland will be a brand leader in sustainable tourism. Issues around accommodation stock will be considered as part of that new policy framework and subsequent action plan because you cannot have the environmental sustainability if the providers do not have the economic sustainability, which is the very point the Senator is raising.

When we look at the wider economy and the particular set of challenges facing the tourism industry, it is clear that a collective and concerted multi-stakeholder approach to tackling these challenges is required, and that is the approach the Department of tourism and the Government will continue to pursue.


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