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Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD, yesterday updated Seanad Éireann on Ireland’s tourism performance and what he is doing to ensure our recent success is built upon into the future.
Not all of this is directly involved with sport of course but indirectly it will have a great longer term effect on tourism in Ireland and that is usually translated into more customers at sports fixtures, great on and offline sales of sports goods, jerseys etc when travellers be they Irish or International visit your region.
Plenty of attractive fixtures in the world of sports in the months ahead as indeed we had of late with the European Championship qualifiers and the Guinness Rugby Autumn series to name but two such success stories.
We’ve probably all heard too much from politicians of late, not all of it good news, but nonetheless worth studying what Minister Donohoe had to say:
“We have moved from a position in 2010 where overseas visitors had fallen by 16% in two years, to where those numbers have increased every year since 2011. This is thanks, in no small part, to Government initiatives such as the Gathering and the Wild Atlantic Way, and measures such as the 9% VAT rate, the British-Irish Visa Scheme and the setting of the rate of the Air Travel Tax to zero. This has resulted in Ireland attracting almost seven million overseas visitors to Ireland in 2013, and an estimated contribution of €3.3 billion to Irish economy. Figures released from the CSO show that we are continuing to build on that success with over 6.5 million visits recorded in the first ten months of the year – an increase of 8.8% compared to the same period in 2013. We also now have almost 140,000 people working in the food and accommodation sector as a result.
“But there is no room for complacency. The Wild Atlantic Way, which is the first ‘brand proposition’ developed by Fáilte Ireland, has been a great success, significantly enhancing the visibility of the west coast of Ireland. But in order to maintain our competitive position, we must continue to develop our tourism offering in a way that has the biggest impact on what is a very crowded international market.
“A proposition which is currently in development to encourage tourism in the South and East of the country, which I hope to launch early next year, will see the cultural and heritage tourism assets and experiences of that region being grouped via a network of routes, trails and journeys. This will result in a new tourism experience that can easily be understood and which attract overseas visitors.
“Where Dublin is concerned, I recently established the Grow Dublin Tourism Alliance, the aim of which is to create a unifying brand identity for the capital for the first time ever. This was done to ensure that we do not continue to lose market share to other ‘branded’ cities in Europe such as Berlin and Copenhagen and to enable us to we maximise what we have to offer.
“I will be publishing my Tourism Policy Statement in the coming weeks which will prioritise medium to long term investment. This will allow us to maximise our return from tourism, which will help in supporting the jobs we already have within the sector and enable the creation of many more into the future.”
Combining data from the domestic market and international visitors, total tourism revenue for the economy in 2013 was around €5.5 billion. Of this, €1.4 billion directly benefited the Exchequer through taxation. This is a very significant contribution by any benchmark.
I am pleased to report that the picture for 2014 is again very positive. CSO figures released just this morning show that there were over 6.5 million visits in the first ten months – an increase of 8.8% compared to the same period in 2013. This represents an additional 532,000 visitors from around the world.
There are almost 140,000 jobs in the accommodation and food sector, and overall employment in the tourism and hospitality sector is estimated to be in the region of 200,000.
I campaigned strongly at Cabinet for the retention of the 9% VAT rate, and I know its retention has been warmly welcomed by the industry.
On another taxation issue, the Air Travel Tax, introduced by the previous Government, damaged Ireland’s tourism competitiveness, particularly given our island status and the importance of air travel as a means of delivering overseas visitors to Ireland.
In Budget 2014, we set the rate of the Air Travel Tax to zero.
I am very pleased to report that airlines responded very strongly to our initiative, with substantial growth in air connectivity.
For the peak summer period of 2014, air access increased by 10% from Mainland Europe, by 14% from North America, and by 14% from Australia and other long-haul markets. I know the relevant agencies are all working hard to ensure that the positive momentum in this regard is maintained in the years ahead.
Initiatives such as Wild Atlantic Way, South and East proposition
This increased air capacity would not have been introduced by airlines unless there is a compelling business case to do so. It is clear that the quality of Ireland’s tourism offering continues to resonate with international consumers who are deciding, in increasing numbers, to select Ireland as their destination of choice.
In order to maintain our competitive position, we must continue to develop our tourism offering in a way that has impact in the very crowded international marketplace. To have an impact, new tourism initiatives must be of sufficient scale to push through the multitude of competing products and destinations.
This is the rationale behind Fáilte Ireland’s move towards developing what are called ‘brand propositions’ – projects of sufficient scale that they can be marketed overseas in their own right.
The Wild Atlantic Way project is the first major project to be developed on this basis. The aim was to develop a long-distance driving route that would achieve greater visibility for the west coast of Ireland in overseas tourist markets.
It is Ireland’s first long distance touring route, stretching for 2,500km from Malin Head to Mizen Head.
The Wild Atlantic Way was developed specifically for the Western seaboard to address the decline in international visitors to the region. It builds on what is distinctive and appealing about the West coast – its rugged coastline and powerful ocean, complemented by a deeply rooted and authentic culture and people – to give it visibility in a crowded international tourism market.
I know that it is already proving a major hit in our key overseas markets.
While Fáilte Ireland provided the central co-ordinating role for the Wild Atlantic Way, it would be impossible to develop a project of this magnitude without the support of the Local Authorities along the route and accordingly, I wish to take the opportunity to formally acknowledge and thank them in this regard.
Fáilte Ireland is currently developing a similar unifying tourism proposition for those counties in the east and south.
That brand proposition will group the cultural and heritage tourism assets and experiences of Ireland’s East and South via a network of routes, trails and journeys into a new tourism experience that can easily be understood by and will appeal to overseas visitors.
It will build on the very significant investment supported by Fáilte Ireland using capital funding from my Department across the region, such as the Medieval Mile in Kilkenny and the Waterford Viking Triangle.
I look forward to the completion and launch of this exciting new proposition next year.
Promotion overseas (work of Tourism Ireland, leveraging the new Common Travel Area visa)
While the tourism industry, Fáilte Ireland, Local Authorities and other stakeholders are engaged in the continuous development of our tourism offering, it is the responsibility of Tourism Ireland to bring that message to potential visitors in overseas markets.
Tourism Ireland will be building on the opportunities presented by the new British-Irish Visa Scheme, which was launched last month by the Irish and British Governments. The scheme, based on mutual recognition of each other’s visas by Ireland and the UK, is an historic breakthrough between the two jurisdictions and will be initially rolled out in the key growth markets of China and India.
The scheme will build on the success of the current Irish Short-stay Visa Waiver Programme which was launched by the Government in July 2011, and has led to significant increases in visits from the countries covered by the Programme.
Estimated visits to Ireland from China and India grew from around 25,000 in 2009 to nearly 40,000 in 2013. The new British-Irish Visa Scheme will make it even easier for those numbers to continue growing, as the hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Indian visitors to the UK each year will now be able to travel to Ireland on the same visa.