Tourist Traffic Bill, 1998 [Certified Money Bill]: Second Stage.

Thursday, 3 December 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 157 No. 11

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Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): Information on James McDaid Zoom on James McDaid The purpose of the Tourist Traffic Bill, 1998, is to increase the statutory limit on the aggregate amount of Exchequer grant-in-aid which may be paid to Bord Fáilte Éireann to support tourism capital development works which are non-accommodation related in nature. Funding for this purpose is provided to Bord Fáilte under subhead B2 of my Department's Vote.

At the outset I should say that provision for this statutory limit was first introduced under section 2 of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1975, and most recently amended by the Tourist Traffic Act, 1995, which increased the limit to £22 million. Taking account of the 1998 subhead B2 Estimate, this limit is set to be exceeded before the end of this year. The Bill proposes that the limit be increased to £50 million to enable continued payments to the end of the year and in future years.

I want to make it clear that the Bill does not imply any commitment to provide funding at any particular level nor does it commit either the Government or the Oireachtas to any financial commitments, including the continuation of any particular grant scheme. The provision of capital funding to Bord Fáilte will, as always, be considered on a yearly basis in the annual Estimates exercise and the budget. In this context, Senators will be aware of recent proposals in the 1999 Estimates to provide an additional £8.5 million over the next two years to Bord Fáilte for capital expenditure which is covered by this statutory provision.

[784] From the point of view of our economy and the Government's strategy for its development, Bord Fáilte is working with one of Ireland's most important and vibrant economic sectors. Irish tourism has seen a dramatic acceleration of growth over the period 1986 to 1996 after steady growth over the previous 15 years. This growth has now continued consistently for more than a decade and has contributed significantly to the creation of a more mature, dynamic, expanding and profitable economic and business sector. The number of overseas visitors has also increased, growing from 2.4 million in 1988 to more than five million in 1997, a significant increase by any standards.

Tourism is now our second biggest industry, supporting almost 120,000 jobs — that is one in 12 of the workforce — and, when domestic tourism is taken into account, it generates almost £3 billion annually. With economic indicators such as these it is easy to see why tourism has become the vital force in the Irish economy that it is.

The industry generally is performing today at a level of success unprecedented in its history with new records achieved each year in visitor numbers and in the yield in overseas revenue. Figures released by the Central Statistics Office for the first six months of this year confirm that growth in visitor numbers to Ireland from abroad is running ahead of target at almost 11 per cent and the available figures for revenue are up by almost 13 per cent.

Bord Fáilte estimates on tourism revenue over the past number of years show that growth rates have been achieved in all regions of Ireland which are better than international and European annual averages. The continued promotion of a good regional spread and extension of the tourism season are vital elements in our tourism policy, and while it is clear that we cannot direct tourists to areas where they do not wish to go, we can encourage and promote the beauty and quality of facilities and the all round attractiveness of our lesser known regions.

Last year I secured a Supplementary Estimate of £5 million for special international marketing with a specific regional emphasis. Some of these initiatives targeted a range of advertising, publicity and other activities in the area of niche marketing on activities such as angling, golf, equestrian and walking. Another dealt with providing additional funds to integrate and supplement local and regional marketing activity consistent with national destination spend. Advancing the seasonality profile of Irish tourism has also received support with the promotion of early season events such as the national St. Patrick's Day festival.

Industry, working in conjunction with their regional tourism authorities and Bord Fáilte, can put in place sound business strategies to successfully market their facilities. The evidence would suggest that those operators who apply professional marketing practices are winning market [785] share over those that do not. For my part, I will try to ensure — in so far as I can — that the benefits of the continuing record growth in tourism are spread throughout the island as a whole. In this context, Senators may also be aware that this week — this evening in fact — I will be seeking approval, by way of Supplementary Estimate, for a further allocation in 1998 specifically to assist Bord Fáilte's marketing campaigns with a view to maintaining tourism growth and addressing regional spread.

Access both to Ireland and within Ireland is a very important issue. Ireland as a destination, on the western edge of Europe, has access challenges to face and solve. While much has been achieved in this regard by my colleagues in the areas of air, sea and road, it is clear that much remains to be done. For my part, I will continue to pursue with my colleagues in Cabinet the development of more competitive, regular and good access links with a particular emphasis on exploiting the opportunities for expanding access to the regions generally.

The benefits of a vibrant and expanding tourism sector have led to continuing and increased emphasis on the sector as an engine for growth in successive national economic programmes. The results of this have become very evident to anyone who has travelled around the country in recent years. The discerning visitor can now avail of new and disparate tourism infrastructure, such as conference, leisure and all weather facilities which have added a new dimension and quality to the type of tourism product available in Ireland. The scale of private investment which has flowed into tourism over the last decade is also highly evident in the development of hotel facilities and in the upgrading of accommodation and hospitality facilities generally to meet and even exceed international standards.

As we face the remainder of the decade and into the new millennium, the challenge to create further economic growth and employment has never been greater. The targets for our tourism industry are ambitious and ongoing investment in marketing, product development, training and visitor services is vital to maintain growth in the face of increased international competition.

The substantial support of the European Union for the tourism industry over the past ten years now has proved to be a sound investment. Senators may be aware that some time ago my Department produced a draft discussion paper on the development of tourism into the next century in the run up to the negotiations for the next round of EU Structural Funds. Preliminary consultations with the State tourism agencies and the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation have already taken place on these proposals, and indeed on many of their own proposals. The objective of this exercise is to prepare the most persuasive case possible for the continued partnership between the Government, the tourism industry and the EU in the further development of Irish tourism. Tourism has already shown itself [786] as a powerful instrument of regional policy, assisting in raising incomes and providing employment in the more remote and less advantaged regions and my wish is for that to continue.

There can be no doubt that the progress of the peace process and the improved prospect of peace and stability in Northern Ireland will be of substantial benefit to Irish tourism, not only in the British market but in our markets worldwide. Tourism's future requires that the principle of co-operation be at the centre of our policies and marketing decisions as we work together to promote the whole of Ireland in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

There is already much to build on in this regard as there has been significant cross-Border co-operation at both departmental and agency level for some time. At agency level, co-operation between Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, has existed since the 1960s and this has been considerably strengthened and facilitated in recent years by the availability of financial assistance for marketing and product development from both the European Union and the International Fund for Ireland. In addition, there have been regular contacts and co-operation between the two Departments on a range of issues of common interest in the tourism area.

As we approach the new millennium there will be a major focus on the twin issues of economic and monetary union and on finding the right way forward for the industry when the current operational programme for tourism ends. For the tourism industry in particular, the introduction of EMU next January will mean, not only the adapting of our marketing strategies to a new scenario but also the modification of computer technology and the provision of relevant training. With this in mind, a guide to the key issues of EMU for tourism businesses was produced as a co-operative venture between Bord Fáilte, CERT, ITIC and AIB specifically for the tourism industry. This, of course, is in addition to the national EMU awareness campaign and other private sector packages and initiatives.

Over the past decade or so we have witnessed — and indeed continue to witness — the greatest programme of tourism infrastructural development in our history which has involved huge levels of assistance from EU sources. This assistance, amounting to £220 million alone under the current operational programme for tourism, has played a critical part in raising the standard and quality of Irish tourism and in bridging the gap between it and international destinations, identified in the two co-funded programmes to date. In view of the resultant progress achieved, it is probably unlikely that EU assistance will be maintained indefinitely.

Industry self-sufficiency to a far greater extent will become the order of the day and this is a scenario for which we should be properly prepared. It is important, therefore, that with the advent of the euro we must not allow a perception to develop, especially abroad, that Ireland [787] might be on the way to becoming a high priced holiday destination for foreign tourists. This means that everyone in the industry must resist the temptation to edge up prices here and there for one service or another. While the issue of prices is a commercial one for the industry at large, and one in which neither I nor Bord Fáilte have any direct control, I will continue to use every opportunity to impress upon the industry that competitive and fairly priced products must be offered to all our visitors. I want our overseas visitors to be able to say to their friends and work colleagues when they go back home that they got good value in Ireland.

Earlier, I mentioned the fact that the number of visitors to Ireland over the past ten years had more than doubled. Based on Bord Fáilte and industry growth projections for early in the next century the number of visitors coming to our shores is set to rise to over seven million by 2003. This will present us with a number of new and additional challenges with regard to environmental and congestion issues and in the provision of adequate visitor services. With this in mind I launched a special pilot tourism and environmental initiative earlier this year under the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999 seeking practical proposals to address issues where tourism and the environment interface.

The intention of the initiative is to encourage projects which would point to ways of supporting tourism development, while at the same time, sustaining the environment on which it is based. Examples of the types of projects sought included visitor management schemes such as those proposed for individual sites, towns or cities, environment awareness projects and innovative litter control systems to address one of the scourges of modern Ireland. I am pleased to say that this initiative has already come to fruition with a number of projects recommended for consideration by the project development management boards. Once approved, the successful projects will be closely monitored so as to provide a useful insight into how best practice can actively be promoted among the wider tourism industry.

With this increased level of visitors it is important that the services provided by our tourist information offices keep pace with the changing times and increasing expectations of tourists, both domestic and foreign. Investment programmes are being undertaken by the regional tourism authorities to expand their network and to upgrade existing facilities. The major part of the money provided to Bord Fáilte under subhead B2 since 1995 has been allocated by Bord Fáilte to the regional authorities towards the implementation of these investment programmes.

Other areas benefiting from expenditure allocations by Bord Fáilte from subhead B2 include the development of regional tourist amenity sign-posting and regional heritage and tourist projects.

This work has also benefited from European Regional Development Fund support under the [788] current operational programme for tourism. By the end of the programme approximately £10 million will have been contributed by the State and EU for these developments, including the provision of a new computerised system to improve the quality and efficiency of information and reservations services. The number of visits to tourist information offices last year was 4.3 million, an increase of 139 per cent on the 1998 total of 1.8 million. Over the same period the number of bed nights booked through these offices increased by 153 per cent to 670,000. The tourist information office network is, therefore, a vital ingredient in the tourism infrastructure, providing as they do an after sales service to visitors as well as being a major player in the promotion of home holidays to Irish holidaymakers.

Section 2 of the Bill deals with grant expenditure for the development of tourism related facilities and amenities. The existing statutory limit on grants of this nature is £22 million and expenditure up to the end of 1997 amounted to £21 million. The 1998 allocation for this type of grant expenditure is almost £1.1 million bringing aggregate expenditure on amenity development by the end of this year to over £22 million. The current statutory limit last set in 1995 must, therefore, be increased to ensure completion of this year's amenity development programme. I am accordingly proposing that the limit be increased from £22 million to £50 million. Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. I look forward to the debate.

Mr. D. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan Zoom on Denis Cregan The tourism opportunities in this country are enormous. I congratulate the Minister for providing extra facilities and funding for the tourism, our second largest industry. With the way the farming sector is suffering at the moment it will probably be our largest industry.

However, there are many areas where the tourism industry is not working to its full potential. Bord Fáilte does not seem to blend with the other regional authorities and tourist boards like Leader programmes, Cork/Kerry Tourism and many others. I will debate this issue in greater detail on Committee Stage.

I congratulate the Minister and other Ministers for ensuring that we are keeping up to date with the industry. Ireland is availing of a golden opportunity. We are very lucky we can provide a type of atmosphere and character that more and more people want to experience but we want to continue doing so.

The Minister made some very strong points in his report. I welcome the fact that he said he does not have any direct control when he looks for money, that he does not have any right to question prices, particularly the £3 extra per night that tourists have to pay for staying in Dublin. This is a very sad reflection on tourism. We should not allow an extra £3 to be charged in Dublin or the eastern region. We must strongly emphasise that a tourist coming to Ireland must be welcomed. Tourists should leave here saying they got very [789] good value for money and that they enjoyed their visit immensely.

The Minister said that 1.8 million people visited tourist boards in 1998. When we compare the 1998 tourist figure of 1.8 million visitors with the years 1996 and 1997, we realise that was not a bad figure. Other countries were in a deep depression during those two years. Ireland is also a very popular destination. People want to be seen to be visiting Ireland.

The Minister referred to the relationship that is being built up between the North and South. We must promote the island of Ireland because it will be more profitable for more people. Bord Fáilte must emphasise that they want people to visit the entire island, to fly into Belfast, visit Cork, the West and other regions.

Some people felt that the industry got off to a late start in some of the regions this year because Shannon Airport is not being utilised. In Dublin and the eastern region, the opposite would be true. Tourists fly into Dublin and they are not inclined to travel west. The Minister should push at Cabinet level to ensure that the infrastructure is improved to get people to travel at little cost to the other regions, especially the south, west and south-west. Travellers from Europe are very important, but even more important are the English, Scots and Welsh who, unlike travellers from the Continent and America, spend all their money.

There is a big problem with tourists staying on the east coast. It is a sad reflection on us. We need to provide better facilities, such as coaches and railways. Bord Fáilte is not promoting the rest of the country as well as the east coast. West Cork is not promoted enough. Count Kerry will do exceptionally well because of the proposal to include it in the region seeking qualification for Objective One status in the next round of EU Structural Funds. Much work has gone into that and I congratulate those concerned who availed of the opportunities before them.

A huge number of beds have been made available in Dublin. While it means that more people will visit the country we do not want all the beds in the one area. We must regionalise to ensure other areas are promoted. Bord Fáilte is not doing enough work here. There were reports over the summer of disharmony in the board. This is undesirable as it creates uncertainty about future strategy.

The Minister expressed the hope that seven million tourists will visit the country before 2003. We should reach that target by 2000. While there has been an increase from 2.5 million to five million over the past ten years, the success of the economy should ensure that the rate of increase will accelerate.

Ireland is a great place to visit. Many people like it. I have travelled to many countries, including the west coast of America, but they do not compare with Ireland. We have the right attitude, excellent food and an atmosphere that is incomparable. We should not create an impression that [790] certain parts of the country should not be visited or that certain categories of tourist are not welcome. In this regard, price control and food quality are important elements of our tourism package. Not all venues can or should be like Ashford Castle, although they serve a specific market.

We do not avail of the opportunity to use those who represent the country abroad, whether they are from the North or the South. When our international sports representatives, recognised throughout the world as the best, appear on television they rarely if ever wear a symbol of the country, whether it be of Bord Fáilte or, preferably, of the island of Ireland. Yet, they display other kinds of symbols from sporting organisations, clubs, etc. The only national symbol I have seen was Michelle Smith's swimming hat, which displayed a shamrock.

Dr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid Zoom on James McDaid A sum of £100,000 is allocated to that area.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney The Senator is from Cork.

Mr. D. Cregan: Information on Denis Cregan Zoom on Denis Cregan None of them is from Cork. There is a danger in giving money of that kind to organisations because they can bury it. I am not concerned with sporting organisations but with individuals in sport. Nobody would suggest that staging the first leg of the Tour de France was not worth the cost. It was an excellent idea, irrespective of what Minister made the decision. It would cost very little to ask our international sports people to wear a symbol of the island of Ireland. Why are we allocating between £20 to £50 million to the promotion of Ireland when this opportunity is not being availed of?

Is the Minister suggesting that money will be allocated to people and organisations to develop the tourism industry without any direct control to ensure they are acting in the best interests of their regions and of the country as a whole? I disagree with that approach. They cannot be given enormous grants to build and develop without accountability. If we allowed that to happen we would do an injustice to our second biggest industry, which will be our biggest industry in a few years if it continues to develop and expand.

Serious questions have arisen over staffing capacity. There is a massive shortage of staff to provide a proper service for tourists. This has mainly arisen because of the wages paid and the profits made by operators in the industry. The Minister must address this problem.

I welcome the Bill. I also welcome the fact that the Minister is broad minded enough to recognise the opportunities available to the island of Ireland. We should not stop here. We need to create more opportunities and, above all, ensure that we do not become over-centralised. The tourism industry is very centralised at present. Dublin and the east coast are doing exceptionally well. I do not begrudge them that and I do not say it because I am a Corkman. My concern is with the island of Ireland. There is a general [791] impression that the west and south-west are losing out and that is sad. If money is being allocated, it should be done fairly. There should not be any impression of over-centralisation. That would do no one any good.

Mr. Moylan: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I welcome the Minister Deputy McDaid to the House and thank him for his address.

This is a very important Bill which gives the Minister the opportunity to further develop the tourism industry which is so important to the country. The need to achieve a better regional and seasonal spread of tourist business must be addressed in any future plans for tourism. If tourism is to continue to achieve its growth targets, that is essential. This can be brought about by increased and more targeted investment in marketing to promote the various segments.

A strategy for growth study published by the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation this year warned that if the country failed to address the key issues of regional and seasonal spread, high levels of growth would become unsustainable after 1999. As a result the confederation estimates that average growth per annum could fall by 5 per cent as early as the year 2000. I can see by what the Minister said this morning that he intends to prevent this happening. The strategy for growth beyond 2000 is very important in strategic planning for the coming decade. The study was jointly funded by ITIC and the EU Operational Programme for Tourism, administered through the Minister's Department.

Tourism has the potential to continue to grow at a rate above the international average, given certain circumstances, such as adequate investment in marketing and product expansion. Tourism in Ireland could achieve more than seven million visitors in 2002 compared with the current figure of five million, with revenue growing to in excess of £2.5 billion. The strategic study sets out the industry's potential for the period until 2002 and seeks a more influential role for the industry in the management of tourism growth over the next five years.

The study also calls for a commitment from the Government to a five year funding programme and a new partnership between public and private sector. It calls for contact between the Government and industry which would commit both sides to the sustainable development of the tourism industry so that it can provide an adequate return to those who invest in it and more jobs and contribute to the economy of the State.

It is accepted that tourism can continue to achieve high growth rates but the level of growth will depend on the industry's capacity to influence measures which will ensure that a more balance regional and seasonal spread of visits is achieved. Increased and more targeted investment in marketing to the holiday market is essential.

[792] The study, which forecasts the performance of the main market, envisages tourism growing from an influx in 1997 of five million overseas visitors with revenue of £1.8 million to a potential figure of 7.8 million with a revenue of £2.5 billion by 2002. This requires an average growth rate of 9 per cent in numbers and 9.5 per cent in revenue over that period, figures which are substantially ahead of international forecasts. A lower level of growth scenario in the study envisaged tourism numbers of more than seven million visitors and £2.2 billion in revenue during the same period.

The report emphasises that there must be a new approach to managing tourism flows. This is something which Ireland must pioneer. I welcome what the Minister said about this. He is certainly looking ahead. Specifically we must avoid levels of congestion which would damage our environment and our reputation as a relaxing destination and, at the same time, spread the economic benefits over a wider area of the State. Tourism maintains in excess of 120,000 jobs in the economy. Last year the Government received in excess of £1 billion in revenue from foreign visitors — five pence of every pound spent by tourists. The direct return to Government reinforces the industry's argument that the Government must increase its funding for overseas promotion.

I compliment Bord Fáilte on its excellent presentation at the trade fair in London and all those who are working so hard to ensure the maximum benefit accrues to this country from tourism. The Minister's contribution and support for all Irish people promoting tourism was admirable.

We must look at improved tourism yields, extend the tourism season and spread tourism into regions which have not benefited to the same extent as others. One of the points touched upon by the Minister in his London speech was co-operation between North and South in tourism. We all know that the British-Irish Agreement established a framework for developing relationships between the people on these islands. Valuable work is being done by many organisations to develop reconciliation and mutual understanding between the traditions in the northern part of our country. The Minister emphasised that we must look at this on an all-Ireland basis to ensure the maximum development of the island in relation to tourism. There are many people in the North of Ireland who have never visited the Twenty-six Counties and many people from the Twenty-six Counties who have never visited the North. There is a great opportunity to open that up and spend our money within the island. to ensure maximum support for the creation of jobs North and South.

Tourism is recognised in the British-Irish Agreement as one of the areas of co-operation which should be overseen by an implementation body. Although the target date for determining areas of joint activity has shifted and negotiations are continuing, it is reasonable to assume that tourism will be one of the areas where there will be closer co-operation. It is the aim of the Minister [793] and his Department to ensure there is real co-operation between the North and South.

There are other opportunities to explore under the Co-operation Ireland programme. We must ensure that the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation will support this programme. The question arises of how best to develop partnership and secure support in this area. We must ensure every effort is made to develop every avenue open to us in relation to tourism. It is important to have cross-Border co-operation, cross-Border initiatives and joint cross-Border projects. Everyone concerned must co-operate at all levels. There are many unexplored areas and people can now travel throughout the country North and South. A greater number of people go on cycling tours and visit heritage centres.

The Minister mentioned developing areas that have not been developed heretofore. I would support a county structure for tourism. Many small groups such as farm guesthouse owners and leisure centres try to work on their own to promote tourism. They sometimes spend a substantial amount of money and achieve very little. A county or regional structure would greatly benefit these groups. There is an onus on local authorities to appoint tourism development officers to liaise with the Department and the regional boards.

Many areas in the midlands do not benefit from tourism. Clonmacnoise had only 170,000 visitors last year. I compliment the Minister for the support he has given to leisure facilities in this region in the recent past. People can now visit County Offaly and the midland region and stay overnight to enjoy the facilities. The Minister made financial aid available to develop facilities in the region. This is money well spent.

I compliment the Minister on the work he is doing in the area of tourism. People involved in this area recognise his contribution to the promotion of the industry. In the past couple of years, particularly during the Minister's term in office, growth in tourism increased substantially. In the Border region it increased by 32 per cent; the Dublin region, 48 per cent; the midlands east, 47 per cent; my area of the midlands, a massive 54 per cent; the mid-west, 43 per cent; the south-east, 64 per cent; the south-west, 30 per cent and the west 23 per cent. All organisations should work with the Minister to ensure maximum support in the area of tourism North and South. When the Minister put this initiative forward at the trade fair in London it was well received.

Mr. Gallagher: Information on Pat Gallagher Zoom on Pat Gallagher I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Bill. The Bill increases the limit on the amount of money made available by the Exchequer to Bord Fáilte for capital works and tourism development. I compliment Bord Fáilte on marketing the tourism product abroad. However, I have reservations regarding its involvement in capital development of tourism products in Ireland, particularly in recent years. I will declare my interest straight out.

[794] I am involved in the development of a heritage centre in Tullamore. This will portray the industrial history of the area for visitors and school groups and will provide a tourism centre in the town. In recent years, while we have managed to get capital support of a considerable nature for the project, it has been a most frustrating experience dealing with the various committees, subcommittees and bureaucratic levels involved in the decision making process. This comes under the remit of Bord Fáilte and the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. As a result of the extra money allocated under this legislation, projects and promoters throughout the country should get a much faster response to the proposals they put forward. People spend considerable amounts of money developing proposals to an advanced stage. It is most frustrating to have to go to several committees and have projects sent up and down the line before a decision is reached. This has a debilitating effect on people's enthusiasm and energy and on the financial commitments they are prepared to make to capital developments in the area of tourism.

Regarding the new heritage centre in Tullamore, we initially managed to secure a commitment of more than £600,000 from the fund administered by the Department to support the project. We succeeded in building a very strong partnership involving the local authority, the community sector, the commercial sector and the statutory agencies. However, when the project reached the demolition stage and subsequently brick was built upon brick, the fact that we had been successful in getting a commercial company to commit money to it reduced our grant by a comparable amount. Therefore, having persuaded the commercial company to be associated with the project was of no advantage. In the end we decided to accept the lower amount of capital grant. In terms of meeting the running costs of this facility, it will be beneficial to have a strong vibrant commercial company associated with the project. I ask the Minister to consider policy in that area. If local authorities, promoters or communities are successful in building partnerships at local level, which have worked so successfully at national level and which we are now being encouraged to consider at local level, no financial penalty should result.

Senator Moylan and I represent a county which is divided between two regional tourism organisations. I had hoped a few years ago when the Minister's predecessor, Deputy McCreevy, was reviewing the structures for tourism development that much more focus, authority and financial power would be given to the county tourism committees which were set up at the time. Instead, various representations were made on behalf of regional tourism organisations and other interests and the regional tourism authorities have, more or less, retained their place within their structure, while the county tourism committees have been starved of funding and power. I do not wish to speak against any regional tourism organisation, [795] many of which do a good job however, their delineations and boundaries need to be looked at.

An arbitrary line drawn across the map of County Offaly leaves one half of the county in the Shannon region and the other half in the Midlands East Regional Tourism Organisation region. That, more than anything else, compounds the difficulty we experience within the county in getting tourism promoters and activists to come together and work as a unified group. We are always dealing with side issues, rivalries and envy. We must move beyond that in order, first, to get our tourism product to an internationally acceptable level and, second, to market it in a way which will bring a return to the promoters. We cannot do that while our county is split between two regional organisations.

Senator Moylan has been a member of Offaly County Council for longer than I have and he knows the county has been seeking to have that matter resolved, which it has not been so far. At a recent meeting with MERTO it acknowledged that the split in the county was reducing the effectiveness of the effort being made in county tourism promotion.

There have been many developments in recent years in the county. There has been development of the River Shannon and Slieve Bloom areas and major investment in the Birr Castle complex and the heritage centre in Tullamore. We are trying to market those areas as an overall product, not just in terms of County Offaly but possibly linking up with our neighbours in north Tipperary, Laois, Westmeath and other areas. It is extremely difficult to do that when one has to deal with two regional tourism organisations. The organisations have different policies, which is reflected on the ground in the county. I appeal to the Minister to review that situation and to try to resolve it for the benefit of tourism promoters in the county.

I listened carefully to what Senator Moylan said about the development of tourism, North and South, and I fully concur with the points he made. It was unfortunate that, shortly after putting a joint marketing programme together, we then fell out, to a certain degree, about the matter of a symbol. Symbols and signs are very important in this country, particularly in the North. I hope we can put that little hiccup behind us and that, in the context of the new arrangements for the North and South which we hope will be agreed very soon, we can get back to a fully agreed and fully integrated plan and marketing strategy, which can only benefit both parts of this island.

I ask the Minister to give more authority and finance to the county tourism committees. Two years ago I spent a fortnight's holiday in Fermanagh with a number of friends. I was very impressed to find, first, that Fermanagh's district council was the authority for the promotion and marketing of tourism in the county, under the aegis of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board; second, it had significant resources at its disposal [796] to develop and market products; and, third, it had open, attractive, welcoming tourist information centres in a number of the main towns in the county.

We do not have that level of facilities in most of the counties in this part of Ireland. The county tourism committees, with strong input, guidance, link and support from local authorities, should be upgraded and given more responsibility for the promotion of tourism within the county and specific responsibility for the operation of tourist offices and tourism information points. Such committees would know the best locations for such offices, how best to staff them, how to welcome visitors to their areas and give them the information and guidance they need when they arrive. If the Minister could look at that area and strengthen county tourism committees, in association with local authorities, he would be doing a very good day's work.

I support the Bill and the provision of extra finance for the development of tourism products. However, I ask the Minister to keep a very close eye on how that money is dispensed, to cut the red tape, to reduce the toing and froing between committees, Departments, subcommittees and review groups and to let the people who have the courage and enthusiasm to put a proposal together get a response. The promoter of the hotel which was recently developed in Tullamore, who is well known to the Minister, has experienced great frustration in trying to get a positive response to that development. I urge the Minister to cut the red tape and streamline the system so that when people have the courage to put a proposal together they can get quick, responsive and effective support from the Department or the agencies under its aegis.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney I endorse the comments of my colleagues and welcome the Minister to the House. Perhaps, basking in the glow of an excellent budget, I will be forgiven for being complimentary to the Minister. His merits are obvious and his policies, since coming into office, stand on those merits, especially the innovative manner in which he has approached his brief. The mixture of tourism, sport and recreation was a radical and welcome one because the three overlap to an extraordinary degree — we are a sports loving nation and we also rely to an extraordinary degree on tourism income.

The comments of my friend and colleague, Senator Cregan, on sport lead me to put on the record an initiative which the Minister introduced within the past 12 months — the allocation of £100,000 to a number of specific sports people, the quid pro quo being that they would wear the Ireland logo on their sports gear in international competitions. When one considers the huge impact made by televised sport worldwide, the presence of the Ireland logo on the sportswear of prominent Irish international athletes across a wide variety of sports was a very welcome initiative [797] and one on which the Minister should be complimented.

The people wearing the logo include Sarah Kavanagh, who is a Formula Two motor rallyist and one of the very few women who are successful in international motor racing; Ken Doherty, who we all know very well and is an unassuming world champion whom I have had the pleasure of meeting on more than one occasion; Morgan Fox, in cycling, and Damien Faulkner, in motor rallying and racing. Those are just some examples of sports which might not be obvious to people but which have a huge television audience, in which the good name of Ireland is being projected. The Minister is to be complimented on that initiative.

There has been spectacular growth in tourism numbers, as outlined by Senator Cregan, Senator Moylan, my friend and colleague, and the Minister. One wonders where and when it will end. Other countries where fundamental economic growth is based on tourism revenue are already beginning to send out warning signals that they are being over-visited. I am aware that the Minister has expressed some concern in this regard in relation to some attractions, although we should not be churlish about the fact that so many people wish to visit us.

When one considers the huge numbers of people who come here on an annual basis to visit various locations, the question must be put as to whether there is a need in the Department for a radical restructuring and more balanced view of tourism. If one examines the phenomenal growth in tourism and breaks down the figures one will find that Dublin and the eastern region has received huge numbers, something which is perfectly acceptable in one regard as for a long time Dublin languished behind many other European cities and was never seen as the most obvious location to visit. However, the upsurge in hotels and tourism infrastructure in general has meant there are huge numbers of people coming to the Dublin and eastern region.

Greater emphasis on all-weather facilities is important as is identification of events with tourism appeal and their location in a more balanced way as happens in other countries. For example, rather than every sporting or tourism event being held in Dublin or Cork, they should be located in other cities and towns and the infrastructure should be in place to allow this. It is not sensible or logical for regional tourism interests to vie for international events unless they have a proper service infrastructure in place.

In the context of infrastructure it is long past time that we tackled the appalling condition of many of our county roads, particularly in areas of scenic beauty. While local authority members are encouraging visitors to our regions the roads which tourists are expected to travel on are totally unacceptable. This is relevant to a point made by Senator Gallagher and of which I am strongly supportive, namely, the need for greater integration of services at local level. The introduction [798] of special policy committees to local authorities in the past 12 months is significant. I hope tourism interests in each local authority area will grasp the opportunity now being presented to them by being nominated to the committees and being proactive, thereby giving them a direct link to the policy making functions of local authorities, including the provision of adequate funding for improving roads leading to scenic and tourism areas. For too long county councillors have not been as concerned with the condition of some roads in their areas as with looking after — rightly so — the more immediate needs of those who work and live in the areas. Therefore, the emphasis has been on improving road networks which have a practical impact on the day to day lives of people. As a result tourism considerations have fallen by the wayside somewhere along the way.

In County Leitrim there is a continuous battle to get even minimal funding to patch regional and county roads which may not have a high volume density of residents but which unquestionably would have far greater appeal and great potential if they were improved. The Acting Chairman knows the area very well. In the Slieve AnierinLough Allen valley a bus load of tourists got stuck in a ditch because the road was not good enough. This is no longer acceptable and has subsequently discouraged tourist traffic from using the road. The council says it has its priorities and that it will eventually get around to it, perhaps in 2005. This sort of bad planning which excludes tourism interests should cease. I hope the position will improve with the involvement of tourism interests, such as county tourism committees, in the SPCs.

There is a greater need for co-operation between State and local agencies in terms of tourism interests. The Acres Lake development outside Drumshanbo, my home town, is a model for the west. It has an open air heated swimming pool, tennis courts and a children's playground in a most idyllic setting on the shores of Lake Acres which for some years has had access to cruiser traffic from the Lough Allen Canal and, with the reopening of the remainder of the Lough Allen Canal, to Lough Allen. Yet for years a fight has been taking place between local interests, the county council and the Office of Public Works over the provision of toilet facilities. The Office of Public Works says it is not their function to provide such facilities and the local authority says it is. Local tourist interests do not have the necessary funds to provide a toilet facility for visitors. The result is that people are using the environment — I will leave it to Members' imagination — as a facility. This is unacceptable, particularly in the context of an increase of millions of pounds in the tourism, sport and recreation budget. Despite this, £10,000 or £15,000 cannot be found from local authority, departmental or Dúchas funds to provide basic toilet facilities. This situation could be echoed right across the country in the context of small but important tourist infrastructural [799] facilities which would help encourage people visit an area. People leave such areas with a bad taste in their mouths.

In recent years the creation of cross-Border networks has lead and hopefully continues to lead to greater cohesion between counties North and South of the Border. Senator Moylan raised this cross-Border element. I am a founding member of the Irish Central Border Network which incorporates Counties Sligo, south Donegal, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and south Tyrone. The network, together with colleagues in the North West Border Network and the Eastern Border Network, have co-ordinated to such an impressive degree that a series of meetings has taken place over recent months which will culminate in a meeting tomorrow in the Killyhevlin hotel in Enniskillen, which I hope to attend, to launch an area integrated plan. Hopefully the plan will include recognition of the importance of tourism. The climate which is conducive to cross-Border co-operation is yet another example of the benefit of the Good Friday Agreement. I wish to acknowledge as fulsomely as I can the pro-active contribution of Unionist members of the cross-Border network. They are actively involved, as we are in the South, in lobbying the two Governments and the European Union to access more funds under the INTERREG programme. I like to think such initiatives will be given the blessing of the Minister's Department.

The Minister commented upon the use of Croke Park in particular for international matches and games. The Minister is fully entitled to raise this matter and I have great sympathy with it. However, why is it always the GAA which is asked to open its doors when other sporting organisations, through neglect, omission or even downright irresponsibility, have been unable to finance and fund sporting facilities in their games? There is no other country in the world, especially in Europe, where a sporting organisation is constantly asked to open its facilities to another competitive sport. If there is to be European soccer championship finals in Ireland, let the relevant sporting authorities, with the aid and assistance of the Government, build the facilities. Please leave the GAA alone and allow it develop its own facilities as it has been doing. There is a great deal of concern when this issue is raised and people in the GAA ask why they should be singled out. Everybody knows the GAA has made and continues to make an important contribution at local level. I do not want to maintain the controversy, but the need for sporting facilities is a matter for individual sporting organisations. I would welcome and support the attempt of the FAI to build their own stadium. I am a passionate supporter of sport, especially ball games; I would watch two flies going up a wall. There should be an end to the debate about sporting facilities. Give organisations the money or let them find the money to build those facilities, [800] and then we can take our place among the sporting nations of Europe.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy Zoom on Donie Cassidy The tourism industry has contributed greatly to the success of what is now known as the Celtic tiger. The Minister said that the industry is generally performing at a level of success unprecedented in our history. Each year new records in visitor numbers and in the yield of overseas revenue are being achieved. Statistics from the Central Statistics Office for the first six months of this year confirm that the growth in the number of overseas visitors to Ireland is ahead of target by 11 per cent and the available revenue figures show an increase of 13 per cent. If there is an example of an industry getting behind the economy it is the tourist industry. I compliment the Minister on how hard he is working for the industry and the country. He is very committed and, coming from the beautiful tourist county of Donegal, he fully understand the needs and potential of the tourism industry. However, this success has also brought difficulties.

A recent industry job fair attended by 25 companies attracted only 50 people on the Sunday and 150 on the following Monday. The industry, in the form of hotels and restaurants, seems unable to attract workers. This job fair was extensively advertised in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and over 1,200 people were expected. When the job fair was held in Manchester it was swamped by applicants. There appears to be no role model to attract young people in the industry, with the exception of Conrad Gallagher.

There are very few trainee bar persons coming into the industry, and it appears that there will be very few professional bar people in the industry in the future. Training is the lifeblood of any trade, and young people do not seem interested in training as receptionists or bar people. A training course for receptionists was cancelled by CERT this year due to lack of interest, and the industry is scraping the bottom of the barrel for receptionists. The trained receptionist is opting for a nine to five job without pressure or long hours. Receptionists have a heavier workload with increased occupancy in hotels. A receptionist course with training in front office systems is being set up, but will CERT answer the call that has been made? There is great interest in the course, but time will tell if it is a success.

Restaurants and hotels are not being sold as attractive places to work in. Many young people with social skills are not looking at the opportunities of a possible career in this field. The ITIC has looked for a £20 million investment in marketing; an investment of £50 million would be more appropriate. It would ensure the future of tourism for years to come. Marketing directed at attracting new European tourists would take capital but it would pay off, especially at off peak times.

More emphasis should be placed on school children in transition year gaining real experience in the marketplace over the winter, as they can [801] then be fully utilised in the summer. They can then have careers in the industry. The Department of Education and Science will have to be involved and the Minister should consider the industry's proposals.

It is a long time since any of us saw an industry with such potential for employment. People are being wooed from workplace to workplace, but those who are committed will receive a very good salary and good working conditions. We have always been sold as Ireland of the welcomes, and the friendly smile one receives on arrival at one's destination is vital for those who work in the front of house. They are the first people one meets on entering these establishments. Tourists feel better when they meet a friendly Irish person who wants to show them Irish hospitality. We should not lose sight of this; if we do, the industry will be in serious danger. The biggest asset family run hotels have is the personal relationship with their guests. I would not like what happens in other countries to happen here: your money is taken, you get your key and you do not see the staff again until you check out. That was never the case in this country, and it never should, but we have a real crisis in the industry.

Something will have to be done in schools at career guidance level with 15 and 16 year old students. They should be brought into the tourist industry during their holidays to see if they like working there. It is terrible that they do not decide what they want to do until after the leaving certificate. They then come into the industry and think it is glamorous because of advertising. It is a seven days a week job, involving 12 hour shifts and a person must be totally committed. If people come into the industry when they are younger and have fewer distractions, they will get used to the long hours and they will not mind working. Neither will they expect the glamour one sees in brochures.

The Minister of State knows north Westmeath very well; it is where he and I were born. There are no hotels in that area, which has beautiful lakes such as Lough Sheelin, Lough Lene, Lough Owel, Lough Derravarragh and White Lake, near the Minister of State's birthplace. There are beautiful forest walks in Kanturk and Mullaghmeen. There is a lovely golf course at Delvin Castle and another is being built at Ballinalough Castle.

There is a range of tourist recreational facilities and opportunities in north County Westmeath. However, we do not have a centrepiece, a hotel. A hotel is being built in Castlepollard by a young man who worked hard in England for over 25 years. He has come home and is putting his life savings into starting the hotel. There are tremendous opportunities but there are no grants available to him.

In areas where there is tourism potential and tourist attractions but which lack hotels, grant aid should be available. A special case should be made for what we call the hidden Ireland. The areas that have developed over the years are [802] doing very well. A good infrastructure has been put in place and the Government has given substantial support through Bord Fáilte and other mechanisms. However, there is nothing for the hidden Ireland, which comprises not only County Westmeath, but also Counties Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Longford and parts of Cavan and Meath. These are beautiful parts of the country but they need a special category status. I am aware that the Minister for Finance made provision for some of these areas in the upper Shannon region in last year's budget. However, I make a case for north County Westmeath and I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, to contact the Minister to see what might be done in this regard.

One of the reasons so many tourists come to Ireland from the UK is the reduced air fares being offered by Ryanair. Ryanair has made a great contribution to bringing people to Ireland. If a local hurling team is in the county semi-final local people will come home from England to see the match and may come home for a fortnight if the team reaches the final. They can do so because air fares are now affordable allowing them to fly home on a Friday night and return to England on the first flight Monday morning. This allows them to contribute to the economy of their home parish. This has been made possible by the efforts of Ryanair and its chief executive, Michael O'Leary. I congratulate the company for its contribution to Irish tourism, particularly with the golden years campaigns.

There is no accommodation problem in hotels around the country in the midweek. The lack of hotel accommodation in Dublin to which people refer really only applies at weekends. From Sunday to Thursday there is plenty of accommodation available, not only in Dublin but around the country.

I congratulate Ryanair for its efforts. I am aware that Aer Lingus has been flying on the UK routes for many years and it has also done a good job and has been a great ambassador for Ireland.

The success of the musicals “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” has transformed Ireland. There are three groups touring the world with the shows, representing our country and showing off our culture. “Lord of the Dance” is booked out in Las Vegas for the next four months. What better ambassadors can there be for the country than the young people in these magnificent successful shows? The success of the shows has been mind boggling. One of the troupes is booked out for two years in advance. There is one troupe in America, another in Europe and a third in Las Vegas and it is going on to Australia.

The Minister should encourage more people to give financial backing to the music and entertainment industry. It never seeks Government grants. Most musicians live on a small income but they never draw the dole. They want to make their contribution as creative people. They are the envy of the international music business.

[803] I support the Bill. I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Minister my proposals for the north County Westmeath area. The words of Patrick Farrell —“Where is the one who does not love the land where he was born?”— ring true for those of us born and reared in rural areas who are fortunate to be Members of the Oireachtas and who have the opportunity to make the Government aware of the concerns of our areas. We seek to have them taken into account in future legislation and in the financial allocations being made generously by the Government.

Other Members will recall how difficult it was to be a public representative in the late 1980s but hard decisions made by all parties at that time have allowed us to hand to a new generation great prosperity, magnificent opportunity and a better time to be in public life.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: Information on Tom Fitzgerald Zoom on Tom Fitzgerald I welcome any Bill which proposes to invest in the country. There is no more deserving industry than tourism. The cities are doing well and tourism in the west and other rural areas is very important. I agree with Senator Cassidy that there are tourism black spots, even in Counties Cork and Kerry. Although these counties do well from tourism there are areas in west Cork and on the Iveragh Peninsula in west Kerry which need help, whether by way of grants or tax concessions. There is a lot to be done for these areas.

Tourism is our second largest industry employing, as the Minister indicated, 120,000 people. If 120,000 people are directly employed in tourism there is even more employment in the related food, travel and other services. I have supported Bord Fáilte and the tourism industry all my life. However, there are elements about which I am not happy.

My wife and I have been in the bed and breakfast business since 1972. Recently, vouchers have become a feature of the business. Visitors come to the house and they have pre-paid vouchers for their accommodation. Until a couple of months ago the voucher was worth £12.50. We had many guests paying with vouchers and I asked some of them how much they had paid for the vouchers. I discovered that they were paying £18 for a voucher worth £12.50 to us. At least 20 companies in the tourism business, ranging from brand names to individuals, are issuing these vouchers. I am not complaining about not getting paid but that people are getting conned at some point — the voucher is supposed to ensure accommodation but it does not.

Until July this year the vouchers, which were approved by Bord Fáilte and the Irish Town and Country Homes Association, were for standard accommodation but 95 per cent of accommodation in my area is en suite, no matter what size the house. The charge of £17 per night is reasonable. When people present the voucher, the bed and breakfast owner has to explain that the voucher is for standard accommodation and [804] guests must pay another £2.50, which means they have to pay £20 for accommodation they could have got for between £15 and £17.

The Minister should look at the voucher business because there is discontent among owners of guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. They cause untold problems; the person buying a voucher is under the impression that because a guest house is listed by Bord Fáilte, he is automatically booked into that house, but that is not the case.

The tourism offices are brilliant. I often go to them when on holiday and the staff know every nook and corner of their town, all the pubs, etc. If a person comes in looking for accommodation, the staff can check what is available on computer and can book the guest in. This is a good system because almost all the time the guest will honour his commitment and stay. However, the tourism office charges 10 per cent of the price for doing that, which is wrong. The bed and breakfasts cannot reduce their price — £17 per night is extremely reasonable — but the owner has to pay £1.70 per person. Next year, we will have to charge £20 per person in order to cover this charge. In other countries, like France, it is not the hotel or guesthouse who pays the fee but the person requesting the information, whereas here the guesthouse or bed and breakfast owner pays. If the cost is £34 for two people, a fee of £3.40, 10 per cent of the total, is paid by the guests in the tourism office, and that is deducted from the price, so at the end of the day it is we who pay it. That 10 per cent should still be paid but we should receive our full price. Those are problems which should be resolved.

Hotels are pricing us out of the tourism business — their fees are crazy. It is not right to charge £60 per person in an average hotel in Dublin. In most parts of the world one can get good hotel accommodation for £25 to £30 per person, and that is enough. People are not looking for luxury. Many hotels charging these prices do not have proper facilities — their rooms are the same as those in any guesthouse or bed and breakfast. I do not mind those that have facilities like swimming pools, gyms, indoor tennis courts, etc., charging a few pounds extra — we need those facilities because of our climate. I shiver when I think of people being charged £1.20 for a cup of coffee in these hotels — my wife gives her guests a pot of coffee which would fill ten cups, and she does not think of it as £1.20 per cup.

I concur with other speakers that tourism is valuable to the country and to all of us. A number of towns are in the same boat as Dingle — if they lost tourism they would be ghost towns. We must protect and appreciate tourism, and we will facilitate Bord Fáilte and the Minister, but they should listen to our views. The vouchers must be changed, otherwise we will get a bad name and people will not accept them. I promised the Minister I would show him copies of the vouchers. The value of the voucher has increased from £12.50 to £14.50 but the problem is the same.

[805] I support the Bill and wish the Minister, Bord Fáilte and everyone involved in tourism well. It is a great asset and long may it remain so.

Mr. Farrell: Information on Willie Farrell Zoom on Willie Farrell I also welcome the Bill. No one has spoken about the most important aspect of tourism for the west, which is water sports. Little is done for sailing, surfing, etc. For instance, there is no marina on the west coast between Clare and Lough Swilly; there is a big sailing fraternity in that area but nowhere for boats to harbour overnight or in winter. If we are to make the most of cross-Border tourism a marina is extremely important. The marina in Bangor does well but sailing visitors go no further. Many expeditions and competitions go to Bangor from Spain, France and England, and while they may go to the south of Ireland they miss a large stretch of our coastline. It is time we examined the potential of water tourism. If a race attracts 60 competitors, those are good, upmarket customers and they bring in much money. It is most important to provide and make the best possible use of services. It is not necessary to maintain the water because it is there all year round. However, berthing facilities for yachts and sailing boats must be provided.

More should be done in relation to water skiing. This is frowned upon in some areas because individuals ski in areas where adults and children swim and this is causing problems. However, there is plenty of water around Ireland and good management could solve the problems. Areas could be designated for water skiing. Competitions could be held there and people could water ski without fear or hindrance. This would also ensure that no difficulties are caused to families at the seaside. They should not be disturbed because their wishes should be given priority. More should be done in this area.

The rough seas around Ireland produce good waves but surfing has not been developed to its maximum potential. Surfing is a major tourism attraction and can be done all year round, perhaps even more in winter than summer because surfers prefer higher waves. This important business has not been developed and it should be encouraged.

Pony rides and trekking along the seashore is another aspect of tourism which causes problems in some areas but they could be addressed through the provision of funds. It can be a nuisance where children are playing but there are more shoreline, foreshore and commonage areas which could be developed for pony rides and trekking if money was available. Small riding arenas could be built near the sea and children could be given pony rides. Such areas would be contained and the difficulties would be solved. Ponies do not usually create any hassle but there are occasional incidents. Even the best trained horses can rear up. Yesterday in England, a cavalry horse reared up as the Queen's car drove past. Animals can kick but if they were in an [806] enclosed arena, they could not get out. This aspect of tourism should be considered.

Senator Mooney mentioned toilets at seasides. They are important facilities but they are difficult to maintain in some areas. Money should be made available to provide much needed toilets. I spent over 20 years trying to get toilets provided in the heart of Yeats country in County Sligo, but they were eventually provided. Toilets in rural areas are expensive to maintain because people are inclined to abuse them. If toilets are not kept properly, they are more of a hindrance than a help. Money should be made available to local authorities to pay full-time staff in such areas for the summer months. Toilets do not maintain themselves and there is no point suggesting that they will be looked after voluntarily. It is a full-time job and money should be made available in that regard.

Some years ago tourism grants were available for scenic drives and roads. It is a pity these grants were abolished. Given the plentiful supply of money in the economy, more should be done to encourage the development of scenic drives and to improve roads in rural areas of high amenity. It is important to reintroduce these tourism grants because much good work was done as a result of them in the past. Many good roads and beautiful scenic drives were developed by local councils when the grants were available and is important that they are reinstated.

Many areas of tourism need attention. Tourism brings in much money and I welcome the interest county councils are showing by setting up units to promote tourism in their counties. It is most important to promote tourism and I am glad the councils are once more becoming involved. I hope grants will be made available to local authorities for the promotion of tourism. That would be an important step.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn Zoom on Fergal Quinn I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I grew up in the tourism business. My father had a holiday camp in Skerries called Red Island Holiday Camp. I look back on the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and realise how dramatically the world has changed. My father produced a document in the 1960s with the headline, “Britain invades Ireland”, to attract attention. He used this headline because he believed there was a future for the tourism industry. If he was alive today, he would be surprised at the marvellous success of our tourism business. Every effort must be made to encourage, develop and build on that success.

I wish to focus on some of the problems of success. We are not doing enough to foresee problems and deal with them in sufficient time. The success is undeniable. It is around for all to see, particularly in the Dublin area. Who would have thought a decade ago that tourism would have grown to such an extent and at such a pace? Who would have believed that in that short time we would have created a world class diversified tourism product, geared to the needs of modern as [807] well as traditional travellers? Since nobody foresaw success on the current scale we have been tardy in addressing related problems. I welcome the debate as an opportunity to begin to face up to those problems.

As the Minister is aware, the first problem of success is that it makes one cocky. Success depletes one's determination to get into a competitive marketplace and hustle one's product. The more success one achieves, the more one is inclined to fool oneself into the illusion that the world owes one a living and a certain amount of business is always guaranteed in the future. This happens in almost every business in every sphere. However, one can never afford to lower one's guard. Few businesses are more fickle than tourism. One cannot build up a tourism business overnight, but one can lose it overnight. This has happened in the past.

At present, world tourism is set on a growth path. This is based on the assumption that the favourable economic conditions will continue. Tourism is booming in Europe and America, but it is no longer booming in South-East Asia or Australasia. Tourism there depends critically on Japanese and Korean business and it has dropped like a stone as the economies of those countries have run into trouble. We must be aware that this could happen in Ireland.

Tourism is a discretionary expenditure and can be turned off like a tap at the first sign of trouble. History teaches us that this is exactly what happens in business, and particularly in a discretionary business such as tourism. The economic outlook for Europe and the United States over the next few years is anything but certain. With every week that passes, it appears more likely that the malaise affecting Asia and Russia may spread globally.

If one considers recent events in Wall Street, one can see how easily confidence could be eroded. In the event of a crash, tourism would be the first area to be hit as it is a discretionary commodity. Ireland would have to fight much harder than other countries for a share of the tourism dollar, pound, euro or whatever. Tourism can also be affected quickly and dramatically by the outbreak of violence and war. Thankfully, the outlook for peace in Ireland has never been better. That should not blind us to the possibility that global events could affect us negatively. One does not need a very long memory to remember the effects of the Gulf War when international travel dried up. In 1972, my father's business came to a sudden halt as a result of the problems in the North. Cancellations started to flow in the day after the British Embassy was burned. Such events can lead to an overnight tourism recession and should prevent us from becoming complacent.

One must also consider the possibility of one's country going out of fashion as a destination. One of the most spectacular aspects of our tourism growth in recent years has been the mushrooming [808] of demand for Dublin as a short-term destination. We would be foolish if we did not acknowledge that there is a fad element associated with that. The tourism business starts from scratch each year. Indeed, it becomes more competitive each year as greater numbers of people are travelling more often and spending more money. They are also becoming fussier about the manner in which they spend their money and the value they get. It is vital we continue to invest in marketing.

It is also vital to address the underlying, niggling problems which are difficult to take seriously in boom times. They can turn out to be crunch factors if things start to stagnate. For instance, it will be too late to solve Dublin's taxi problem when people have been completely turned off by it and informed their friends that visiting the city is not a happy experience. Recently, I met with a group of French people who were considering bringing 1,500 people to Ireland in the year 2000. I was very embarrassed by the fact that the executives were unable to get taxis at night and I would not be surprised if we have lost out for that very reason. It is also too late to address the issue of crime when a country has already developed an international reputation as a dangerous place to visit. Thankfully, that issue is being addressed, particularly in Dublin. It is too late to win back a reputation for good value when it has already been lost through the imposition of high prices.

We must ensure the boomerang principle applies in regard to tourism. It is not sufficient to attract customers once, we must encourage them to return again and again. We, as a nation, can do that and have an attractive product in which we must continue to invest. However, we must be aware that our success could fall apart at any moment if we put a foot wrong, even though that may not be of our doing.

I welcome the fact the Ryder Cup is coming to Ireland in a few years' time. Golf is one area which has great potential for the future. I urge the Minister to ensure that what makes us unique in this area is not lost; it would be possible to use a links course although I know there are problems associated with that. The competition should be brought to a links course rather than an internal golf course identical to those in other parts of the world.

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation (Dr. McDaid): Information on James McDaid Zoom on James McDaid I thank the Senators for their participation in this debate. A number of issues have arisen in regard to tourism in recent weeks. On my previous visit to this House we had statements on tourism and some issues remain to be finalised. I will deal with those when I return to the House.

I acknowledge the broad support the Bill has received. While many of the matters raised are outside my direct responsibility, they will play an important part in tourism development into the millennium. The national infrastructure measures referred to, particularly in regard to road signage, [809] regionalisation and access, will be taken on board. I will continue to pursue the development of more competitive and regular access links with particular emphasis on exploiting the opportunities for the regions generally.

Senator Cregan referred to regionalisation and infrastructure. He felt Bord Fáilte was not doing much for the regions. That is an incorrect perception. While they are lagging behind the east coast, the regions have experienced natural growth. Difficulties have been experienced in the bed and breakfast and self-catering sectors. It is not possible to simply erect a bed and breakfast sign any more, one must market one's product.

From last year's Supplementary Estimate of £5 million, £750,000 was given to the regions for the first time to allow them to get into the area of marketing. At least four regions were represented in London this year at the World Trade Fair. It is necessary to produce one's marketing plans a year or two in advance.

Irish sports people were referred to. Michelle Smith was sponsored as an ambassador for Ireland although there was a slight hiccough in that instance. The Irish logo on her swimming cap was effective, however. Senator Mooney mentioned Sarah Kavanagh, Ken Doherty, Morgan Fox and others who advertise the Irish logo.

Bord Fáilte is doing a good job. I understand we are entering a new phase with North-South development. It is easy to criticise Bord Fáilte as it is an easy target. However, how would the industry survive without Bord Fáilte's network and experienced staff? Although some rationalisation may be required, I do not think the industry could do without the expertise developed in this area by successive Governments in recent years. Bord Fáilte is a necessary element of our tourism marketing strategy.

A number of Senators referred to North-South development. If a bus or car is set alight somewhere in the North — I have travelled through the North every week for the past seven or eight years but have never witnessed that — it is certain to be broadcast on CNN and Sky television. The good aspects such as the Tour de France and others of which we are all aware are not taken into consideration. The North-South situation, the peace initiative and the British-Irish Agreement gives huge potential which we cannot afford to lose. I am delighted we have an advantage in that I keep a good brief of communications between myself and the industry. There has been much communication between the industry here and in Northern Ireland. However, because there has been no assembly and no North-South bodies have been set up, it is practically impossible for the industry to get its message across. The sooner we establish North-South implementation bodies, the better.

When I met the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in New York recently I was delighted it indicated that as a result of the Good Friday Agreement there has been an 18 per cent increase in people from the United States visiting Northern [810] Ireland. Senator Quinn pointed out what happened in 1972. There is huge potential there.

Senator Gallagher mentioned investment in capital development and particularly the Tullamore project and the division of County Offaly. I am afraid this problem cannot be easily overcome. It should be taken on board with the authorities involved — the regional tourism authority, the tourism committee and the Shannon Development company. The European Regional Development Fund funding for this project is a matter for an independent board — it is all EU funding.

Senator Mooney talked about SPCs. There is a correlation between them. He mentioned the regions and I have already dealt with that. He also mentioned rural bodies and the lack of toilet facilities and infrastructure. That comes under my remit. Increasing the money from £22 million to £50 million will improve those types of facilities.

Others mentioned sign-posting which is a matter for the Department of the Environment and Local Government. I feel strongly that the Department of the Environment and Local Government should specifically state that a small percentage of funding going to local authorities should be designated for road sign-posting. If a county tourism authority or local authority puts forward proper plans it will receive this money for tourist attractions, but the other area of sign-posting is outside of my remit.

Senator Cassidy mentioned a number of the above points and also that there should be more financial backing for the music industry. I could not agree more. We have taken on board the area of sport and tourism and how sport plays a part in bringing people into the country. One major international sporting event comes to the country each year. This is huge indirect marketing for the country. Hopefully we will shortly be able to announce the next one, the 2003 Special Olympics, which will be the biggest event anywhere in the world in 2003. That will give us an added bonus. Some 160 countries, 7,000 athletes, 28,000 relatives and 30,000 volunteers will be involved. It will be a massive event. If we can keep such events coming into the country on a yearly basis, it would mean huge indirect marketing.

Senator Fitzgerald mentioned vouchers. I already talked to him about this matter and we have agreed to consider it. Senator Farrell talked about prices being too high and about people being cocky — a word I have used in the past — and complacent. We cannot be complacent with success. That is the reason great champions and teams fall. We are currently at the top of the European league. There is huge competition out there, there is no question about it. Visitors are becoming ever more discerning, as is the Irish holiday maker. The president of the WTGC recently informed me that he checked our percentage growth figures and he agreed the figure is 11 per cent at present, with a yearly growth target of 7 per cent. He said that we will reach our target and will probably exceed it for a number of [811] years to come. However he said competition would be great in the future and our greatest market competitor in the world will be in China.

We cannot take our foot off the pedal. The Senator is correct about complacency and our thinking that we can charge high prices. As I already mentioned to Senator Cregan I do not have control over that. I am delighted Senators, Deputies, councillors and others using the opportunity to tell the industry to be careful about prices because it is cutting its own throat. We want visitors, when they return to their country, to say that they got a good deal in Ireland. Unquestionably they are discerning visitors.

I always talk about Dublin versus the regions. I am committed to a regional policy to spread everything as broadly as I can. That does not mean I am against Dublin, far from it. We have made the decision to market this island as an island destination, North and South. Dublin has benefited hugely from access. To market tourism in the regions I am trying to target specific areas where I feel we have been lacking. For example the German market was down 2 or 3 per cent last year. Nobody can convince me that someone from Frankfurt, Berlin or Dusseldorf who is in a high pressure business wants to visit another city. Next year we will target countries such as Germany more specifically towards the regions. Dublin will continue to grow. Cresta Holidays which operates out of the UK, recently informed me that of ten European cities, Dublin is now third on their list behind Paris and Amsterdam. That position will remain and long may it continue. Dublin is a cosmopolitan city. It literally never sleeps and it has that reputation. I am delighted because as a Government Minister I am interested, as we all are, in revenue.

The Senator also asked about the Ryder Cup. This brings us back to the issue of bringing major international events to this country, such as the Ryder Cup in 2005. I do not know who will be here or who will be in Government at that stage but I hope I will be around for the Ryder Cup. That is the greatest event. Senators will be aware that in London recently — Senator Moylan was there at the time — Ireland won Hertz Car Hire's competition as the world's best destination for golf in 1998. The other countries which were the most forward looking in this respect were Morocco and Scotland. However Ireland was voted the best destination for golf. I agree that we have wonderful links courses. We have one third of the world's links courses so we have a huge product in golf.

The Ryder Cup is a matter for the PGA. There are those who say that our large investment in it is a good lever over the next seven years. There is no question about that. As regards the actual site, there is much to be discussed regarding whether it will be links, parkland or inland. I appreciate the Senators concerns. Deputies have expressed desires for it to be on a links course. [812] Nonetheless I am sure we are all agreed that we are looking forward to it.

Overall the outlook is very positive. As Senators have indicated, tourism is a net contributor to the Exchequer and, with co-operation, will continue to be so. I will deal with various points which have been raised here and in statements, regarding other problems such as sign-posting and taxis when the statement comes in at a later stage. I thank the Senators for their contributions and if we can proceed it would be greatly appreciated.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take Committee Stage now.


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