Tourism measures paying off
What’s rare is beautiful, so transport minister Leo Varadkar must have been delighted when tour operator JacTravel claimed that the number of visitors to Ireland is outstripping the UK due to Government initiatives on relaxing the paperwork around tourist visas and reducing taxation.
The UK-based wholesaler, which offers hotels and inbound travel services online, said that, since 2009, its business to Ireland has increased by 223 per cent.
By contrast, its UK business has only grown by 111 per cent, which is not too shabby given the awful external economic environment.
Jac argues that a downward trend in Irish bookings in 2010 was countered by growth the following year, which coincided with pro-tourism measures introduced in 2011.
The wholesaler says this is when the Government began to accept visitors with UK tourist visas and cut the rates of air passenger duty, from €10 in 2010 to €3 in 2011.
Fine Gael also reduced the VAT applicable to tourism from 21 per cent to 9 per cent, a reduction that remains in place.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the desirability of Ireland as a destination has been enhanced by the pro-tourism measures taken by the Irish Government, which evidently understands the value of tourism as a great way to earn foreign currency,” JacTravel’s chief executive Terry Williamson said this week.
He added that Belfast has been an “accidental beneficiary” of this initiative because it has profited from the increase in visitors to Ireland as a whole.
In fairness, the new Titanic visitor centre, which opened last year, might also have played a part.
“If Westminster were to follow Dublin’s example, our industry would be hailed for being at the heart of an export-led recovery,” Williamson added.
Tourism is one of the few bright spots of the Irish economy at present, particularly from North America. Nearly all of the airlines operating on routes from Ireland to the US are increasing capacity in 2013.
Ironically, the numbers coming from Britain have collapsed in the recession due to the exchange rate weakening and the economic downturn.
A lot of British people also view Ireland as a high-cost place to visit, particularly for the likes of beer and food.
Kudos, then, to Varadkar and the Government for the measures they’ve introduced to help stimulate our tourism industry in the past two years.
But the British market remains our bread and butter and we need to work harder at enticing more visitors from across the Irish Sea.