Tourism policy review is an opportunity to kick start a boom
Minister’s initiative most welcome to industry
Tourists at the Cliffs of Moher this week. Photograph by Eamon Ward
Foreign tourists are arriving in greater numbers for the first time in several years. Good news indeed. However, to judge the health of the sector on arrival numbers can be misleading. Foreign expenditure in the country last year was running almost €25 million less per week than five years earlier.
After several years of growth in visitors the chill winds of global recession touched us in 2008, exposing how uncompetitive Ireland had become. The result saw annual visitor numbers and revenue tumble by 1.8 million and over €1 billion respectively, resulting in a loss of over 50,000 jobs.
The industry has come through its deepest downturn in living memory. Now that demand is on an upturn, the time is opportune to discuss the future for one of the country’s oldest indigenous industries.
Successive governments have lauded the potential of tourism as a generator and distributor of economic “goodies” through the country. Tourism is the world’s fourth fastest growing industry, with more than one billion international trips and $1 trillion in global revenues annually. But the world has changed with new consumers and travel trends continually emerging. Technology has revolutionised how tourists plan and book their trips, thereby forcing all tourism destinations and businesses to reinvent themselves and their business models.
The launch of a tourism policy review by Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar is a welcome development. The industry does not have a clear-cut prioritisation of policy objectives to guide a strategic business development plan for the sector. This despite the very substantial investment in tourism infrastructure and more than 20,000 businesses and 180,000 jobs dependent on tourism.
It is perhaps a truism to say that “tourism is everybody’s business”. Tourism touches every parish in Ireland and breathes life into communities, through its power to create and sustain jobs. Its component parts are spread all around the country – restaurants, hotels, B&Bs, natural and manmade attractions, bus and train stations, shops, pubs and supermarkets – all parts of normal life.
But tourism just doesn’t happen by itself, it takes policies to make it happen. It requires vision. Ireland’s tourism is badly in need of a road map to guide its future development and investment – without it export tourism performance will falter.
Key stakeholders are being invited to make submissions to the Minister, and the Government is expected to produce a new tourism policy sometime in 2014. It should and must give clear guidelines on Government’s future commitment to the sector so that a broader tourism strategy and action plan involving all key stakeholders can be developed.
Foreign direct investment in Ireland is accepted as a critically important part of our economy, employing directly over 100,000 and supporting at least that many more indirectly. In many instances there is a limited life cycle to these investments, eg Dell, Fruit of the Loom, Digital, etc. Manufacturing gets “offshored” as lower labour costs and other incentives lure investors away from Ireland. There is a very powerful case to be made therefore for higher priority to be given to developing growth in indigenous industries that cannot easily be offshored. Tourism and food are two obvious examples.