Failed tourism policy is costing money and jobs
OPINION:In looking after vested interests, the State has ignored an industry and volunteers who are best at attracting visitors, writes FELIM O'ROURKE
TOURISM HAS the potential for rapid large-scale job creation, but it is held back by the fact that discussion on performance in this area is dominated by State tourism organisations.
The performance of Irish tourism needs to be objectively assessed and the policy implications of that assessment need to be addressed.
The best measure of the performance of Irish tourism over a long period is bed nights for overseas holiday visitors. Incoming holiday visitor bed nights grew rapidly from six million in 1987 to 25 million in 1998, held steady for 10 years and then fell to 18 million in 2010.
Incoming bed nights for that year were 30 per cent below the number for 1998. It might have been expected that this disastrous performance would have led to an informed discussion of tourism policy but this has not happened.
Ireland, uniquely in Europe, has two State organisations involved in tourism.
Most countries have a national tourism organisation that supports tourism businesses in international marketing. Tourism Ireland plays this role for Ireland. However, the role of Fáilte Ireland, which is responsible for tourism development and local marketing, is problematic.
Tourism is intimately linked to community. When a tourist visits any destination, their holiday experience is based on all his/her experiences at the destination. A single business cannot control the totality of the holiday experience. Tourism needs the support of the entire community.
All other developed countries that are interested in tourism understand this and have local tourism organisations that harness community support for tourism.
Examples of such support include Martin Glasser designing the “I love NY” logo for free in 1977, the 120 volunteers who operate the tourist offices in Geelong in Australia, and the 5,000 volunteers who work in tourist attractions in Scotland every summer.
A good Irish example of volunteering is St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, which has more than 40 volunteers working in all areas of the cathedral looking after visitors. This is an example of a church community organising voluntary support for tourism.
A centralised state organisation cannot organise community support needed for tourism. Joyce enthusiasts visiting Dublin this summer, as noted by Robert Ballagh, will not be able to visit the Martello Tower in Sandycove. Anywhere else in the world this fantastic tourist attraction would be run by local volunteers linked to the local tourism organisation.
Community support for tourism is needed, for example, to eliminate car parking in Dublin Castle, develop a walking route up Ben Bulben in Sligo or turn 600 miles of disused rail lines in the west of Ireland into “Greenways” for cycling, hiking and equestrian holidays.
Lack of practical community support for tourism may be one reason for the low level of repeat visiting by holiday visitors to Ireland. Ireland gets 0.5 repeat visitors for every first-time visitor compared with 4.5 for Spain and two for Scotland.