High flight costs "holding back tourism"

 

THE lack of cheap, frequent flights from the continent and the western United States is holding back tourism, and the Government should consider any option, including building a second Dublin airport, to rectify the problem, the authors of a new book said last night.

Written by Prof Donal Dineen and Mr James Deegan, both of the University of Limerick, Tourism Policy and Performance the Irish Experience claims to be the first independent assessment of the industry, and raises several questions about the perceived success of Bord Failte.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, the authors said the EU backed operational programme was often wrongly cited as the catalyst for increased tourist numbers, and that a great deal of the change was already taking place before the money was spent.

"Studies show that while national tourist boards believe they have great influence in encouraging tourism, in fact, they don't," Mr Deegan said.

When there is a growth in the numbers of tourists coming to Ireland, he said, Bord Failte is quick to claim the credit for its marketing efforts, yet when things go wrong, the agency will blame macroeconomic factors.

Research showed that word of mouth and other intangible and unpurchasable factors were far more important than marketing. As examples, they gave the success of Irish rock bands and the goodwill generated by Irish soccer supporters in Italy in 1990.

The book points to the arrival of Ryanair in the market as being of vital importance in generating tourism, and both authors warned the Government yesterday to listen to what the company was saying about the high cost of landing rights charged by Aer Rianta at Dublin airport.

"Anything which makes its easier and cheaper for people to get here should be encouraged," Mr Deegan said.

Currently, duty free sales to air passengers travelling within the European Union contribute much of Aer Rianta's profits, the two men said. When such tax free sales are abolished by the EU, Aer Rianta would probably try to raise its landing fees to make up for the lost revenue.

The Government should give serious consideration to opening a second airport in Dublin, geared towards tourism and with cheap landing fees, they continued.

Other Government decisions that could assist tourism could include staggering the school holidays, the academics said. This would ease congestion in the busy June July period, and help generate a less season driven domestic tourism market.

"Significant public sector subventions to the tourism sector since the 1950s have created a dependency culture whereby the private sector seemed unwilling to undertake tourism investment in the absence of public sector support," the authors said.