Tensions have arisen between the tourism industry and Fáilte Ireland, the State agency responsible for the industry's development, over a call by an industry group for a "fundamental review of the role and functions" of the agency.
The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (Itic), the umbrella group for the sector, recommended the review in a strategy document published in March. It said a review is needed "to reassess the effectiveness and efficiency of the state agency architecture, functions and resources".
It is understood from informed sources that the recommendation caused concern within Fáilte Ireland, and in particular from its chairman, former Ryanair executive Michael Cawley. Those concerns were conveyed to the industry.
A meeting was held last week between Itic and Fáilte Ireland at which the issue was thrashed out. It was attended by Mr Cawley, Fáilte Ireland's chief executive Paul Kelly and its marketing director Paul Keely. On the Itic side, attendees included its chief executive, Eoghan O'Mara Walsh, its chairman, Maurice Pratt, and its deputy chair, Ruth Andrews.
Speaking on Thursday night, Mr O’Mara Walsh said the recommendation was just one of 56 contained within its strategy document. He stressed that while it wants a review of Fáilte Ireland, it has a positive view of the agency overall.
Mr O’Mara Walsh said he did not want to give the impression of a “spat” with Fáilte Ireland. When asked specifically if last week’s meeting was contentious, he conceded the agency “has a different view” to Itic on the need for a review.
Fáilte Ireland said it “frequently meets with Itic as they are a key tourism stakeholder”. It confirmed that the meeting last week was held “to discuss their recently published strategy document and to seek further clarification regarding the thinking behind a number of proposals within it”.
Fáilte Ireland’s areas of responsibility include tourism branding and product development, and marketing Ireland to domestic tourists. It has had several major successes in recent years, such as the launch of the Wild Atlantic Way and, more recently, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.
The agency, which has a budget of just under €80 million, suffered huge budget cuts during the recession, however, which have not been restored. Itic wants a further €25 million annually to be provided by the State to boost Fáilte Ireland.
We want a body fit for purpose for a developing Irish industry
Another issue of concern and frustration within the industry relates to the training of adequate numbers of workers for the booming tourism sector, where staff shortages abound.
This was previously the responsibility of a separate body, Cert, but its functions were subsumed into Fáilte Ireland several years ago.
The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) said it supports a review of Fáilte Ireland’s functions, specifically in the context of staff training.
"We want a body fit for purpose for a developing Irish industry," said Adrian Cummins, the chief executive of the RAI. He added that the industry has been calling for the restoration of Cert "since 2012".
Itic’s call for a review was also raised by Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy on Wednesday at a meeting of the Oireachtas committee on Transport and Tourism, at which Itic presented its strategy.