Shane Ross ‘puzzled’ by criticism from tourism industry

Representative body stops short of expressing confidence in the Minister

The Minister Shane Ross said the tourism industry is “on fire”. Photograph: Alan Betson

The Minister Shane Ross said the tourism industry is “on fire”. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport and Tourism, says he is “puzzled” by criticism of his performance from the tourism industry, as the sector’s performance is “dazzling” and “on fire”.

The representative body for the industry on Wednesday criticised the Government’s attitude to tourism, comparing it unfavourably with the attention the Cabinet pays to other Brexit-exposed industries, such as agriculture.

At a strategy update and pre-budget briefing, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (Itic) stopped short of stating its confidence in the Minister.

Itic made a series of sharp criticisms of Government tourism policy, such as its failure to establish a Brexit “fighting fund” for the industry and what Itic sees as the insufficient allocation of resources to State oversight of the sector.

When asked directly if Itic has confidence in Mr Ross as the senior Cabinet minister arguing its case at Government level, Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, Itic’s chief executive, said he did not “want to focus on personalities”.

“The Government as a whole does not pay due attention the tourism industry,” he said.

Maurice Pratt, the chairman of Itic, suggested the confederation believes the industry has been sold short at top-level Government policy discussions.

“Does tourism get the weight it deserves [in talks] around the Cabinet table? No, it does not. It hasn’t reflected the importance of the industry,” said Mr Pratt.

Mr Ross responded last night by saying the “self-appointed lobby group” Itic’s opinions “are always welcome but not always implemented”.

‘On fire’

“I am puzzled by Itic’s views at a time when tourism is on fire,” said Mr Ross.

Itic called on the Government to retain the special 9 per cent VAT rate for the sector in Budget 2019, due to be presented early next month. It wants the sector’s capital budget allocation over the next decade doubled to €600 million to pay for new attractions.

It called for the marketing budgets of State agencies, such as Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, to be restored to pre-crash levels, with an additional €50 million per annum, a 43 per cent increase on the existing allocation.

The number of overseas visitors to the Republic is at a record level, with close to 10 million expected this year.

“This year, I have invested €114 million in tourism. We are seeing the fruits of this investment in the dazzling tourist figures,” said Mr Ross.

But Itic argues the sector, which employs 230,000 people and generates export revenues of almost €5 billion, is uniquely exposed to Brexit, as almost 40 per cent of visitors come from the UK.

“It is too easy for the Government to say that tourism is going great, that numbers are going up. The industry needs to be supported at key junctures, such as the one we are at now. State organs need to be appropriately resourced,” said Mr O’Mara Walsh.

“We are ready for Brexit and are engaging in intense activity with the real stakeholders of the tourism industry,” replied the Minister.