Signs that this year is set to be a record year for tourism have prompted industry figures to call on the Government to set more ambitious targets for visitor numbers and spending.
Under the current programme the Republic aims to attract 10 million holiday-makers who will spend €5 billion – excluding the cost of getting here – while they are visiting the State.
However, recent figures indicate that this 2025 target is already in sight.
According to Eoghan O'Mara Walsh, recent-appointed chief executive of the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation, around 8 million are likely have holidayed here this year.
They are expected to spend around €4 billion while they are here. In short, we are 80 per cent of the way to reaching the 10 million/€5 billion marks. So should we be a bit more ambitious?
“I think that the targets are modest and the industry would think that too,” Mr O’Mara Walsh says. “We think that if you have the right policies and you put in place the investment, you could be looking at 11 million visitors.”
Prof Jim Deegan, head of University of Limerick's economics department and director of its national centre for tourism policy studies, agrees. He points out that revenue from tourism, excluding fares and same-day spending by business travellers, rose from €2.95 billion in 2012 to €3.6 billion last year. This year it is likely to be €4 billion.
“There is a long, long way from now until 2025; if getting that extra billion euro is all that we are going to achieve we are not being very ambitious.”
However, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
believes the existing targets are already fairly ambitious. “Ten million overseas visits by 2025 is a 31.6 per cent increase on the corresponding figure for 2014,” his spokeswoman says.
"Over the 11-year period from 2015 to 2025 inclusive, this represents a compounded annual growth rate of 2.53 per cent. This compares with the UN World Tourism Organisation projections for visits to our peers in northern Europe and also for western Europe of 1.8 per cent over 2010-2030."
She also points out it is rare for overseas visitor numbers to remain stable over the course of a decade. Many things beyond government or industry control cause fluctuations, including economic conditions in key markets or geo-political events and crises. Consequently, numbers could well go up and down over the next 10 years.
The sector has seen its share of those ups and downs since the century began. During the recession the industry went into a sharp decline, partly as a result of world conditions but also because it was seen as relatively expensive to holiday here. The €2.95 billion spent by overseas holiday-makers in 2012 was less than half the €6 billion target set for that year in 2006.
Prof Deegan agrees that economic growth in key markets, such as the US and UK, combined with the favourable dollar and sterling exchange rates, are benefitting the industry this year.
However, both argue that different factors will be at play in any given year, and the best way of combatting this is for the government and the industry to focus on the things they can control. “There has to be a strategic investment plan and the industry has to remain competitive,” says Mr O’Mara Walsh.