There is no way of establishing if the returns from marketing tourism to traditional markets such as Britain actually justify what is spent, according to a leading academic in the field.
Prof Jim Deegan, director of the National Centre for Tourism Policy Studies, who organised the National Tourism Workshop in Dromoland Castle at the weekend, argued the sector does not feature seriously in national policymaking. The Government did not include it in any of the 14 strategic areas in its plan to tackle unemployment, and the State has yet to adopt any way of accurately measuring tourism.
"Tourism has no output, because it's all about what people spend, so it only appears in the balance of payments," Prof Deegan explained. As a result, he said, most of the "official" estimates have been inaccurate: "The person serving you a burger in McDonald's counts as a tourism job."
Research by Dr Steve MacFeely of the Central Statistics Office, who addressed the conference on the satellite account, has established the sector supports 12 per cent of all enterprises in the Republic and 11 per cent of jobs.
Prof Deegan is sceptical about the traditional approach to promoting Irish tourism, driven by State agencies such as Tourism Ireland. He says it is time to shift their emphasis away from Britain and towards emerging markets. "I do not believe that the returns are commensurate with the money we spend."
He also argued such agencies tend to be rigid and employ large numbers in Britain and far fewer in a growing market such as China, as they have “always done it that way”.
Prof Deegan is calling for the State to establish a national innovation centre for tourism that would draw on universities and colleges and use both technology and science to support research.