Tourism’s performance may be ‘dazzling’ but troubles lie ahead

There is a perception within the tourism industry that Shane Ross is failing to fight its corner at Cabinet

 Tourists in Dublin. Shane Ross said  the sector was “on fire”, with overseas visitor numbers at record levels. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tourists in Dublin. Shane Ross said the sector was “on fire”, with overseas visitor numbers at record levels. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

There is clearly tension emerging between the tourism industry and State policy-makers. The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation, the lobby group for the sector, on Wednesday suggested it was unhappy with the Cabinet influence of Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport and Tourism.

In recent months the confederation also called for a full review of Fáilte Ireland, the State body tasked with developing tourism policy. It believes tourism, which employs 230,000 people and generates €1.13 billion in taxes, does not receive due recognition from Government politician compared with other industries such as agriculture.

Ross hit back, suggesting the sector was “on fire” and its performance was “dazzling”, with overseas visitor numbers at record levels.

However, the confederation’s disappointment is not with the performance of the industry. Rather, it appears to be unhappy with the performance of the Minister himself. Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception within the industry that Ross doesn’t “get” tourism, and fails to fight its corner at Cabinet.

The Minister has had a difficult few weeks. First he was sharply criticised over a proposed redesign of the Dublin Bus network. Now he must fend off accusations from the tourist confederation that he doesn’t carry sufficient “weight” at the Government.

The industry appears set for a VAT rise in the upcoming budget. That will do nothing to mend fences between Ross and the industry, which will feel aggrieved at a tax rise as it faces a potentially massive hurdle in the form of the spectre of renewed Border controls due to Brexit.

Regardless of whether or not Ross is fighting the industry’s corner adequately, there should be sufficient understanding of the industry’s issues at the highest levels of Government.

Paschal Donohoe, the Minister for Finance, is a former transport and tourism minister. So too is Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who first introduced tourism’s special 9 per cent VAT rate in 2011.

Tourism, although performing strongly, is heavily exposed to the potential effects of Brexit, and in at least as much danger as the food and agriculture sector. The industry and policy-makers must pull together to face what is coming.