Tourism’s place in the sun under threat from Brexit

Buoyant sector faces tough challenges but it’s hard to see what is being done to protect it

Shane Ross: said last summer that tourism was only part of his brief not giving him any trouble. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Shane Ross: said last summer that tourism was only part of his brief not giving him any trouble. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

Is there a part of the economy that is more exposed to – and yet less prepared for – Brexit than the Irish tourism industry?

Last Friday, the Central Statistics Office released data confirming that 2016 was a record year with overseas visitor numbers of almost 9.5 million, up almost 11 per cent. So it might seem incongruous to suggest that warning lights should be flashing on the industry’s dashboard.

The tourism industry has been on a rollercoaster ride over the last decade. It scaled giddy heights towards the frothy end of the last boom, before plunging into a pit of despair in the crash. Spurred by favourable currency rates, tax breaks and a swift recovery in its core overseas markets, the good times soon rolled around again.

However, looking at the scale of the threat posed by Brexit and the paucity of the official response from policymakers, there is a sense that tourism’s current position on the rollercoaster is akin to sitting on the top of a massive peak.

It was hard work, though great fun, getting there and the view from on high is amazing. However, as we slide over the top and the realisation dawns that rollercoasters rapidly go down as well as up, it won’t be long until the screaming starts.

Britain is by far Ireland’s largest source market, but with the Brexit vote the UK’s economy will inevitably slow. Furthermore, holidaying at home will become popular for the British anyway, as they luxuriate in their nationalism.

As Irish holidays become more expensive due to the weakness of sterling, where will the replacement business come from? The US? Hardly enough of it. If Brexit brings a return of a hard Border across the North, how will that affect the already struggling tourism of the Border counties?

Who will pay for all the extra international marketing required to boost Ireland’s “share of voice” in those other markets to which it must turn post-Brexit?

Towards the end of the summer, when the Dublin Bus strike was raging and the Rio ticket scandal was still fresh in people’s minds – but three months after the Brexit vote – Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross told a gathering of industry executives that tourism was the only part of his brief not giving him any trouble.

Do we have a minister who understands the industry at all?

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