Hoteliers keen to tap UK market
Restoring the numbers of visitors from Britain remains the most significant challenge facing the Irish tourism industry, hoteliers gathering for their annual conference in Kilkenny will be told this afternoon.
Members of the Irish Hotels Federation will hear numbers of visitors from Britain have dropped 26 per cent since 2007.
According to federation chief executive Tim Fenn, this is "a stark reminder" of the urgent need to reinvigorate the State's most important tourism market.
Speaking in advance of the conference, Mr Fenn said many hoteliers are offering prices that are “effectively the lowest room rates in Europe" in a bid to maintain cash flow and stay open.
"Notwithstanding the downturn, tourism remains Ireland's most important indigenous industry and a critical component of the export economy," he said.
Mr Fenn, who will welcome President Michael D Higgins and Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar to the conference over the next two days, has already issued a call for a campaign "specifically focussed on attracting a greater spread of visitors to the regions".
He pointed out that while visitor numbers were up overall in 2011, the rise masked widespread regional variations with room occupancy still declining in the east and midlands region, the southeast and the northwest.
He suggested promoting specific reasons to visit Ireland "whether activity-based, location-based or focusing on heritage and environment".
He said tourism accounts for almost 4 per cent of gross national product and brought in €3.56 billion in foreign exchange earnings last year. “With 180,000 people employed in tourism, the industry supports one in every 10 jobs in Ireland - of which 54,000 are employed in the hotels and guesthouse sector across every village, town and city",” he said.
The theme of the conference at the Hotel Kilkenny is "Connect to Online Success". Delegates will also hear of changes in the buying behaviour of guests, with a huge increase in the use of online reviewers, social media and online travel agents.