Tourism Ireland warns hard Brexit could cost industry €390m a year

Promotional body to press ahead with ambitious plans for Britain despite Brexit

Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons, Minister for Tourism Shane Ross and Joan O’Shaughnessy, chairman of Tourism Ireland. Mr Ross said the figures for 2019 to date have been excellent given the uncertainty in the global economy. Photograph:   Keith Arkins

Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons, Minister for Tourism Shane Ross and Joan O’Shaughnessy, chairman of Tourism Ireland. Mr Ross said the figures for 2019 to date have been excellent given the uncertainty in the global economy. Photograph: Keith Arkins

 

Tourism Ireland is to press ahead with an ambitious promotional campaign in Britain despite warnings that a hard Brexit could cost the industry almost €400 million a year.

The body, which markets the island of Ireland abroad, aims to increase the spend by British visitors to Ireland by 25 per cent to reach €705 million in 2022.

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said the plan is based on there being a soft Brexit if and when Britain finally leaves the European Union on October 31st.

Mr Gibbons admitted most British visitors have a “limited knowledge of what Ireland has to offer” despite the proximity of the two countries.

British visitors rank Ireland high for the “craic” and for partying, but that is not the primary reason why they visit the country.

“People are looking to connect with their loved ones, get away from it all and get active in nature. It’s about fine-tuning some of our messaging,” he said.

“If you look at the regional offering around Ireland, the British customer is telling us that he had not realised he could reach the Wild Atlantic Way in an hour and a half.”

Brexit taskforce

Tourism Ireland has had a Brexit taskforce for the last three years and Mr Gibbons stressed that the organisation is not waiting around for Brexit to happen before acting.

The latest tourism figures for the first five months of the year indicate that the British market, which is the most important one for Irish tourism, is up by 0.8 per cent on the same six months in 2018.

Currently the island of Ireland attracts 4.5 million British visitors each year spending €1.3 billion, though the majority of visitors and of spend relates to those visiting friends and families.

He described it as a “remarkable performance” given that the number of British holidaymakers travelling abroad is down in the first half of the year.

The alternative to a soft Brexit could lead to a worst-case scenario of a loss of €390 million, Tourism Ireland warned.

This would happen in the event of delays at ports and airports and a meltdown in the British economy.

The latest CSO figures for the first five months of 2019 show a rise of overseas arrivals of 3.7 per cent – about 140,600 in comparison with January to May in 2018.

There were strong performances from North America (+9.1 per cent), Australia and development markets (+ 7.2 per cent) and mainland Europe (+3.2 per cent).

Slowdown

However, there was a notable slowdown in visitor numbers from Britain and mainland Europe in May, with Britain down by 4.4 per cent and mainland Europe down by 4.6 per cent in comparison with the same month last year.

Mr Gibbons said the fall in the value of sterling and the restoration of the full VAT rate on tourism services was hurting the idea that Ireland offered value for money.

Tourism Ireland is expecting an increase of 4 per cent on overseas visitor numbers to more than 11.65 million in 2019, but with a drop in revenue because visitors are taking shorter breaks.

Minister for Tourism Shane Ross said the figures for 2019 to date have been excellent given the uncertainty in the global economy.

Mr Ross said he had fought to retain the 9 per cent VAT rate on tourism products which has now returned to the 13.5 per cent level, but “that ship has sailed”.

His department had given Tourism Ireland €35 million to spend on tourism in the UK.

“We are taking all measures we can to protect ourselves from any fallout. It is essential that we could continue to promote and expand our tourism offering around the world in the face of challenges such as Brexit and other international economic uncertainties.”