Cead Mile Failte
The tourism industry is facing tough times and is likely to experience a second annual contraction, following ten years of dramatic growth. As might be expected in such circumstances, representatives from the various hospitality sectors have begun pressing the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Mr O'Donoghue, to provide increased funding for overseas advertising campaigns.
To date, there has been some redeployment of funds towards advertising in the British and European markets. But, in the Dáil this week, Mr O'Donoghue ruled out new tourism promotions for the United States. Advertising in that market had been front-loaded this year, he said, and there was little point in spending money at this stage.
Last November, the first all-Ireland tourism marketing programme was launched by Tourism Ireland and €27 million was allocated for direct programme spending for 2002. In present fiscal circumstances, with Government income contracting while spending increases rapidly, extra money is unlikely to be provided. In any event, the circumstances which have given rise to the present decline in tourist numbers are complex and have more to do with the international economic environment and terrorist threats than with promotional campaigns.
The outbreak of foot and mouth disease, early in 2001, marked the beginning of the decline in visitor numbers and this was exacerbated by the events of September 11th in New York. There was a drop of 5 per cent, between 2000 and 2001, in the number of visitors coming here, but spending increased by 8 per cent. At the same time, domestic holiday business increased, with spending up by 16 per cent.
It is clear from those figures that Irish tourism is quite resilient. But there are danger signs. Mr O'Donoghue said price inflation in the hospitality sector was considerably above the national average. There were indications that standards and services were slipping, he said, and that the quality of the Irish welcome was under threat. These are matters for the industry to sort out as a matter of urgency. Value for money is at the top of most people's list of requirements. And friendly service comes close behind.