Ibec has launched a campaign to support the recovery of Ireland’s experience economy as the State emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Ibec's director of member services, Sharon Higgins, the experience economy encompasses organisations in the arts, cultural, sporting, and heritage sectors. It covers the full range of industries, including hospitality, retail, travel, food, drink, tourism, entertainment, events and activities that combine to deliver visitor experiences.
The More Than Meets the Eye campaign aims to promote greater understanding of and appreciation for this valuable component of the economy and brings together a broad coalition of stakeholders who recognise that importance.
Ibec has set up a cross-sectoral subgroup chaired by Pat McCann of Dalata Hotels to oversee the campaign. Other members include Dalton Philips of the DAA and Siobhan Talbot of Glanbia.
“We are taking a whole of Ibec approach and we will be running the campaign for the next year and a half,” says Higgins.
She points to a few statistics which highlight the importance of the sector. “Prior to the pandemic it was estimated that 420,000 people were employed in the island-wide experience economy with 330,000 of them in the Republic of Ireland,” she says.
That equates to one-fifth of private sector employment in Ireland.
“Businesses in the sector spend €4 billion each year on purchases of goods and services,” Higgins adds. “About €1 billion of that is on domestic food and drink supplies. The experience economy accounts for more than one euro in every three euro spent by an Irish household. The European average is only one in four. We like to go out and enjoy ourselves.”
She points out that it represents a lot more than just the visible aspects of the sector. “There is a whole economy and ecosystem that revolves around the experiences we all like and have largely been shut down in many cases for the past year.
“The first thing we tend to think of is front of house activity. But there is a much broader infrastructure and supply chain of companies supporting that. For example, there is the laundry sector for the bed and table linen for hotels and restaurants and even airlines. There are lots of IT companies involved in the supply chain as well looking after things like booking engines and so on.”
Indeed, for every 100 jobs created by the sector, it is estimated that another 40 are supported elsewhere in the economy.
“It’s a really vast interconnected mechanism,” Higgins adds. “It has huge regional scope and touches every town and village in Ireland.”
The campaign is aimed at both recovery and growth, with the overall objective of helping the experience economy achieve its full potential. “Ireland is renowned globally for its experience economy DNA,” she says. “We offer great experiences, a great welcome, and very high-end experiences. We often think about it in terms of tourists, but we all use the experience economy. Important to us all as part of business ecosystem and environment.
“There is a huge opportunity to continue to develop what Ireland does as a high-end sustainable location that people want to come to. We all talk about where we’re going to go when the economy reopens. Hopefully a lot of it will be domestic. There will be fallout from the pandemic, of course, but we need to recover and come back better and stronger.”
The campaign sets out a number of policy areas to be addressed by Government. The first comes under the heading of rebounding. “The Government must set out in as much detail as possible on how it will continue to support businesses and jobs in the experience economy over the medium-term. We have had very good engagement with Government on that.”
Ibec is also calling for supports, such as excise duty refunds similar to the VAT system, a medium-term commitment to the 9 per cent rate of VAT, and other measures such as debt warehousing facilities.
The second element addresses skills. “The lack of available talent and a skilled workforce will limit the growth and development potential and undermine Ireland’s reputation in experience creation.”
The campaign is calling for the development of a national experience economy skills strategy as well as scheme to support innovation in the sector.
The third and final element deals with support for marketing as well as the digitisation of the sector. “We need to put in the effort to attract visitors and get out there to promote Ireland as a destination of choice. If we miss out now it will be harder to recover. This is not a niche sector. It will be very important to our overall recovery and we need to support it.”