Business Irish

Sunday 30 April 2017

Has the state let our tourism industry down?

Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland are the State agencies charged with developing tourism.

Should either not have stepped in to halt the dizzying boomtime prices that would eventually scare away many tourists ?

"Ultimately, it is important that the agencies of the State are close to the customer," says one travel expert, who does not wish to be named. "Failte Ireland does have an important responsibility in terms of managing the quality of the (tourist) product. Value for money is one which we lost out on."

Others however, believe that state agencies could not have controlled prices.

"How could they have done that?" asks businessman and restaurateur Jay Bourke. "There are tens of thousands of businesses in the hospitality industry. Each one of them makes their own decision."

A spokesman for Failte Ireland said it was not its job to set prices.

"We would have encouraged the industry in the past to bundle offers and provide value to customers," he said. "At the end of the day, you're talking about a private market."

Although prices have come down substantially on the boom years, Ireland has not lost its image as an expensive country. Asked what it was doing to combat this, Tourism Ireland said it would mount an "intensive publicity campaign" over the next six weeks to promote Ireland as a destination where tourists can get value for money.

"We'll be getting out the message that Ireland is open for business, that it is better value, that the air tax has been reduced to zero and that we now have a visa waiver," says Tourism Ireland boss Niall Gibbons.

Adrian Bartel, general manager of the Cliff House Hotel in Waterford, believes it is a mistake to have two State agencies in charge of tourism.

"In the old days, when Bord Failte was the one organisation that looked after everything to do with tourism, it was a simple and effective organisation," says Bartel. "If we simplified our tourism promotional strategy, it might help the industry."

Last week, the Government launched a jobs initiative which included a suspension of the airport tax, a VAT cut for restaurants and hotels, and a visa waiver programme.

Maurice Pratt says the suspension of the air tax will help the industry.

"Air access is vital. We disimproved competitiveness by introducing that tax."

Blarney Castle's Charles Colthurst however, doesn't think the move will make much of a difference. "It's the price of the pint and the price of hotels that makes the difference," says Colthurst.

The visa waiver, which will make it easier for Chinese and Indian tourists to visit Ireland, is long overdue.

But the Government's decision to reverse the minimum wage cut could damage tourism, particularly as it competes with other countries where the minimum wage is much lower.

Bonus pay for Sundays is also an issue as it forces many cash-strapped hotels and restaurants to shut that day -- or hire fewer staff than usual.

"A tourist will generally spend half of his time here on a Sunday," says Pratt. "Why should that tourist get a poorer quality of service because the cost of providing that service is prohibitive?"

Whether the Government's latest measures will be enough to repair the carnage that has hit the industry over the last few years remains to be seen.

We could have to wait another four years before we see a return to the tourist heydays of 2007, according to Eamonn McKeon of the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation.

"This won't be a bounce back," says McKeon. "It will be a crawl back."

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