Tourist sector counts €900m loss as visitor numbers drop by 12pc
IRELAND'S tourism industry is in crisis, having lost one million visitors and €900m in revenue last year.
Hoteliers are struggling to cope with shrinking earnings and trading conditions that show no sign of improving, according to the Irish Hotels' Federation (IHF).
The chief executive of the IHF, John Power, confirmed yesterday that the 2009 annual report of the IHF reveals a collapse of 17pc in revenues to €5.2bn -- the lowest level since 2004 -- with the British market, in particular, performing disastrously.
And the IHF is desperate to ensure Taoiseach Brian Cowen maintains tourism as an integral department of government.
Mr Cowen is due in Galway this morning to address the federation's annual conference.
IHF president Matthew Ryan has called on the Taoiseach to keep tourism at the fore of government policy -- otherwise the industry would suffer further collapse, he warned.
Mr Ryan said: "In whatever departmental structure which emerges, tourism must be the lead economic activity of that department".
A new survey has separately confirmed that almost 90pc of Irish hoteliers fear for the viability of their business this year.
Launching the annual report at the IHF annual conference in Galway, Mr Power confirmed that the drop in revenues was principally due to a 12pc decline in overseas visitors' numbers to 6.5 million last year and a corresponding fall-off of €900m in the value of foreign exchange earnings in the sector.
This was in addition to a drop of 5pc in domestic trips and a subsequent revenue crash of 9pc.
Mr Power pointed to the British market as the key to the future of Irish tourism. The greatest challenge facing the industry is to identify ways to recover a bigger share of UK visitors, he said.
"Demand dropped across all markets, but was particularly severe from Britain. The number of British visitors had been running at well in excess of three million visitors per annum over the past 10 years, before falling by 10pc in 2008 and a further 16pc last year."
The number of British tourists at just over three million last year was the lowest for five years, Mr Power confirmed.
Irish tourism now depends largely on the home market with 70pc of bed nights coming from the island of Ireland (66pc from the Republic).
The effects of the decline in overseas visitors were most noticeable in the midwest (down 27pc), west (down 17pc) and north-west (down 15pc). The Dublin region showed a decline in overseas visitors' numbers of just 6pc.
Mr Power pointed out that the continued weakening of overseas markets and the "serious over-capacity" in hotel bedrooms had created a major challenge for the Irish hotel and guesthouse industry. The decline in occupancy had been exacerbated by a weakening in room rates of about 20pc.
He acknowledged that, contrary to previous recoveries from downturns in demand for travel, the rebound this time would be gradual, over a period of several years.
"It is vital that tourism receives the recognition and support it merits, given its scale and overall contribution to the economy," said Mr Power.
A survey by the IHF has revealed that over 90pc of its members had cut staffing levels over the last 18 months. It showed that almost 70pc of hoteliers expected further staff cuts this year.
Of those surveyed, 50pc had a negative outlook on the sector, 39pc had a neutral assessment, and 11pc gave a positive view.