Tourism chiefs vow to restore battered trade
TOURISM chiefs yesterday called for a major national effort to rebuild 'Brand Ireland' following a year in which the industry took a battering.
Figures have shown the virtual collapse of the UK market and one million fewer overseas visitors to our own shores.
An estimated 5.5 million visitors came to Ireland this year -- a level last seen in 1998 -- while earnings from overseas visitors have plunged by a third over the past three years to €1.7bn.
The grim figures, revealed in the end-of-year review by the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC), show a 16pc drop in overseas visitor numbers, which fell by one million this year. But despite the plunge, the confederation predicted that the worst was over and that the industry would see a small recovery in 2011.
"We need to get the message out there that we are open for business, even though we have taken a hiding," ITIC chief executive Eamonn McKeon said.
Economic conditions in source markets, the perception that Ireland was expensive and the volcanic ash cloud disruption earlier in the year combined to see Ireland's tourism sector slump by 20pc in the early part of the year before a slowing down of the rate of decline as the year progressed.
While the one bright spot, the domestic market, held up very well in spite of the recession, Britain and mainland Europe, Ireland's main source markets, saw double-digit drops of 18pc, while there was a less marked 9pc fall in north American visitor numbers.
Of major concern, however, was the huge drop in visitor numbers from the UK, which accounts for nearly half of our overseas visitor numbers.
"The virtual collapse of the British market for Ireland is especially worrying as Ireland's largest source market has declined by a third since 2007, almost 1.3 million fewer visitors," the review says.
"The number of British people coming to Ireland for a holiday or short leisure trip has declined from 1.8 million in 2007 to less than one million in 2010 since 2007, a 33pc drop.
This was in contrast to how well the UK did in the past year -- welcoming almost the same number of visitors as in 2009 -- while the majority of destinations across Europe saw a modest growth in arrivals.
Also of major concern to the industry is the "extremely negative" coverage of Ireland in the international media over the past few months.
Mr McKeon highlighted one instance where a group from California planning a trip to Ireland next year was wondering whether there would be any money in ATM machines and if booking deposits would be safe if hotels here went out of business.
Because of the "great damage" that had been done to Ireland's reputation abroad, a major national effort was urgently required to rebuild 'Brand Ireland' -- not just its tourism sector, but also to drive Irish exports, the confederation said.
"The industry has been suffering a dreadful time since 2008, but we are at the bottom and we do see a recovery in the first quarter of 2011," Mr McKeon predicted.
There were already signs of a recovery, with indications that the decline in visitors to Ireland had almost bottomed out, and Dublin hotels in particular had done reasonably well in occupancy rates in the past three to four months.
While growth of 5pc to 6pc was possible, it would be another four to five years before we could expect to return to the record 2007 levels of 7.7 million visitors.