€55 million tourism plan to look beyond 'honeypots' and 'hazy green image' - Fáilte Ireland
Business buoyant, but threats remain
2015 was a record year for tourism, but Fáilte Ireland has warned strongly against complacency at its annual review.
An "acute" shortage of hotel rooms in Dublin, "modest" international awareness of the Wild Atlantic Way and the dominance of traditional tourism "honeypots" were all listed as potential threats to Ireland's tourism fortunes.
“At the end of a very successful year, it would be tempting to clap ourselves on the back and simply wait for a repeat," said chairman Michael Cawley.
However, he added, Irish tourism is still very much dependent on "benign external events" such as the sterling/euro exchange and international air access.
"The narrative could change very quickly."
Outlining Fáilte Ireland's plans for 2016, Cawley said growth would depend on competitiveness, investment and compelling visitor experiences, rather than simply relying on "a hazy green image" and warm welcome.
The agency will invest €55 million in developing and promoting tourism this year, it was announced, with €13m allocated to Dublin, €18m to Ireland's Ancient East, €19m to the Wild Atlantic Way and €5m to attracting conference and event business.
Over €100m of capital funding has been secured over five years.
A "Modest" Atlantic Way
2015 was a record year for Irish tourism with over eight million overseas visitors, but Fáilte Ireland has identified a number of potential threats.
“The Wild Atlantic Way has been a great success locally but its impact internationally remains quite modest," Cawley said.
Surprisingly, most overseas visitors surveyed are unaware of the route, despite extensive overseas promotion by Tourism Ireland since 2014.
Nor is it just the Wild Atlantic Way. Recent consumer research commissioned by Fáilte Ireland shows that awareness of key Irish visitor attractions is "much lower than commentators might expect," Mr Cawley added.
Concern was also expressed at the dominance of traditional tourism "honeypots" - with the East, South and West Coast north of Galway becoming something of a "transit zone" accounting for 25pc of visitors but just 11pc of expenditure.
Ireland's Ancient East is aimed in part at arresting this trend.
However, Fáilte Ireland also says that when potential visitors are made aware of the Wild Atlantic Way and other products, "the response is phenomenal". Growing such awareness will have a "transformative" effect in the west, it said.
Business sentiment booming
Profitability was up for 70pc of tourism businesses in 2015, Fáilte Ireland said, but the upturn was largely fuelled by "benign external factors" including favourable sterling/dollar exchange rates and increased air access.
Threats include "an acute shortage" of hotel bedroom stock in Dublin, which it says is now causing room rates to "increase markedly" year on year.
An additional 5,000 units are required to offset the trend, it says.
A shortage of trained chefs was also flagged as an issue, as were possible external threats - highlighted by recent tragic events in Paris.
"Fluctuations in currency markets and international incidents can create sudden and significant impacts on world travel," Cawley warned.
Managing factors within Ireland's control, including competitiveness, air access and the regulatory burden, is essential to future-proof growth, he added.
Overall expectations for 2016 are upbeat, with growth of up to 6pc and total tourism revenues of up to €8 billion projected, Cawley said.
“As a priority in 2016, Fáilte Ireland will engage in a twin-track focus on regionality and seasonality. In short, we will be aiming for greater visitor numbers beyond the usual hotspots and throughout every region and we will be seeking to lengthen the tourism season beyond the traditional June-August window," he said.
The Irish government's current tourism policy aspires to attract 10 million overseas visitors annually by 2025, with employment of 250,000.