Sunday 17 December 2017

Just €15 -- the radical deal to reanimate Irish tourism

Uniting the entire hospitality sector to offer its services for only €15 for just one month would position us as the best-value destination in the world

Ireland's restaurant and catering sector is fighting the same war as its counterparts in the tourism and hospitality sector, but it is now time that we joined forces to take part in a month-long promotion celebrating Ireland's unique qualities, while positioning ourselves as the best-value tourism attraction in the world.

Unquestionably, pubs, hotels and restaurants all around the country are struggling to make it through the next day, let alone the next week or month.

But we've also had a reputational crisis. Not only are we one of the PIIGS nations (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain), but we are also perceived as an expensive tourist destination. If tourists have been fortunate enough to hire a car in the first place during the peak tourism season, they will have paid exceptionally high prices to do so.

Our "green" credentials have also been damaged by events such as the contaminated pork meat scandal. Currently, we've fewer blue-flag beaches than Spain.

So from some visitors' point of view, we're on the way to becoming the next Greece, only our countryside is greener, we have many more ghost estates and a lot more rain.

If all of these factors weren't enough, while the Department of Finance's tourist tax remains in place, Ryanair -- one of our own airlines -- is reducing the number of planes that fly to and from our airports, meaning there are fewer and fewer ways in which tourists can reach our island cheaply and easily.

At the moment the €7.5bn Ireland earns from tourism is about five per cent of GNP. But look at how we're failing to grow that number. The promotion of tourism, for example, is very fragmented.

We've got multiple organisations like Tourism Ireland, Dublin Tourism and Discover Ireland, but between them they don't seem to have a co-ordinated message.

The time has now come for all of us who are concerned with tourism and hospitality, with the help of every relevant organisation at state level, to seize the initiative by organising a month-long celebration of all of Ireland's unique qualities.

This would also involve uniquely positioning Ireland as the best-value tourist destination in the world in order to attract maximum publicity, not just in our usual key tourism markets like Britain and the US, but also in countries where people may have never thought about visiting Ireland.

At the moment, more than ever, everyone wants to get a good deal, so for this month, everything related to tourism and hospitality will cost no more than €15, if necessary with the Government providing financial breaks to businesses to help them make up the necessary shortfall.

This means that every hotel or B&B taking part in this event would cost no more than €15 a night. All airlines taking part would price their flights during this month at €15. Attractions like Dublin Zoo and the Guinness Storehouse will cost no more than €15 for a family. Trains, buses and taxis will have a €15 maximum fare. Everything would be bookable through a single dedicated website.

Across the country, Ireland's top chefs would come together to create a different dish or menu for every day throughout the month. All the participating restaurants, cafes and hotels would price this menu at no more than €15 per person.

In addition to this unique value proposition, what we can offer as a country is a real authentic experience, with unique scenery, people and culture that rivals the best in the world, and we should showcase this in every city, town, village or suburb by organising an event celebrating the best of what they have to offer visitors and what makes them unique.

If we were to choose the month of September, for example, at a national level we would capitalise on the excitement about the GAA finals. But we would add to that by promoting Irish music, dancing, art, design, sculpture, film, theatre, storytelling, writing, poetry and other sports and pastimes -- all led by the most talented people in these fields.

Critics may complain about the amount of €15 -- but we need to put bums on seats.

Through this single event, perhaps before the London Olympics in 2012, we could uniquely generate new awareness in the US, in South America and in Asia so that many more people might visit Ireland for the first time -- in much the same way as people see a cheap Ryanair air fare to a destination they have never visited before and think, "At that price, why not go there?"

The staycation market would also benefit from this initiative because, by offering excellent value for money, more of us holidaying at home might learn more about what other parts of the country have to offer.

Because tourism and hospitality is a relatively labour-intensive industry, this initiative would boost employment here, even if only temporarily. But the renewed activity may result in spin-off longer-term jobs. Everyone would benefit, hopefully by a multiple of their investment in the initiative. And around the world, the perception of Ireland would again be a positive one.

John Cahill is CEO of the Campbell Bewley Group

• Series compiled by John Reynolds

Sunday Independent

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