Tourism can be a winner in the media spotlight on the country
IRELAND'S current place in the eye of an international media storm should be turned to our advantage, the chief executive of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) has told the Irish Independent.
The call comes as visitor numbers plunge and NAMA is set to double the number of hotels it controls.
Speaking ahead of the launch of the 2011 Irelandhotels.com Guide and a new industry website Tim Fenn said Ireland's current high profile internationally should be used to create a positive story for the industry.
"The focus of the world press is very much on the negative but we should try to use that. The worst place to be is where people don't know who you are."
His calls echo the experience in Iceland, which saw a surge in visitor interest during its financial crisis.
He called on the government to protect the budgets of Tourism Ireland and Bord Failte in the coming Budget and four-year plan, saying they were vital to economic growth.
Overseas visitor numbers are projected to drop by one million this year, putting huge stress on the already battered sector. Fenn said the problems of the industry, including massive local authority charges and competition from bank owned hotels, were well rehearsed. He said the hotel industry needed to work its way out of the current crisis and was targeting UK visitors in particular.
"The UK is our single biggest market but we have to fight for it. We need to show that Ireland is not just a domestic experience for UK visitors."
He called for a two-pronged approach to bring in visitors, including both the state marketing agencies and hoteliers themselves. "You have to capture the imagination first but the trade itself has to get on planes and get out and talk to people in the international market," he said.
The 2011 Irelandhotels.com Guide is a key element in the marketing drive. It replaces the 'Be Our Guest' guide published for the past 23 years with a new focus on internet bookings.
Despite the shift online 200,000 printed guides sponsored by Diageo will still be distributed across 22 countries.
It is complemented by a website and a specially developed app for mobile phones. Tourists can book online or over the phone and have constant access to the best deals and special offers.
A successful campaign to keep Irish visitors at home this year saw hotel occupancy rates rise sharply in the third quarter, but only at the cost of tighter margins.
Fenn said typical room rates were now too low to fund future development and refurbishment of hotels, storing up problems for the future.
Over capacity remains a major issue for the industry and one the Government is involved in through NAMA.
Fenn said NAMA was likely to double its hotel portfolio to 70 as it moved against underperforming loans. His members wanted unviable hotels taken over by the bad bank to be shut down, he said.