STRUGGLING hoteliers are banding together to win overseas customers rather than fighting individual battles for tourists.
In the south-east, 40 members of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) have come together to market the region as a distinct destination and believe the same approach could work throughout the country.
Speaking on the first day of the IHF annual conference, Bettie Marie Burger-Smit of the Brandon House Hotel in New Ross, Co Wexford, said: "It's very easy to put your hand out but we need to be pro-active rather than reactive".
Despite its favourable climate, the sunny south-east is a region that is "not as familiar" to the international market as others such as Dublin or the west, she said.
So hoteliers have accepted the need to brand the area as a broad destination with attractions across several counties.
Each of the 40 has put up €200 to pay for a new website, southeastirelandhotels.ie, which also acts as a portal to the national irelandhotels.com website. The plan is supported by Failte Ireland.
She said individual hotels "cannot feature internationally, ever, if it's not part of a destination" and that destination is the south-east.
Local attractions such as the JFK connection and the Dunbrody famine ship need to be married with attractions elsewhere to form a strong attraction for international visitors.
"This is taking ownership on an international basis. It's not one person looking after it, it's every hotel taking ownership. At the end of the day it's Ireland first, as an island. Then it's the destination, and then it's a town."
Ms Burger-Smit made her comments after a day in which the IHF, holding its annual conference yesterday in Kilkenny, called on the Government to retain the 9pc reduced VAT rate on the hospitality industry beyond the end of the year, and to reduce commercial rates, which it said were "crippling" the sector.
But Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar refused to commit to maintaining the reduced VAT rate despite agreeing it has been "very successful" for tourism.
He said the reduction from 13.5pc had cost the Exchequer up to €130m and confirmed that the Government still intended to re-introduce it from January 1 next.
IHF president Paul Gallagher said that, at a time when the recovery in overseas visitor numbers was "fragile" the rate reduction had been "a very positive driver of demand" and needed to be more than a short-term stimulus.
Mr Gallagher accused the Government of "crippling" hotels and guesthouses across the country with a "stealth tax" on tourism in the form of excessive local authority rates.
Eight out of 10 hoteliers have cited rates as the single biggest issue impacting their business.