HIGH-spending Arab and Chinese tourists who take lengthy holidays abroad have been targeted by the Government under a new visa-waiver scheme.
Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern tourists will no longer have to apply, obtain and pay for a separate Irish visa if they obtain a UK travel visa.
The new visa-waiver scheme for Asian, Middle Eastern and eastern European tourists is the first of its kind in Ireland and will be piloted from July until October 2012 -- crucially through the London Olympics.
It comes after visitor numbers to Ireland fell to a 12-year low in 2010.
The Government hopes to entice tourists visiting the UK for the London 2012 Olympics over to Ireland and to pull off a substantial tourism spin-off.
Visitors from China, India and the Middle East are among those who stay twice as long as the average holidaymaker.
They also have the highest spend per visit at €782, according to research undertaken by Tourism Ireland.
Under the proposed changes, tourists from a list of 14 countries who obtain a UK visa for a short-term visit of up to 180 days can use this visa to travel to Ireland.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter last night acknowledged that "immigration abuse is a major issue" with potential to expose the Exchequer to substantial losses if the Government "gets things wrong".
In the past, there have been concerns that individuals can exploit a loophole in the system to enter the State on a visa and then disappear.
But Mr Shatter last night insisted his department had looked at the "potential risks" of the new waiver scheme and was satisfied the scheme addressed any concerns that people might have had in that area.
"Of particular importance is that the persons concerned have already entered the UK legally on foot of a valid visa and having passed through immigration control there," Mr Shatter said.
The minister said the regulatory framework had previously acted as a barrier to expanding the tourist industry and as a disincentive to potential visitors.
Countries covered by the new waiver scheme include Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Other Asian countries include India, China and Uzbekistan.
Eastern European countries Belarus, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and the Ukraine are also included.
Such visitors will no longer have to fill out forms for Ireland and will also save significant money.
If a family of four, for example, want to travel to Ireland as part of trip to London, Irish visas would cost them €240. This will be zero from July.