Wednesday 12 December 2018

Tourism boost from Star Wars won't last forever, TDs and Senators warned

'No-deal Brexit' could hit tourist revenues by €390 million, Oireachtas committee is told

JJ Abrams and Mark Hamill on Skellig Michael
JJ Abrams and Mark Hamill on Skellig Michael
An Aerial view of Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland.
Almost 14,700 people visited Skellig Michael last year
Local guide Muiris Walsh of Iveragh Historical Tours, dressed as ‘Chewbacca’ in the newly named ‘Porgmagee’, where film stars and crew departed for Skellig Michael,the location of Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII. Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan
Rey stands next to the Wailing Woman on Skellig Michael on the Wild Atlantic Way
Skellig Michael featured in Star Wars
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The boost to Irish tourism from increased air links and popularity due to the filming of Star Wars and Game of Thrones here won’t last forever, TDs and Senators have been warned.

Revenue in the tourism industry could also be hit by as much as €390m in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit.

The remarks were made by Tourism Ireland's CEO, Niall Gibbons, and Fáílte Ireland's Paul Kelly at the Oireachtas Transport, Tourism and Sport committee - which is this morning examining the threat that Brexit poses to the industry.

Mr Gibbons said that there have been “favourable winds” for tourism in recent times, including a 39pc increase in air access since 2010 - particularly on trans-Atlantic routes - and supportive economic conditions in key markets.

He also said: “The fashionability of the island of Ireland as a location for the likes of Star Wars and Game of Thrones, and our capacity to shift to new, lower cost, digital and social marketing have helped to deliver record performances”.

Latest CSO figures indicate that over 8.2 million people visited the island from January to September of this year, a rise of 7pc, or about 542,000 extra visitors, over the same period in 2017.

But he warned: “Few, if any, of those factors will continue in our favour indefinitely.”

Economic uncertainty and fluctuating exchange rates have already impacted on visitor numbers from Britain, Mr Gibbons added, and he said research is showing “a significant and worrying diminution in what we call Ireland’s ‘share of voice’, or visibility, in our top markets” - with major competitors intensifying their advertising.

A “critical component” is the future of the EU-UK Open Skies Agreement post-Brexit, he said, which “has the potential to have significant downside risks for Ireland if a successful resolution is not found”.

'Tremendous uncertainty' surrounding Brexit

Meanwhile, Fáilte Ireland's chief executive, Paul Kelly, told the committee that tourism revenue could be hit by as much as €390m in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit.

One study showed that the impact of a hard Brexit in terms of UK visitors alone would cost €260m, he said, while another scenario based on previous hits to the tourism industry - such as the 2010 volcanic ash cloud from Iceland which affected flights, and the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak - estimated that losses could hit €390m.

Tourism Ireland's stand at World Travel Market 2018. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Tourism Ireland's stand at World Travel Market 2018. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Mr Kelly said there is a “tremendous amount of uncertainty surrounding Brexit” as negotiations with the EU continue and that, until talks are complete, it’s difficult to quantify what impact Brexit will have.

A 'no-deal Brexit’ scenario would impact Ireland as a whole, he added, but it would be “particularly felt in some regional areas where there are few alternatives to replace the economic benefits generated by tourism.”

Mr Gibbons also highlighted oil prices as a risk to the sustainability of air routes, but said that "Brexit dominates all other uncertainties".

"Since the UK voted to leave the EU, Tourism Ireland has taken a number of steps to monitor the situation, maintain confidence among our partners in Britain and at home and ensure we are ready to deal with the implications," he added.

Diversifying tourism markets

Tourism Ireland is working with industry partners to grow overseas tourism by 5pc this year, he said. This week, the marketing organisation has taken a stand of 70 businesses to the World Travel Market in London.

It plans to “expect to place a more significant emphasis on season extension, regional performance and sustainability” in 2019.

He welcomed an increase in tourism marketing funding in Budget 2019, and said this will allow Tourism Ireland to begin implementing new growth strategies in places like the United States, Germany, Britain, China and India.

Diversifying markets is part of Tourism Ireland’s response to Brexit (currently, 39pc of all overseas visitors to the island come from Britain).

This strategy "focuses more effort on markets with a longer stay and higher spend".

However, Mr Gibbons said a retention of the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Ireland and the United Kingdom and free movement of overseas visitors across the border is “vitally important”.

He pointed out that on average, 75pc of visitors from the United States to Northern Ireland and 63pc of visitors from Europe arrive via the Republic of Ireland. 

Mr Gibbons said: "Tourism endured many crises over 20 years – like 9/11, the global financial crisis and terrorist attacks in North America and Europe. However, it also serves as an example of how compromise and goodwill between people can build a stronger future for us all".

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