Concern over drop in NI and UK visitors
Hotel and guesthouse owners in Sligo are reporting a good start to the year according to an industry survey undertaken by the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) in advance of its 80th Annual Conference in the Slieve Russell Hotel.
Most are forecasting an increase in business for 2018 with advance bookings up from domestic and key overseas markets, helping to offset the drop in bookings from the UK, Ireland's largest market, where visitor numbers continue to fall.
The high cost of doing business, including insurance, continues to be a major concern.
Seven in ten (72%) hoteliers say their overall business levels are up compared to this time last year, with a similar number (68%) reporting an increase in advance bookings for the remainder of the year.
Business levels from the US look set to remain strong with over half of hoteliers surveyed reporting an increase in business from this market.
Visitor numbers are up too from continental Europe with almost a third (32%) reporting an increase in business from Germany and nearly a quarter (23%) seeing a rise from France.
Closer to home the domestic market remains buoyant with almost seven in ten (67%) of hoteliers seeing an increase in home-grown business.
However, in contrast, the UK market remains a significant concern with over half (56%) of hoteliers reporting a drop in business from Great Britain compared to this time last year and almost four in ten seeing a drop from Northern Ireland.
Fergal Ryan, Chair, Sligo branch of the Irish Hotels Federation said that overall hoteliers are confident about the outlook for 2018, but not complacent.
"The increase in business levels that we are seeing from key international markets and from within Ireland itself, following on from strong growth in recent years, gives us some confidence.
"However, the negative effect on visitor numbers from the weakened sterling and uncertainty over Brexit reminds us that we're an island nation, dependent on the vagaries of other, larger economies, and there is never room for complacency," he said.
Tourism currently supports 5,700 jobs in Sligo and contributes some €131 million to the local economy annually.
Mr Ryan added: "We operate in a price sensitive sector where we compete with the UK for overseas visitors.
"A sustained fall in sterling could have a negative effect on visitor numbers from other markets who may opt instead to go to the UK.
"Cost-competitiveness is critical. Government cannot influence the economic conditions affecting other countries but there is a wide policy range of measures within their control that can enhance competitiveness.
"The 9% VAT rate and zero travel tax, for example, have been hugely significant in underpinning the recovery of the tourism sector. However, more needs to be done to bring down the high costs that are stifling business in Ireland such as insurance, where the costs are now so high they are a significant concern for almost nine in ten hoteliers (88%)," he said.
The survey also noted a rise in corporate meetings and events.