Hoteliers upbeat after good start but wary of risks
Hotel and guesthouse owners in Wicklow are reporting a good start to 2018, with most forecasting an increase in advance bookings from domestic and overseas markets.
However, visitors to Irish shores from the UK continue to drop. The high cost of doing business, including insurance, is also a major concern.
72 per cent of hoteliers say their overall business levels are up compared to this time last year, with a similar number, 68 per cent, 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.
Brian McNamara, Chair, Wicklow branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, believes hoteliers are confident of a positive outlook for 2018 but won't be allowing for any complacency.
'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. Tourism currently supports 8,900 jobs in Wicklow and contributes some €154 million to the local economy annually,' said Mr McNamara.
Visitor numbers are up too from continental Europe with 32 per cent of hotel owners reporting an increase in business from Germany and 23 per cent seeing a rise from France. Closer to home the domestic market remains buoyant with 67 per cent of hoteliers seeing an increase in home-grown business. However, in contrast, the UK market remains a significant concern with 56 per cent of hoteliers reporting a drop in business from Great Britain compared to this time last year. A drop in Northern Irish visitors has also been noted.
Mr McNamara acknowledges that Ireland and the UK often compete with one another as a destination for tourists from overseas, but the high cost of insurance can make life particularly difficult for Irish hoteliers.
'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 per cent VAT rate and zero travel tax, for example, have been hugely significant in underpinning the recovery of the tourism sector,' said Mr McNamara.
'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.'
Employment growth within the hotel sector also looks set to continue in 2018. Over half of hoteliers (52%) expect to increase their staffing levels with opportunities available across all areas of business, from entry-level positions to jobs for experienced staff.