Seanad Statement on Growing Tourism to 2025

1st July, 2015

A Chathaoirligh, I thank the members of this House for giving me the opportunity to speak about tourism and in particular the Government’s policies to support the continued growth in tourism up to 2025.


When this Government came into office in 2011, it identified tourism and hospitality as a key sector in Ireland’s overall economic recovery and committed itself to various actions to support the sector, rebuild competitiveness, grow business and increase employment.

Reducing VAT on tourism services has enhanced the competitiveness of the industry.  This measure has been complemented by a radical change in our approach to visitors from developing markets through the Visa Waiver Programme, as well as further positive developments in the broader visa regime.

The Gathering in 2013 was a highly successful initiative backed not just by the Government but by communities in every county in Ireland and it delivered a significant increase in overseas visit numbers and revenue.  The zero rating of the Air Travel Tax, announced in Budget 2014, has also had a welcome impact in terms of additional capacity on many existing routes, as well as the introduction of over twenty new services.


In the 2013 Budget we extended the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme to allow the participation of tourism accommodation and also confirmed that hotels and tourism accommodation could be held as Rental Investment Assets by Real Estate Investment Trusts.  This was extended for another three years in Budget 2015.



In order to place the Government’s longer term plans in context, I wish to briefly summarise the current strong performance of tourism and its significant contribution to Ireland’s overall economic performance.

From a position in 2010 where overseas visitors had fallen by 16% in two years, we have seen overseas visitor numbers increase every year since 2011.  In 2014 we attracted 7.6 million overseas visitors to Ireland and these visitors contributed an estimated €3.5 billion to the Irish economy.


I am pleased to report that the picture for 2015 is again very positive.  CSO figures released last week show that there were just over 3 million visits in the first five months of 2015 – an increase of 12.1% compared to the same period in 2014.  This represents an additional 329,800 visitors from around the world.  This strong performance is all the more impressive as it is distributed over the full range of our source markets.

Visits from Mainland Europe grew by 14% for January to May 2015, to almost 1.1 million visits.  There were 453,000 visits from North America, an increase of 13.6%, and visits from Great Britain were up by 10.1% to 1.3 million.


Visits from the rest of the world, mostly long-haul and developing markets, totalled almost 174,000 for the first five months of 2015, representing an increase of 13% on the same period in 2014.

The resurgence in tourism that has taken place over the last four years does not mean that the Government can divert our attentions away from the sector.  In fact, it necessitates very close attention by Government to ensure that Ireland’s tourism sector can continue to grow in a way that is sustainable from an economic, social and environmental perspective.

I will now turn to the policy framework which has been put in place to ensure that tourism remains a central part of Ireland’s economic recovery.



Last March, the Taoiseach and I launched the Government’s new Tourism Policy Statement, entitled People, Place and Policy, Growing Tourism to 2025, which provides a framework for the tourism industry to thrive in a changing global tourism marketplace.

The three headline targets of the new Statement are that:

  • Revenue from overseas tourism will rise from €3.5 billion in 2014 to €5 billion per year by 2025 net of inflation,
  • There will be 250,000 people employed in tourism by 2025, compared with approximately 200,000 at present, and
  • We will attract ten million overseas visits to Ireland by 2025, compared to 7.6 million in 2014.

The increase in overseas visits and, more importantly, the increase in overseas visitor revenue, will impact directly on tourism employment numbers.  Our goal is to create an additional 50,000 jobs in the sector.  These are additional jobs that will support families and communities in every part of Ireland.



We have looked at Irish tourism through this lens of People and Place, and devised a Policy that builds on our innate strengths as a tourism destination, while preparing ourselves for the challenges that the future will bring.

I would like at this point to bring you through a few important aspects of the new Tourism Policy Statement.


People strand of People Place and Policy framework

In the People strand of the People, Place and Policy framework, we focus both on those who work in the tourism sector, and also on the means by which the quality of the visitor experience can be maximised through interaction with communities generally.

The People who work in tourism are a particularly important asset to Ireland.  A chapter of the Policy Statement looks closely at the area of skills in the tourism sector.  My Department and Fáilte Ireland are working closely with the Department of Education and Skills, SOLAS, and the Expert Group of Future Skills Needs to ensure that the training and skills development measures are in place so that the tourism industry can effectively meet the needs of visitors into the future.

The Policy also acknowledges the key role played by a wide range of events in encouraging tourism into Ireland, and in enhancing the experience of visitors during their stay.  A new policy objective in this area is that support for events will be weighted towards those that offset the seasonal nature of tourism

The Government will also look closely at a repeat of the Gathering and the scope for other themed years, and this will be pursued further when drawing up the Tourism Action Plan which will follow the Policy Statement.

However, we recognise that the many Commemorations of critical events in our history over the coming years are not primarily focused on tourism but are rather occasions to remember, and also to look forward to the future with confidence.


Place strand of People, Place and Policy framework

The Place strand of the People, Place and Policy framework contains a range of objectives designed to ensure that Ireland remains a place that people from other countries aspire to visit, and one which provides the highest quality of visitor experience.

Creating a desire to experience Ireland as a Place, and thus inspiring people to visit is at the core of our overseas tourism marketing.  The Tourism Policy endorses, as a policy principle, the brand architecture and consumer segmentation model which has been developed by the tourism agencies and the tourism industry, to identify and focus resources on the most promising consumer segments in each of our geographic priority markets.


The importance of maintaining and enhancing, through the protection of natural and cultural assets, the quality of place that visitors experience during their stay is clearly set out.  Within the wider context of sustainable development we will seek to balance that with appropriate development to adapt to changing visitor needs.

There is a target to support capital investment in tourism for the purpose of improving the visitor experience, where such investment is necessary but not feasible on a purely commercial basis.  The key difference in the new Policy is that the supports will be weighted towards investment that is complementary to the brand propositions, such as the Wild Atlantic Way, and Ireland’s Ancient East.


The Wild Atlantic Way has exceeded our expectations in terms of how quickly it has caught the imagination of people in our overseas markets, as well as communities along the route.  The main objective of the Wild Atlantic Way project is to motivate more overseas visitors to visit the West of Ireland and to give them reasons to “linger longer” in terms of tourism experiences and encourage them to engage with the landscape and communities along the route.

Building on the lessons learned during the development of the Wild Atlantic Way, “Ireland’s Ancient East” is a compelling tourism offering which will give visitors the opportunity to experience 5,000 years of European history in a small compact area.  It has the potential to welcome significant additional visitors to these areas and in so doing, will generate revenue and jobs in many rural communities.


I was just last week in Waterford and met with representatives of tourism businesses there who were excited by the project and eager for it to get off the ground.

I am sure that communities in Ireland’s Ancient East’s catchment area will get fully involved and make the most of the initiative just like communities up and down the Wild Atlantic Way which is part of the reason it has been such a big success.


Dublin, also, is the subject of a major brand experience project.  The new Grow Dublin Tourism Alliance is, for the first time ever, focusing on a unified branding and marketing of Dublin and is bringing together key stakeholders such as the Local Authorities, tourism agencies and industry representatives, as well as experts in key sectors such as marketing and communications.  The Alliance will also be responsible for putting in place a sustainable funding model to support the project.


Combining the People and Place aspects

Having outlined aspects of the People and Place aspects of the new Tourism Policy, I’d like to focus on the point in the Policy document at which these converge.

The Policy devotes a chapter to what is perhaps our greatest potential tourism offering; namely where the aspects of People and Place converge at the level of the local community – as so effectively demonstrated during The Gathering in 2013.

It will provide a foundation for communities to develop quality tourism experiences that meet and, preferably, exceed the needs and expectations of visitors.  Local Authorities will have a key role in supporting communities in tourism, as they have done in many cases, but this is now recognised at policy level.


Policy strand of People, Place and Policy framework

The final aspect of the People, Place and Policy framework concerns the direct role of Government policies in supporting tourism.  The key issue here is that Government policies to support tourism fall within the scope of numerous Government Departments, and that a whole-of-government approach must and will be taken in this regard.

There is a clear message that the maintenance of the special 9% VAT rate in the tourism sector is conditional on continued moderation in prices.  Perceptions of poor value are very damaging and can endure long after prices adjust down again.

As recently as 2009, over two fifths (41%) of visitors surveyed found Ireland to be poor or very poor value for money.  Thankfully, huge strides have been made in this area in recent years.  Ratings of poor or very poor value for money are falling, with only 6% finding Ireland to be poor or very poor value for money in 2014.


However, we cannot become complacent. We want every visitor to feel they are getting good value here. Following a long, hard battle to restore Ireland’s competitiveness and regain trust internationally as a good value destination, we must continue to offer quality, good value, memorable hospitality to our tourists.

The Tourism Policy Statement also recognises the importance of value and innovation in tourism competitiveness, and the value of research in understanding visitor needs.  A tourism research forum, involving key public bodies and academic institutions, will be established to identify and prioritise tourism-focused research.

One area in which public policy has a very direct bearing on tourism activity concerns the regulation and classification of visitor accommodation.  The Policy will ensure the continued quality of the Irish tourism sector’s offering, particularly in the most formally regulated area of accommodation, while also allowing for innovation and the ability to adapt to changing visitor needs and emerging technologies and distribution channels.

The Policy Statement also reiterates the continuing importance of the kinds of policy measures that have been used before to support tourism and which have been effective.  These include fiscal policy, support for enterprise, access, and transport – all of which help to develop a competitive and sustainable tourism sector, and indeed are of benefit to enterprise generally.




The positive contribution that tourism has made towards cross-border co-operation is highlighted in People Place and Policy, and our goal is that tourism will continue to serve as a platform for understanding and respect between all the people on the island of Ireland.

This commitment to all-island co-operation has been recently underlined through the support by the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive for the preparation of a joint bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

I was happy to recently appoint a Bid Oversight Board, which will approve bid strategy, oversee progress, liaise with the IRFU and both Governments, and ensure the delivery of a ‘world class’ bid to host RWC 2023 in Ireland.


Dick Spring, former Tánaiste and Irish rugby international is Chairman, with Dr David Dobbin, Group Chief Executive of Dale Farm as Vice- Chair.  The Bid Ambassador will be former Ireland rugby legend, Brian O’Driscoll.  I am sure they will do an excellent job.

The bid has the full support of both Governments and we will be working very closely with the IRFU to ensure that the best possible bid is lodged with World Rugby to bring the Rugby World Cup to Ireland in 2023.



A Chathaoirligh, to conclude, I hope that my contribution has given the House an overview of our tourism policy objectives.  There are many more which time will not permit me to cover here today.  In fact the Policy Statement contains a total of 51 policy proposals.


However, a Policy is only useful if it can be implemented effectively.  To this end, I will shortly announce the membership of a Tourism Leadership Group, which will oversee the creation of an initial three-year Tourism Action Plan for the period up to 2018, which will set out the actions necessary to achieve the policy objectives in the Tourism Policy Statement.  Subsequent action plans will be put in place for the period up to 2025.


I now welcome the opportunity to hear the views of Senators on this sector which will continue to be of vital importance to every region of Ireland in the years ahead.

Thank you.