Speech to the 2015 Responsible Travel and Tourism Conference; ‘Sustainability – Hospitality’s Blind Spot’  

15th October, 2015


Good afternoon everyone. I am delighted to join you here today to address the Responsible Travel and Tourism Conference. I would particularly like to thank Maurice Bergin for again extending the invitation to speak to you here today.


Before I get into the substance of what I want to say, I wish to congratulate all of the winners in the Responsible Travel and Tourism Awards that will be announced later today.  The awards reflect commitment to sustainability and the work undertaken to place environmental concerns at the heart of your business.



We gather here today against the background of very strong tourism data. I am pleased to report that the strong tourism performance in 2014 (an increase of 8.9% compared to 2013) has continued into 2015. Figures published recently show that the number of overseas visits to Ireland for the first eight months of the year increased by 12.2% compared to the corresponding period of 2014.


All of our significant overseas markets are showing good growth levels.

  • Visits from Britain were up 11.2% for the eight month period;
  • Visits from the rest of Europe grew by 13%;
  • Visits from North America registered an increase of 13.9%;
  • While the number of visits from the rest of the world (principally Australia and other long-haul developing markets) grew by 9.2%.


The CSO figures for the revenue generated from these overseas visits are also very positive. The most up to date data is for the first six months of the year and it shows an increase of over 16% in overseas visitor revenue compared to the same period of 2015.


All of this means that while we still have a few months to go, we can already say with some confidence that 2015 will break all previous records from an overseas visitor perspective.



Since I attended the conference last year I am pleased to also report some significant policy developments. On the 23rd March, the Taoiseach and I launched a new Tourism Policy Statement  – ‘People Place and Policy’ which sets ambitious targets for the tourism sector in the period to 2025.
The Statement builds on the complementary strengths of our tourism offering including our uniquely friendly and welcoming people, the beauty and historic heritage of our places and the support and commitment of Government.


It addresses issues such as a switch in focus from visitor numbers to visitor revenue, the development of increased community engagement with tourism, and has policy objectives to ensure that the tourism sector has the appropriate skills to meet the needs of future visitors.


The new Policy seeks to build on the gains made in recent years and chart a course to achieving a significant increase in tourist revenue and employment in the sector over the course of the next decade.  The overall tourism goal of Government is that by 2025, revenue from overseas visitors, excluding carrier receipts, will increase to €5 billion, and that employment in the sector will rise to 250,000.


As a follow up to the Policy Statement, in August I appointed a new Tourism Leadership Group, which has commenced work on preparing a new Tourism Action Plan for the period to 2018.


The Plan will set out specific actions required to achieve the objectives contained in the Tourism Policy Statement. The Group is made up of a broad range of tourism stakeholders and has met on three occasions to date. My intention is that the Action Plan will be published early in the New Year.



I should also highlight that the Policy Statement is very strong in terms of needing to ensure that our tourism development is done in a sustainable manner.


Indeed it acknowledges the benefits of the Green Hospitality Awards in promoting and encouraging sustainability in tourism. As our economy and the tourism sector continues to grow and we see an upturn in construction activity it is more important than ever that development of public infrastructure and private construction activity should be carried out with as much sympathy as possible for the natural landscape and our built heritage.


Of course all tourism enterprises have to have regard to profitability and I understand that your conference today will seek to address how implementing sustainability as a core element of your business can assist enterprises in contributing to the ‘Triple Bottom Line –People, Planet, Profit’.


I think it should be self-evident that a business that pays attention to all three will reap rewards.


I am pleased to see that Fáilte Ireland and the Environmental Protection Agency have been able to support your event and in our Policy Statement we have proposed that the formulation of policies, strategies and plans by public bodies with a role in relation to natural and built heritage will give consideration to the contribution that sustainable tourism can make to the protection of heritage assets.


The Government’s Our Sustainable Future -A Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland sets out a vision on how we can transition Ireland to a resource efficient, low-carbon and climate resilient future and notes that this sustainable approach to economic development complements the core strength of our economy in the use of natural resources across a number of sectors, including tourism.


In this context, there is a responsibility on each individual and enterprise, as well as on the State, to play their part in a more sustainable Ireland.



The key for all of us- me, as Minister; you, as tourism actors- is to build a future for the sector that will not only be economically sustainable but environmentally so.

We really have no other choice.

All sectors of our economy, but especially tourism which relies so much on our natural heritage and landscape, must play their part in protecting our country’s, and the planet’s, environmental future.


This really is an example of thinking globally and acting locally.


At the end of November, the Heads of State of Government of around 200 countries will meet at a United Nations ‘Conference of the Parties’ on Climate Change. The Paris-based meeting will be attended by the Taoiseach.  The objective of the meeting will be to achieve a legally binding agreement on climate change in order to keep global warming below 2°C.


Many believe that, as President Obama once said when quoting an unnamed US State Governor: ‘We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.’


While that statement might sound quite dramatic, there are few who would disagree that very significant progress needs to be made on the sustainability front.  All of our efforts are important and it is encouraging to see your collective effort here today as we seek to move towards a more sustainable future.



In conclusion, I hope that today’s Responsible Travel and Tourism Conference will encourage your enterprises to further enhance Ireland’s long standing reputation as a clean and green country but also ensuring that you can look forward to a long and profitable career in the tourism sector.


Thank you.