The Gathering has cost taxpayer €13m so far

The Gathering has cost the taxpayer €13m over the past two years and there are no figures as to how much revenue the event has generated.

Transport and Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar insists the return will be “a multiple” of the €13m.

As the event enters its final months, Mr Varadkar described the Gathering as a success and said the Government was on course to meeting its target of attracting 325,000 extra visitors to Ireland.

However, he warned that Ireland must work hard to keep tourism numbers up and Vat down as fears grow that the success of the Gathering this year might have a detrimental effect on the numbers of visitors in 2014.

He said he was conscious that many people who had visited Ireland in 2013 may have brought forward their holidays by a year and the tourism sector had to work hard to avoid a “dip”.

Speaking at the Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said: “It’s been a concern for us that something like the Gathering had a displacement effect where people who visited Ireland this year may have intended to come next year. So we are building on a number of events, and festivals have already been identified as having potential to run again next year.”

One of the big tourism drives next year will be the Wild Atlantic Way.

“So what comes next? In 2014 we’ll be putting Irish scenery back centre stage and developing the Wild Atlantic Way, which is Ireland’s answer to the Garden Route in South Africa.”

As the budget looms, Mr Varadkar said he would be arguing the case for retaining the 9% reduced Vat rate for tourism and leisure-related goods and services.

Two years ago, the Vat rate was temporarily reduced from 13.5% as part of a Government initiative to boost employment in the tourism and hospitality sectors — it is estimated some 14,000 jobs were created.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has said the rate would be costly to retain, suggesting an impending hike back towards 13.5% on Oct 15.

But asked by the Irish Examiner if he would fight to retain the lower rate, Mr Varadkar said “of course” he would fight its corner.

“It was only intended to be a temporary measure but like any stimulus, if you remove it too suddenly or too quickly it could do harm,” Mr Varadkar said.

“That has to be taken into account by the Cabinet and Minister Noonan, but bear in mind, budget decisions are never easy.”

Mr Varadkar said there would be another Gathering in years to come but it could take up to 10 years to organise. “The Gathering, we always said, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think it would be wrong to repeat it too soon, but it will maybe happen again in seven or 10 years’ time.”

The first eight months of this year saw an extra 291,000 visitors compared to the previous year.

The number of visits from the US were up 16.5%, while overall visitor numbers rose 6.5% from the same time in 2012.

Mr Varadkar said the Gathering was not just about money. “The Gathering was never just about tourism revenues or visitor numbers. It was about other things. It was about helping the economy recover.”

Almost 5,000 gatherings have been held so far this year — 29% of which were organised by families and clans, and 26% by communities. Others were arranged by businesses, sports bodies, schools, and colleges.


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