By Pádraig Hoare
The Government cannot take the upward curve of Irish tourism for granted, even with record-breaking flight numbers in the major airports and the prolonged sunshine leading to a spike in so-called ‘staycations’.
That is according to the chief executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC), Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, who said the need to stimulate the sector with measures such as a Brexit fund and increased marketing budgets is bigger than ever.
The Irish Aviation Authority said total flights handled in Irish airspace last month numbered 112,005, an increase of more than 4% on the same month last year.
Commercial terminal flights at Dublin were up almost 5% with an average of 703 daily commercial movements.
Cork flights were up more than 2%, with an average of 70 commercial daily movements at Cork, while Shannon was up more than 6% with an average of 70.
There has been a marked increase anecdotally in ‘staycations’, with the prolonged sunshine bringing Irish families to the traditional holiday destinations in the Republic, such as Kerry, Clare, and Wexford, Mr O’Mara Walsh said.
He said: “The sector is simply too important to take for granted. Relying on unusually long spells of good weather will not bring in tourists from abroad, who don’t come here for the sun.
“The Taoiseach has talked about tourism’s part in doubling the Irish global footprint in the coming years but if it is to do that, we need more tourism presence in markets like the US and the EU. Our British market, which is our bread-and-butter, remains down so these markets are more important than ever.”
ITIC has said an extra €50m is required if the Republic is going to have tourism fulfil its potential. The combined budget for Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland was around €160m in 2008, while it is now around €120m.
According to CSO figures, the number of visitors increased from just under 1.8m in the first quarter of 2017 to over 1.9m in the first quarter of this year.
In 2017, there was a record 1.83m North American visitors, according to Tourism Ireland. The body has targeted an increase in US and Canadian visitor numbers of more than 5% in 2018, as well as an increase in revenue of more than 7%.
Visitor numbers from the UK to Ireland are down by 5% following the Brexit referendum result, according to Fáilte Ireland.
Mr O’Mara Walsh added: “We have said consistently that tourism is the only industry that can provide real regional balance. There is significantly more potential with proper investment.”