The new tourism minister faces a baptism of fire and must recognise the urgency of the problems being caused by Brexit, according to industry organisations.
Hopes have been raised that Kerry South TD Brendan Griffin will tackle the issues arising from dwindling numbers from Irish tourism’s biggest visitor bloc, the UK.
Mr Griffin was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism, and Sport in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s reshuffle.
While Mr Griffin’s predecessor, Limerick TD Patrick O’Donovan, was highly regarded among tourism lobby groups, it is hoped that because Mr Griffin’s constituency is so dependent on tourism, he may up the ante when it comes to tackling the industry’s current Brexit headaches.
Mr Griffin is a former member of Kerry County Council where he represented Dingle, one of the country’s most popular tourist areas.
The number of visitors from the UK has dropped significantly since the Brexit vote in June last year and with the pound falling ever since, it means less spending money for visitors if they chose to visit Ireland.
The number of visitors from Britain dropped by more than 10%, to 866,000, between February and April this year compared to the same three months in 2016, according to CSO figures.
Fáilte Ireland’s tourism barometer has found counties in the north and west of the country were particularly badly hit by falling numbers.
According to Fáilte Ireland, Britain represents 41% of all visits from overseas.
The next biggest source market is mainland Europe, which accounts for 36% of international volume.
Some 17% of overseas tourists come from North America. The balance comes from other long-haul markets.
Irish Tourism Industry Confederation chief executive Eoghan O’Mara Walsh said Mr Griffin’s appointment was a welcome one but warned he was taking on a difficult brief.
“All our Brexit concerns are being realised. We will strongly reiterate the call for support for the tourism industry through a €12m package that is needed to consolidate the market share, help business diversify into different markets, and offer supports to businesses to get through this turbulent period,” he said.
“Tourism is one of the very few industries that can provide jobs in every county.”
The Irish Hotels Federation said it welcomed the appointment of Mr Griffin, stating that he “will play an important role within the department in ensuring that national policies are focused on supporting and developing the industry, the country’s largest indigenous employer”.
Federation president Joe Dolan said the appointment comes at a pivotal time for the tourism sector, with Brexit “beginning to bite”.
He said: “The recent strong recovery in Irish tourism has been supported by a range of targeted Government measures that have been enormously positive for our industry.
“In the last six years we have created over 50,000 jobs with the tourism industry as a whole now supporting approximately 230,000 jobs.
“We look forward to working closely with Minister Griffin to build on that progress and to facing the very real challenge that Brexit is posing to our industry.”
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