The Government now has to “step up to the plate” to rescue tourism from the impact of Brexit in the wake of the UK election because it is “much too important to the regional economy to be taken for granted”, according to a national industry body.
Chief executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC), Eoghan O’Mara Walsh said a €12m stimulus package for the industry was needed now more than ever as sterling fell following the UK election.
The number of visitors from the UK, which is Ireland’s biggest tourism market, has dropped significantly since the Brexit vote in June last year and with the pound falling again following the shock election result, it means less spending money for visitors if they chose to visit the Republic.
Separately, new research by cross-border trade agency, InterTradeIreland confirmed the potential adverse effects on the food industries on trade across the island and with Britain under a hard Brexit.
The number of visitors from the UK 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 Republic were particularly badly hit by falling numbers.
Mr O’Mara Walsh said: “Weakened sterling is not good for tourism and it is almost 15% more expensive for UK visitors compared to last year.
Brexit is already having a real and material impact. A €12m package 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.
The ITIC boss added that tourism was vital to the economy of the regions.
“It is one of the few industries that provides economic balance. It is too important to take for granted and the Government must step up to the plate. The food and drink industry has rightly been given support and all we are asking for is something similar,” he said.
A spokesperson for Fáilte Ireland said the UK election result exacerbated the existing problem for tourism businesses in the Republic.
He said: “The uncertainty of currency exchange underlines the challenges facing the sector. It is dearer for Britons and it also makes it cheaper for visitors visiting the UK instead of Ireland. We have to look at diversifying markets and it is also incumbent on businesses to maintain their competitiveness. If it is too dear for Britons, it will take years for the reputation to recover,” he said.
The importance of the North American market cannot be understated, especially for Munster in light of the first ever transatlantic flights between Cork and Rhode Island, the head of business tourism organisation Cork Convention Bureau, Seamus Heaney said.
“We need to be America-ready when flights come in from Rhode Island to Cork. It is potentially a huge market with surrounding states like Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine.
“Cork Airport also provides great access to regional Europe and the beginning of Swiss flights provides yet another opportunity for diversification,” he said.
While the British visitor market was down between February and April, North American visitor numbers were up 27% to 360,000.
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