A TAKE-OFF in the tourist industry was put at the heart of the Government’s job creation package last night.
Enda Kenny stressed that the impending twin visits of US president Barack Obama and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth — and the more than 1,000 international journalists who will travel with them — will provide a golden global showcase for what the country has to offer.
The Taoiseach said the hospitality industry needed to be revitalised in order to take full advantage of the hoped for upsurge in demand the visits could generate.
Delivering the stimulus package, Finance Minister Michael Noonan warned that tourism numbers had slumped by a quarter since 2007 and the earnings from the industry had crashed by almost one third.
In order to try and reverse the decline, Mr Noonan announced VAT is to be cut across a range of tourism-related areas in a bid to boost jobs.
The plan will see VAT on restaurants, hotels, cinemas, theatres, sporting fixtures and other attractions reduced from 13.5% to 9%.
The move will cost the Exchequer some €350 million per year but is seen as vital to sparking an upsurge in the industry with the Taoiseach urging Irish people to follow his example and “stay-cation” at home this year instead of travelling abroad for holidays.
The €10 air travel tax is also to be scrapped from July, as long as carriers like Aer Lingus and Ryanair are successful in bringing in extra passengers to the country which would off-set the expected €100m per year loss in revenue to the Exchequer. Mr Noonan warned the levy would be re-imposed in 2012 if tourism numbers did not increase.
Also aiding tourist infrastructure will be a €75m transport boost, with some €60m invested in the maintenance and repair of regional and local roads damaged by severe weather over the last two winters.
An extra €15m is to be invested in traffic management schemes and improvements to rail stations, footpaths, bus networks and cycle paths.
Mr Noonan said gaining a visa would be made easier to increase lucrative tourism business from the Far East, but that boosting British and US visitor numbers was key to success.
“The tourism marketing fund will support a strong focus on our major source markets, including the UK, in order to take advantage of the additional opportunities provided by the forthcoming visits of Queen Elizabeth and President Obama.
“These visits present exciting opportunities to get Ireland back in the minds of potential tourists and are invaluable in terms of marketing and publicity,” he said.
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