Tourists must get value, says minister

TOURISM Minister John O’Donoghue won’t impose price controls on the industry, a promotional conference heard yesterday.

Value-for-money and competitiveness was the key message for the €5.1 billion sector, the Ireland Travel Trade Workshop at the National Events Centre (INEC), Killarney heard.

However, the minister said the industry would have to take initiatives, citing special meal offers by the restaurant sector as an example.

“The industry must recognise that it’s a very tough world out there, with many, many more countries in the marketplace fighting for business,” he said. “If we want to hold onto our share of the market we must offer value for money, such as the restaurants are offering, and I would hope to see further initiatives like that right across the industry.”

The top executives in Irish tourism organisations were at the workshop, however it took a Swedish tour operator and journalist to make a telling point.

Thomas Carlson, who specialises in the walking and cycling niche markets, said he can book clients into half-board accommodation in Austria at peak season for 40 per person, but here the same service costs at least 70.

“I love Ireland and have many reasons to speak well about the country, but rising prices are a big worry.”

The workshop is attended by 350 overseas tour operators from 30 countries who have 14,000 one-to-one meetings with over 640 people from the trade in Ireland.

The visiting operators have spending power of €900m.

Minister O’Donoghue said consumer confidence was again picking up and he emphasised the importance of value for money and competitiveness.

Improvements in access capacity would also help, with two new routes from the United States, Washington/Baltimore and Philadelphia, and others from continental countries.

He said that there was a renewed focus on the German market, the second largest in the world, but it sent only 300,000 visitors to Ireland annually. Also, countries such as Italy, France and Spain offered potential.

A report from the high-powered trategic review group, due to be presented to the minister in July, is expected to contain imaginative recommendations to boost tourism.

Tourism Ireland chief executive Paul O’Toole said that they were gradually seeing an increase in inquiries across all markets and stressed that Bord Failte surveys were showing that more than 90% of visitors were satisfied with their holidays in Ireland.

“Value for money is not just about prices, it’s about the quality of the overall experience and Ireland rates very highly in that regard,” said Mr O’Toole.

Bord Failte acting chief executive Niall Reddy welcomed improved indications from overseas markets, but said competition had never been fiercer.

“The prices we seek and the quality we provide must be competitive on the world stage,” he said.

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