Offices to merge as tourism landscape changes

PLANS to centralise tourism offices around the country are a direct response to the effects of the budget airline phenomenon which is encouraging city breaks, according to tourist chiefs.

A PriceWaterhouse-Coopers report on regional tourism structures, which has been backed by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and the regional authorities, is calling for the main administrative and marketing of the regions to be completed by Fáilte Ireland.

Dublin will retain full powers to promote itself as a holiday destination. Five other tourist authorities around the country will hand over the operation of their tourist offices to Fáilte Ireland.

The regional offices will retain a “strategic role” in the design of new tourism products. Fáilte Ireland said yesterday that there would not be any job losses.

Latest figures show that the demand for beds outside Dublin has dropped by 14% between 1999 and 2003, and by 22% in the West and 39% in Shannon.

According to a department spokesperson, there is a need for much more targeted marketing of products - an expensive option which they believe can be done more effectively nationally.

“It is important to point out that during the minister’s consultations with the regions, they expressed their support for the reforms involved and their willingness to fully assist and facilitate the reform process,” chief executive of the Irish Tourism Industry Federation, Eamonn McKeon, said.

“Authorities are also hung up on marketing their own areas exclusively when often the various counties should work together to promote various day trips. However, direct access to cities is vital and that is what is pushing the Dublin figures.

“Good road and rail infrastructure is also vital so somebody can arrive in Dublin on a budget weekend trip and travel to Galway in two and a half hours,” he said.

Senior tourism officer with Ireland West, Brian Quinn, said it’s not about closing tourism offices but resourcing them so a new tourism model can be developed.

“We have problems because of trends, like the variety of low-cost flights into Dublin, the drop in the car rental market and the trend for shorter city breaks. To counteract this, we must market golf and walking holidays and focus on value for money.”

An expert implementation group is being developed by Fáilte Ireland.

It’s believed that the report received a cool welcome from regional authorities and businessmen and last night, general manager of the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork, Liam Lally, described it as a “potentially suicidal move”.

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