Alarm over collapse in British visitor rate

TOURISM here may never return to its pre-recession levels, a hard-hitting industry report has concluded.

Much focus is placed on the recent stark decline in British tourist numbers, which is the primary member among Irish tourism’s top four which also include the US, Germany and France.

The report — A Changed World for Irish Tourism — was commissioned by the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC) and presents a very stark outlook for the country’s third most important industry.

The report states that Irish tourism “is facing its greatest challenge in several decades as a result of the impact of the recent global recession on international travel”.

“The short-term outlook of slow economic recovery in Ireland’s principal source markets suggests a continuing difficult trading period for most businesses, with recovery to pre-recession levels at least three to five years away. However, recovery is by no means assured.”

ITIC chief executive Eamonn McKeon said: “Failure to turn around the high-volume British market could stall recovery, making it more difficult and slow.

“The number of British visitors coming to Ireland for the first time almost halved between 2003 and 2009 and accounted for less than one third of British holiday visitors last year.”

The number of holiday visitors from Britain remained almost unchanged at 1.7 million each year before collapsing to 1.1 million last year.

Over the same period, the number of North American holiday visitors remained static at about 700,000 each year.

Among the report’s key finding is the importance of maintaining “adequate access by air to Ireland”.

ITIC believes that the abolition of the travel tax is essential to the viability of many services in order to secure their continued operation.

Also, focus must be placed on promoting Dublin, the “destination of choice for a growing share of leisure visitors to Ireland”.

At the launch of the report, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin said the Government’s “main emphasis is on helping the sector generate additional visitors from overseas, increasing domestic tourism, supporting the industry to address its cost base and ensuring that credit is available to tourism enterprises requiring it”.

Speaking earlier on RTÉ, Ms Hanafin said she expected to meet NAMA representatives soon to discuss the country’s surplus of hotels.

She said it was not the Government’s business to decide which hotels should close but that it was important to protect jobs and allow viable businesses access to credit.

Fine Gael tourism spokesman Jimmy Deenihan said the ITIC report provided “a very worrying snapshot” of the tourism industry and was “a shocking indictment” of the Government’s policies.

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