That was the view of Alcohol Action Ireland as the drinks and hospitality industry met key tourism stakeholders yesterday at a roundtable discussion in Dublin.
Among the topics discussed were Irish whiskey tourism, the Wild Atlantic Way, and the need for a reduction in alcohol excise tax.
However, Alcohol Action Ireland chief executive Suzanne Costello said tourism was being placed at the centre of the alcohol industry’s campaign for cheaper drink in an attempt to mask the damaging impact an excise duty cut would have on national health and wellbeing.
“The success of Irish tourism is effectively being used as a smokescreen by the alcohol industry which is trying to force through an excise duty cut on the grounds that it is key to our tourism offering and our economy,” Ms Costello said.
“The reality is that this campaign is about selling alcohol and the cheaper it is, the more of it will be sold, with hugely damaging consequences for health and wellbeing in Ireland.”
Ms Costello said tourism did not depend on cheap alcohol and pointed out that, although excise duty increased in 2013 and 2014, during 18 of the last 26 budgets there had been either a decrease in rates or no change in excise duty.
“From a purely economic perspective, our current level of alcohol taxation in Ireland, including both excise duty and Vat, falls €1.6bn below covering its €3.7bn cost to society and that substantial tab is picked up by the taxpayer,” she said.
The general manager of the Old Jameson Distillery in Smithfield, Dublin, Ray Dempsey, said excise duty is one of the major barriers the drinks industry has to face.
“Irish consumers and tourists pay the third highest excise taxes in Europe. This means a tourist visiting from New York could buy almost two bottles of Jameson in New York for the price of one in Ireland,” he said.
“We regularly receive queries from visitors wondering why it’s so expensive to buy Jameson here. In our view, this is the number one threat to the future of Irish whiskey tourism.”
A report on behalf of the ‘Support Your Local’ campaign was also launched at the event.
It found that more than half (54%) of tourists mention the pub as a reason they are visiting the country. In 2013, 80% of tourists cited the Irish pub as one of the experiences influencing their choice of this country as a tourist destination.
The report says tourism supported 137,500 jobs in 2014 in the accommodation and food sectors and that, overall, tourism employment was about 200,000.
The report’s author, economist Tony Foley, said the drinks industry makes a major contribution to domestic and international tourism.
“The drinks industry is responsible for the direct provision of major visitor attractions like the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s number one visitor attraction, which attracted 1,269,371 visitors in 2014, the Old Jameson Distillery and Jameson Experience Midleton which attracted 410,000 visitors between them, and newer developments like the Kilbeggan Distillery and Tullamore Dew visitor centre offering attractions outside Dublin,” he said.
Paul Keeley of Fáilte Ireland said 2015 was shaping up to be a record year for tourism and the drinks industry is playing a key role.
“We need everybody in the sector working together to make these attractions work. Pubs and the Irish drink sector have a role to play here to make the visitor experiences on the ground authentic, compelling, and memorable.”