Speech by Michael Ring TD, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport at the AGM of Manor House Hotels and Irish Country Hotels

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Knockranny House Hotel - Monday 8th April, 2013
I would like to thank you for inviting me to address your annual meeting. I hope you have had a productive day.
I wish to assure you that the Government continues to regard Tourism as a key sector which can contribute to Ireland’s recovery and overseas earnings to every part of Ireland.   That is why tourism features so prominently in the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs. Developing more air services from global destinations and bringing more tourists from overseas are key tourism policies in the Government’s 2013 Action Plan.
It is also why this Government, since it has taken office, has consistently supported the industry and introduced a range of measures to support the tourism sector and enhance competitiveness and our marketing drive overseas.  These included reducing the cost of employing people by halving employers’ PRSI for those on modest wages and reducing VAT to 9% on tourism-related services – including hotel accommodation and meals in restaurants in 2012 and continuing with that reduction throughout 2013. 
These efforts have been complemented by a radical change in our approach to visitors from developing markets, through the Tourist Visa Waiver Scheme.  From a tourism perspective, I welcome the many positive developments regarding visit visas, including the Visa Waiver Scheme, the more liberal multi-entry visa regime and progress on developing a Common Travel Area Visa for Ireland and the UK, which are helping grow tourism from new and developing markets.
I am very pleased at evidence that the Visa Waiver Programme – and Tourism Ireland’s promotion of same – appears to be impacting positively on tourism performance from new markets.  Informal estimates indicate a rise of about 21% in arrivals from visa waiver countries, comparing the 12 months before the visa waiver was introduced to the 12 months since.
More recently the Finance Bill provided an extension to the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme allowing the participation of tourism accommodation and confirmed that hotels and tourism accommodation can be held as Rental Investment Assets by Real Estate Investment Trusts.
The Finance Bill also included for a rebate on diesel fuel for tourism coach operators and the higher VAT Threshold of €1.25m should also help many tourism SMEs. All of these measures were supported by myself and Minister Varadkar following discussions with the Tourism industry.
These measures are working. The number of overseas visits to Ireland increased in 2011 for the first time since 2007, reaching over 6.6 million and representing an increase of 7% on 2010 levels. Figures released earlier this month show that this positive momentum has continued with a small increase again recorded in 2012 and all of our main market areas, with the exception of Great Britain, showing solid growth levels. Revenue figures, however, which are the most important measure of all were up 4.5% in 2012. Overseas visitor numbers finished strongly in 2012 and have got off to a positive start in 2013 with a 2.6% increase from all market areas between December and February.
Indeed I am pleased to see that these positive figures are reflected in your group’s performance. I understand that in 2012 you recorded a 12% growth in international visitors and that indications for 2013 are very good to date with growth of 19% in visitors in the year to date.
One message we must succeed in delivering to potential overseas visitors is the continuing improvement in value for money that is available in Ireland. Overseas visitors’ perception of the value for money in Ireland has continued to improve and this trend is now apparent amongst visitors from all of Ireland’s main markets - but there is still a way to go particularly in the Great Britain Market.
Research among holidaymakers during the summer months of 2012 indicates that the value for money that they experienced has improved – with more than eight out of ten (84%) expressing a positive response to the value on offer.
Similarly, the latest indications from Fáilte Ireland’s Survey of Overseas Travellers suggests, that the improvement in satisfaction levels with value for money is apparent amongst visitors from all of Ireland’s main overseas markets.  In the Eurozone, satisfaction levels with value for money are highest amongst Italian and French visitors. During the last year the trend from the UK continued to improve as an increasing proportion of British visitors rated Ireland in positive terms with regard to value for money.
There is no doubt that this is down to tourism businesses  who are presenting better offers with the assistance of the weakness of the Euro.  I commend you for these initiatives.   We need to build on this performance and not throw away the gains we have made.
It will come as no surprise to you that my priority, and that of the State tourism agencies, this year is on delivering The Gathering Ireland 2013, our biggest ever tourism initiative.
There are now over 3,300 confirmed Gatherings nationwide.  There will be large scale national festivals and events that will appeal to all tastes and interests, but there will also be a myriad of local festivals and events taking place across the country throughout the year.  The range of gatherings, festivals, sports, music and dance events and many other kinds of great activities is truly amazing.  I urge hoteliers to get involved locally in these events.  By supporting local festivals and events you can only generate more business and develop the local area’s reputation as a place to go – a place to holiday.
As a Government we are delighted to get behind The Gathering, not just to bring visitors to Ireland to create and sustain jobs, but also to provide a year that will promote Ireland on the international stage after some difficult years for our international reputation.  I also hope that it will be a year that Irish people will enjoy and remember. 
Allied to The Gathering, Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland will also be focusing on delivering the key recommendations identified in the GB Path to Growth report. They will be working with the trade to develop compelling experiences that meet the needs of the segments of the GB market we have targeted for growth. They will also be working hard with the industry to maximise Ireland’s digital exposure to drive international sales.
The Government will continue to support tourism. The Tourism Industry has the capacity to bounce back faster than other industry.  In that regard, however, it is essential that in order to compete effectively, tourism businesses continue to focus on costs and pricing but do not in the process lose sight of the value and quality of what they offer.  I am conscious that you have worked very hard to achieve this in very difficult circumstances. I can assure you that I will continue to work with you and to support the industry at Government and ensure that it continues to receive the recognition it deserves.
I hope you all will enjoy the remainder of your evening and also wish you every success in your businesses in the future.  
Issued by
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Tel: (01) 604 1090 / (01) 604 1087.