Speech by Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar at the official opening of Meitheal tourism fair in the RDS, Dublin at 8am on Tuesday, 23 April, 2013

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I am delighted to be with you this morning to officially open this important annual event in the Irish tourism calendar.
For those of you who have travelled from overseas, I would like to offer you a warm welcome to our country.  I know that you will find plenty here to entice your clients and customers to come and visit us.
Our aim at Meitheal is to afford overseas tour operators the opportunity to meet with Irish tourism product providers with a view to providing business for the future that will be of benefit to both.
The event provides approximately 16,000 one-to-one meeting opportunities. This is very much a win-win situation. It is a wonderful opportunity for the Irish trade to showcase what they have to offer but it also gives the overseas buyer a very attractive product to bring back home.
Ireland continues to improve as a holiday destination. As you know Ireland has stunning landscapes and the friendliness of our people is famous.  Ireland has many attractions for visitors and the number of things to see and do has greatly increased over the last number of years.  Our tourism accommodation is high quality and transport infrastructure – particularly with the opening of many new motorways – now means it is possible for visitors to see more of Ireland during their stay.
The key message which I want to deliver to overseas buyers and potential overseas visitors to Ireland 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.
Research among holidaymakers during the summer months of 2012 indicates that Ireland’s overall net rating as a value for money destination has improved  from -11% in 2009 to +24% in 2012. 
So if you want a value for money, top quality experience you have come to the right place.   
Turning to the Gathering, I am delighted that people at home and throughout the world have responded so positively to the initiative.  I want to thank you the overseas buyers who have scheduled Gathering-related events into your programmes for 2013. I am confident that your customers will have a wonderful holiday here in Ireland this year.
At last count, we have approximately 3,300 individual Gatherings confirmed including clan gatherings, festivals, special sporting events and concerts taking place all across the country throughout the year.  Along with well-established events, we are also supporting a specially targeted set of events for the Gathering.  We have already had great attendances at these events - The New Year's Eve Event in Dublin alone had 43,000 attendees with one-third of those from outside Ireland and the People’s Parade in this year’s St Patrick’s Festival had almost 6,000 people from overseas joining the parade. 
While there is naturally a big focus on this year, I believe that The Gathering will make Ireland a better place to holiday in future years as well.  A great energy has been injected into towns and villages up and down the country which I believe will translate into a greater appreciation of tourism and the vibrancy it can bring to a community.   I also have no doubt that many of the events which have been developed for this year will offer unique and engaging experiences to visitors and will develop into annual traditions.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for attending Meitheal 2013 and wish you success in your business endeavours for the season ahead.  In particular, I would like to thank those of you who have travelled from overseas to do business here in Ireland.  I hope all the great work this week will be reflected in our visitor numbers next year and beyond. I am confident that all of your clients will enjoy the unique experience of holidaying in Ireland.
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport: 01 604 1087 / 01 604 1007