By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A new euro 3 million tourism marketing drive is to be launched in Britain and the U.S. in an effort to boost the beleaguered industry, which is suffering a major downturn this year.
The economic downturn and the fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. is hitting visitors to Ireland and one of the wettest summers on record so far has resulted in no boost from the home market as increasing numbers of people seek a sun holiday abroad.
Tourism Minister John O’Donoghue said he hopes the government’s euro 3 million would be matched by the industry.
He said he recognized that some parts of the industry are “facing a real challenge” and added that he wants to send out a message that the Irish tourism industry is still alive and well.
The funds will be shared between Tourism Ireland and Bord Failte and arrangements are being made to put in place the first phase of the UK marketing drive by this weekend.
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O’Donoghue denied the additional extra funding was too little too late.
“There is no doubt there has been a sea change in relation to the whole question of tourism. People are actually booking their holidays much later now,” he said. “The argument can be made that the spending should not be front loaded in the future but should in fact occur throughout the year.”
Earlier this month the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation appealed for more marketing cash, saying the industry is suffering badly with U.S. visitors plummeting by up to 40 percent in some sectors and overall has returned to 1996 levels.
It stressed that while U.S. numbers will be down 15 to 20 percent, there is still a possibility of a 5 to 10 percent growth in British visitors, but that it would not compensate for the loss of the longer-staying, bigger-spending Americans.
The Confederation, which represents companies in the airline, car ferry, hotel, car and bus tour sectors, had called on the government to launch an additional promotional drive as the marketing budget had been spent since the middle of May.
It is the second bad year in a row for the industry.
Last year, the early market was hit by the impact of the foot-and-mouth crisis and the back end of the season was hit by the U.S. attacks.
ITIC said that unlike last year when home holidays by Irish people helped the industry deal with the downturn, the same thing was not happening this year.
More Irish people are being lured to take foreign holidays for a bit of sunshine, attracted by outbound travel promotions and lower prices.
ITIC said there was still a possibility that British visitors could grow by 5 to 10 percent if late bookings materialized.
“If this happens, the overall number of visitors to Ireland in 2002 could come close to 6 million, compared to 5.84 million last year and 6.27 in 2000.”
However, it says an increase in British visitors would not compensate for the shortfall in U.S. tourists either in regard to length of stay or spending power.
“In recent years the average length of stay in Ireland by British visitors was approximately 5.6 days, compared to 9.6 days for U.S. visitors. In 2001, the average spend by a British visitor in Ireland was euro 363, compared to euro 793 spent by a U.S. visitor.”