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Ireland’s tourism boom not a boon for everyone

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

Visitors are flocking to Ireland, but there are some Irish hotel and guesthouse owners who are wondering where the tourists are going.

On one hand, according to Ireland’s central statistics office, tourism and travel figures for the first quarter of 2000 show that the number of overseas visitors to Ireland continued to grow, and were up by 6.5 percent on the same period in 1999, from 999,000 to 1,064,000.

"This figure of over one million visitors, in what is traditionally an off-season period, augurs well for the remainder of the year," Tourism Minister Jim McDaid said last week. He added that one of the primary objectives of Irish tourism was to encourage visitors to visit Ireland during off-season periods and "these figures are particularly encouraging," he said.

However, the chief executive of the Town & Country Houses Association, Margaret Storey, claims many in the bed and breakfast industry are facing tough times because of fewer and later bookings. And although some tourism officials claim all regions of Ireland are benefiting from the influx of visitors, Storey said the West and Northwest were complaining of difficult times. On the other hand, Dublin was doing "outstandingly well" she said.

According to Storey, there is a trend toward larger bed and breakfast outlets, while Americans were opting for self-catering for the first time in large numbers. Bed and breakfasts were also facing more competition from budget hotels and even universities.

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Some B&Bs and hotels were also suffering from delayed bookings and, according to John Power, director of the Irish Hotels Federation, this could be a result of increasing use of the internet and greater work pressures.

However, Power added that "the U.S. market is coming through very strongly at the moment but there is some softness in the British market." He pointed out that very low access fares were now available throughout the Euro zone, not just to Ireland.

And according to news reports in Ireland, Ryanair executives, speaking at the company’s briefing last week on its annual results, claimed that some Dublin hotels were being forced to advertise bedroom accommodation during the peak period, the first time this had happened in eight years.

And while overseas holiday bookings are at record levels, this has raised concerns that fewer home holiday markers, many of them fed up with the Irish weather, might stay around. However, Irish Tourist Board spokesman John Brown said that no concerns about a stall in the domestic holiday market had been expressed at recent meetings with industry representatives.

In the first three months of this year, Britain, Ireland’s biggest tourism market, increased by 6 percent compared with the same period last year.

The North American market grew by 9.9 percent with numbers reaching 155,000, while mainland Europe figures rose by 13.9 percent with figures rising from 137,000 to 156,000.

McDaid described the indications of continuing buoyancy in the North American market as "very encouraging."

"Once again, it demonstrates the importance of easier access in growing our tourism business. The Continental and Aer Lingus services from Newark and the introduction of the Aer Lingus Los Angeles to Dublin service are clearly having a positive impact.

"We can confidently expect to welcome a million visitors from North America this year," McDaid declared.

With record numbers — returning emigrants among them — now coming into Ireland, it seems tourism revenue may be a more accurate measurement of the state of the industry. McDaid said that the figures released last week were "an indication that the growth targets of 6 percent growth in visitor numbers and 7 percent in total foreign revenue in 2000 will be achieved."

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