By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The tourism industry in Ireland has "exploded" in recent years and the country is near the top of the international tourism-performance league, Minister Dr. Jim McDaid told the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation last week.
"Overseas visitor numbers have doubled over the past 10 years, from 2.4 million to 5.2 million; foreign revenues earnings have almost trebled, from £800 million to £2.1 billion, and employment has doubled from 60,000 to 120,000," McDaid said.
He said that this year is also expected to set another record. Overseas visitor numbers grew by almost 11 percent in the first half of the year, passenger statistics to September are showing the same increase and four out of five tourism businesses say trade is up or at similar levels to last year.
The minister said the huge growth had led to new tourism problems.
Despite increases in hotels, guesthouses, self-catering units, and bed and breakfasts of between 10 and 15 percent, there remains peak-season congestion in some areas and the benefits of the boom had not been evenly spread in the regions.
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Market researchers were finding one of Ireland’s main attractions for foreign vacationers was "people and spontaneity" and these had to be sustained.
"If we lose that, we lose the very essence of our brand," he said. "As the industry matures and becomes more commercially driven, there may be a natural tendency for less attention to be given to the personal touch."
Another problem was labor and skills shortages and £20 million was being spent on training programs in third-level colleges.
Other challenges that need to be tackled, he noted, are North-South cooperation as a result of the peace process in Northern Ireland and the seeking of continued support for the industry from EU structural funds.
Two successive EU operational programs had leveraged investment of £1 billion in product development, marketing and training.
The World Travel and Tourism Council predicted that in a year when globally tourism would be flat at best, Irish tourism was growing rapidly with 5.5 million visitors this year.
They calculate that 13 percent of Ireland’s total GDP is directly and indirectly being driven by travel and tourism, domestic and international. In European terms, that puts Ireland among the top half-dozen countries.
The figures indicate that over the next decade Irish tourism is going to grow at an average annual 5 percent per year, which would be the highest growth rate of any European country."
Bord Failte is also increasing its online marketing strategy aimed at increasing tourism bookings via the Internet. It is already receiving more inquiries via the net than through any other means of communication.
The webpage is also pioneering so-called "doorway" sites in other languages. These will have tailored content for specific countries in their own language.