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Competitive edge must be maintained

August 23rd, 2015 9:35 AM

By Southern Star Team

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WITH Ireland heading for another record year in tourism, it is important that we do not get carried away with this success and become tempted to repeat the mistakes of the past – the biggest one having been the loss of competitiveness that caused the country to price itself out of the market in the early years of this century.

We have a lot going for us in terms of offering value for money for tourists at the moment and that is always a key driver of numbers, especially from overseas, with CSO figures for the first half of 2015 revealing a growth of 11.7% – an additional 407,100 visitors when compared with January to June 2014.

This has been driven by an ‘exceptional performance’ so far from North America – up almost 15% – with 10% of all Americans visiting Europe including Ireland in their itineraries. A big factor in this, aside from the commendable marketing skills of Tourism Ireland, is the current weakness of the euro against the other big international currencies such as the US dollar and the UK’s sterling, which sees visitors from outside the euro zone getting extra value for money, but let’s not forget that there are always exchange rate fluctuations that can shift the goalposts.

Value also needs to be maintained for domestic tourists and our European neighbours who use the euro currency to keep our offering affordable and the industry ticking over. In spite of the initial boost of the special reduced VAT rate of 9% for tourism-related products and services, which kick-started the recovery in the industry and led to the highest rate of job creation across all sectors, hotel prices are beginning to creep back up again – even before the proposed increase in the minimum wage comes into effect.

According to Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe, TD, our value for money rating has improved dramatically in recent years and he, rightly, states that it is vital that ‘the strong reputation we have regained internationally is maintained.’ We cannot afford to return to the days of boom era greed where Ireland had the unwanted ‘Rip-off Republic’ tag that drove most Irish people that could afford it to holiday abroad because of the better value for money on offer and the promise of some sunshine.

After enjoying lovely fine summers in 2013 and 2014, boosted by the launch of the Wild Atlantic Way last year, Irish people were content to holiday at home and rediscover and appreciate the many attractions this country has to offer. On the strength of this, many booked ‘staycations’ again this year, but the weather did not oblige and some may be looking towards foreign holidays again in 2016 to be sure of some sunshine, so even the domestic market can be fickle and can never be taken for granted.

Tourist numbers from the euro zone countries are increasing also – up 13% in the first half of this year on the same period in 2014 – and, as these visitors are not coming here for the sunshine, the weather is not a major factor for them, but value for money certainly is. A lot of people like to come here in the off-peak times to avail of this and the Wild Atlantic Way is an ideal attraction for these times of year.

Indeed, Tourism Ireland has spotted the need to try to maximise year-round and winter air routes to ‘grow’ tourism in the shoulder and off-seasons; new services coming on stream for Cork in the coming months including Aer Lingus from Düsseldorf and CityJet from London City. With no direct car ferry route from the UK to the south west of Ireland, the marketing of Cork Airport as a gateway for tourists to the region has never been more important.

Tourism Ireland will shortly launch an extensive global autumn campaign to boost business in the off-peak season and carry the growth momentum into 2016, so it is vital that the industry locally is geared up to vie for a decent share of this. Good marketing will certainly get the people here, but it is the offering they receive, in terms of the experience, the friendliness and the value for money, that will influence their judgement on the place and its people before deciding whether to return again or recommend Ireland to their families and friends.

So, let’s not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

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