WHILE international tourist numbers grew slightly during 2011, most businesses in the Mid-West did not reap the benefits, Failte Ireland chief executive Shaun Quinn has said in Limerick.
Mr Quinn said that while no regional breakdown was available, the increase in overseas visitors to the west of Ireland was roughly equal to the six per cent rise recorded nationally.
But the tourism industry representatives who gathered for this week’s conference at the Strand Hotel did not need to be told that 2011 was no bonanza year.
A survey of businesses found that only 35 per cent saw an increase in turnover in 2011 and only one in four saw profits go up.
While press headlines before Christmas saluted the fact that Ireland had seen its first increase in tourism numbers in four years, it had been “a very difficult year for the trade”. And the eurozone crisis had seen business slacken again in the final quarter, Mr Quinn said.
“Don’t be misled by the numbers in the headlines. It was a very tough year and if anything we are seeing a three-speed recovery led by Dublin, the bigger cities and towns and then the rural areas. It is one thing to say the numbers are up but large parts of the country didn’t see them at all and where there were increases in volume, these were not matched by increases in revenue,” said Mr Quinn.
While the amount spent by North American, mainland European and, less so, by British tourists increased marginally last year, the amount spent by Irish people holidaying at home had actually fallen, Mr Quinn said.
While austerity programmes in Ireland and the UK meant they were unlikely to increase their spending in 2012, there were more encouraging signs elsewhere, he said.
Value for money surveys conducted by Failte Ireland found that US and EU tourists now rated Ireland higher than they had for 12 years and, according to the agency’s head of operations in the Shannon region Fiona Monaghan, Ireland was “no longer seen as a rip-off destination”.
“What we are finding is that value for money is improving, which is very important for tourism, and consumer confidence is beginning to come back in the US market, in continental Europe and in Germany. These countries are having very different recessions to ours and they are coming back. They are better off than we are and they are spending more money than we are,” said Mr Quinn.
To help position Limerick and the region for recovery, Failte Ireland had invested over €10.5 million on tourism product development in the Mid-West in the last two years, Ms Monaghan said. This included projects such as the soon-to-commence redevelopment of King John’s Castle, new boardwalks for the city as well as investments at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum and Lough Derg.
Over 160 businesses in the Mid-West had received training from Failte Ireland in 2011 on how to win business on-line while a further 27 trade operators received mentoring supports.
“During 2011, over 1,000 members of the local tourism industry here in the Shannon region received advice and training in areas such as online marketing, customer care and sales. In addition, local bed and breakfast owners were upskilled through a new B&B development programme, covering areas such as menu development and customer care,” Ms Monaghan said.