So another year draws to a close: a year of mixed scenarios. Overall, most hoteliers and others in the hospitality space are pleased with the activity they experienced and the market share they achieved during this period and are hoping for a seasonal bounce to end the year.
However, some dissatisfaction and disquiet is evident within the industry. The resulting loss of the 9% VAT rate was universally unwelcome. Numerous people contacting me laid the blame at the current Minister for Tourism, despite the department’s support shown to the sector during the pandemic crisis. The general consensus is that the minister has not done her best for the sector, and her report card shows much need for improvement and focus. Many cited her lack of attendance at a number of key industry events during the year as testament to her lack of engagement and commitment. Others suggested her support shown for the arts and culture is more evident than that shown to tourism.
The continuing housing of refugees in hospitality venues has also had a major and detrimental impact on some of our leading tourist destinations. The lack of bed space has severely impacted availability with inbound tour operators. How that will impact in future business loss has yet to be determined. Equally, the lack of support for the sector in the budget – in some cases a marketing reduction in support further reinforces the disquiet with Minister Martin and her grasp of the sector needs and requirements. I recall in my early days in school, our civics teacher indicating that a tourist was a source of foreign investment. We need to ensure we make them welcome and help make their stay here enjoyable. However, when you look at how the government TDs view the sector, maybe they and the minister need to return to the classroom for basic refreshment schooling.
Sadly, another more worrying event was the despicable and disgusting anarchy on our capital’s streets and on our so-called major thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, which sent out a negative and worrying view of Ireland as a country of welcome. I was attending the IHI function on the night, and like most I was shocked and horrified at the social media images and reports emerging during the disturbance. GMs with properties in the city were quickly on their phones to ensure the safety of staff and guests. Hopefully this will never occur again, and the damage will just be short-term. At a recent conference I attended it was disclosed that more than 3000 extra beds are being planned for Dublin, which should help ensure the sector remains competitive and attractive to inbound tour operators alongside independent travellers.
The recent World Travel Market [WTM] event in London again proved to be positive and successful for those on the Tourism Ireland stand. The stand’s theme this year was based on sustainability and it really captured that essence. The CEO Designate Alice Mansergh was on hand and seemed to be confident and at ease with the interaction with attendees at the stand. Alice commented: “As we look to 2024, our presence at World Travel Market is important to kick-start our promotional drive overseas. In our first full year post pandemic, every tourism business is eager for recovery. When we talk to tourism operators across the island of Ireland, we know that overseas tourism is playing a vital role. Latest indicators suggest that increased air access will be of great benefit for the industry and will allow businesses to flourish.
Most markets have shown good growth since 2019, with for instance GB and North America continuing in a positive performance. The Blue Book in Ireland, another great marketing ambassador for the sector, celebrated their 50th birthday recently which saw them introduce three new members. This group are focussed on ensuring their members go above and beyond expectations for their guests and maintain the highest standard of service and culinary experience. Long may they continue on that journey.