At­mos­phere be­tween Ross and tourism chiefs chill­ier than a white Christ­mas

The Irish Times - Business - - CAVEAT -

Apress re­lease landed in me­dia in­boxes on Wed­nes­day from the Depart­ment of Trans­port, Tourism and Sport, which is presided over by Min­is­ter Shane Ross. “Min­is­ters pub­lish Tourism Ac­tion Plan 2019-2021,” promised the mis­sive. It con­tained a hy­per­link to the depart­ment’s web­site to ac­cess a copy of the plan. I clicked it. This brought up a page with an­other link. I clicked it, sat back, and smiled.

“Er­ror . . . the page can­not be found,” flashed up on the screen. The link led to noth­ing. I tried again with the same re­sult. I tried the link to the Ir­ish ver­sion. Still noth­ing.

Is this some sort of an elab­o­rate metaphor, I thought to my­self? Does Ross re­ally have no plan for tourism?

There was a tourism ac­tion plan, of course. The bro­ken hy­per­link was clearly just an ad­min­is­tra­tive er­ror. You could find the plan on the web­site if you fer­reted around the pub­li­ca­tions sec­tion for a bit, and by yes­ter­day the bro­ken link was fixed.

What re­mains bro­ken, how­ever, is any sense of trust or rap­port be­tween Ross and the in­dus­try whose in­ter­ests he is sup­posed to rep­re­sent at Cabinet. Within the sec­tor, he is the least pop­u­lar oc­cu­pier of his par­tic­u­lar gov­ern­ment seat in years.

Since he took of­fice 2½ years ago, there has been a pre­vail­ing sense across the tourism in­dus­try, which em­ploys about 260,000 peo­ple and gen­er­ates close to €9 bil­lion for the econ­omy, that Ross knows lit­tle of the sec­tor and cares even less.

Mon­strous depart­ment

Some of this re­ally isn’t his fault. He has a mon­strous depart­ment with a list of pri­or­i­ties that must be a mile long. The trans­port part of his portfolio is more than enough for one min­is­ter alone, with bus and rail strikes, ma­jor in­vest­ment projects, road safety is­sues, and our is­land na­tion’s air and sea ac­cess all within his re­mit.

The up-and-com­ing Kerry TD and Min­is­ter for State for Tourism, Bren­dan Grif­fin, is well re­garded and he does a good job as­sist­ing Ross with his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. But tourism peo­ple are busi­ness peo­ple. And busi­ness peo­ple al­ways pre­fer to deal with the big boss. That’s just how it is.

Given the com­plex­ity of is­sues in­volved, there re­ally could be a se­nior Cabinet role ded­i­cated solely to a sec­tor the size of tourism. It’s not Ross’s fault that there isn’t one; it has been a fail­ure of suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments to grasp the idea.

Yet, a part of his prob­lem with the sec­tor is also down to the Min­is­ter’s own pe­cu­liar ways. He rubs peo­ple up the wrong way. Many who en­coun­tered Ross in his jour­nal­ism days will say he is per­son­able and witty. But he has al­ways had a propen­sity for fric­tion and a weak­ness for bom­bast.

It may be a virtue in gov­ern­ment, but Ross has an ego the size of Croke Park. While fer­ret­ing around his depart­ment’s web­site for the elu­sive tourism plan, I hap­pened upon a col­lec­tion of his press

‘‘ Since he took of­fice more than two years ago, there has been a pre­vail­ing sense across the tourism in­dus­try, which em­ploys about 260,000 peo­ple and gen­er­ates close to €9 bil­lion for the econ­omy, that Ross knows lit­tle of the sec­tor and cares even less

re­leases. The head­lines would make a Healy-Rae blush. Here’s one from last month’s cold snap: “Ross funds ex­tra salt.”

What, all by him­self? It makes it sound like he rum­maged through his pig­gy­bank from his stock­broking days, and per­son­ally scraped to­gether the cash for a lor­ry­load of Saxa.

“Ross finds ex­tra fund­ing for Water­ford Green­way.” “Ross gives ex­tra €18 mil­lion for storm dam­aged roads.” That will make a fair old dent in his min­is­te­rial pen­sion.

He has be­come what he railed against in his days at the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent :a min­is­ter who is de­ter­mined to buy the pub­lic’s ap­proval with their own money.

His ego has led to prob­lems with in­dus­try fig­ures. The Ir­ish Tourist In­dus­try Con­fed­er­a­tion (Itic) is the um­brella body for the sec­tor, whose mem­ber­ship in­cludes every­body from air­port au­thor­i­ties to ho­tel and pub groups. Ross has a fa­mously cool re­la­tion­ship with it.

Itic’s chair­man, for ex­am­ple, is Mau­rice Pratt, the for­mer C&C chief ex­ec­u­tive. Ross used to evis­cer­ate him in his jour­nal­ism days. He used to reg­u­larly (and un­fairly) re­fer to Pratt as a “waf­fler” and a “flop”. How must that play out when they meet up, as they surely must, to dis­cuss the in­dus­try’s is­sues of the day?

In Septem­ber, Itic heav­ily crit­i­cised the Gov­ern­ment for its fail­ure to put to­gether a “fight­ing fund” for a sec­tor among the most ex­posed to Brexit. Agri­cul­ture and en­ter­prise got funds. Why not tourism, which is ar­guably more ex­posed? When in­vited to state its con­fi­dence in Ross, the con­fed­er­a­tion de­clined to give it.

Blew a gas­ket

Pratt went fur­ther: “Does tourism get the weight it de­serves [in talks] around the Cabinet ta­ble? No, it does not.” Ross blew a gas­ket. He is­sued a terse state­ment dis­miss­ing Itic as a “self-ap­pointed lobby group”.

“This year, I have in­vested €114 mil­lion in tourism,” said Ross, again as if it came from his own wad. “We are see­ing the fruits of this in the daz­zling tourist fig­ures.”

The record tourist fig­ures, show­ing al­most 10 mil­lion over­seas vis­i­tors, are mostly down to global eco­nomic re­cov­ery and heavy in­vest­ment in routes by air­lines. But that won’t stop Ross try­ing to claim credit for them.

Ross’s fail­ure to pre­vent the abo­li­tion in the bud­get of the re­duced 9 per cent tourism Vat rate – which, ob­jec­tively, looks like a fair call by the State – was the last straw for the in­dus­try. The Restau­rants’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Ire­land, an Itic mem­ber, called on him to re­sign.

The “ac­tion plan” touted this week by Ross and Grif­fin is too woolly to live up to its name. Its 27 “ac­tions” are too vague and im­mea­sur­able, and the tar­gets the plan is di­rected to­wards have al­ready mostly been met.

Therein lies the tourism in­dus­try’s big­gest prob­lem with Ross: it feels he doesn’t have enough am­bi­tion for the sec­tor, which is ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing em­ploy­ment in ev­ery part of the State.

Fianna Fáil has just agreed a deal to give the mi­nor­ity Gov­ern­ment for an­other year. That’s an­other year of Ross butting heads with tourism chiefs. More fun. More games.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: CHRIS BELLEW

The record tourist fig­ures, show­ing al­most 10 mil­lion over­seas vis­i­tors, are mostly down to global eco­nomic re­cov­ery and heavy in­vest­ment in routes by air­lines. But that won’t stop Ross try­ing to claim credit for them

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.