Tourism Pre­par­ing for tougher times

The Irish Times - - Comment & Letters -

Ir­ish tourism has never had it so good with record num­bers com­ing into the State spend­ing record amounts of money last year. But it would be wrong to as­sume that be­cause things are pos­i­tive now they will al­ways be so and dan­ger­ous to think that an ap­par­ently ro­bust sec­tor, which is hugely im­por­tant to the wider econ­omy, is im­per­vi­ous to sys­temic shocks, be they in­ter­nal or ex­ter­nal.

As it stands, more than 300,000 peo­ple work in an area which gen­er­ates in ex­cess of ¤6 bil­lion in rev­enue an­nu­ally from 11 mil­lion tourists who help to swell the ex­che­quer’s cof­fers by ¤2 bil­lion each year. The qual­ity and va­ri­ety of ac­com­mo­da­tion on of­fer is bet­ter than ever, in part thanks to a sig­nif­i­cant in­jec­tion of com­pet­i­tively priced rooms through the shar­ing econ­omy. And food op­tions have im­proved as skilled chefs have re­sponded to con­sumer de­mand by in­sist­ing on bet­ter qual­ity, lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents.

The range of ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able to vis­i­tors has widened and – de­spite the scep­ti­cism of lo­cals – tourists still see value for money here. Even the weather played ball last year with weeks of un­bro­ken sun­shine over the sum­mer months giv­ing the is­land an un­fa­mil­iar sun-kissed air.

But there are clouds on the hori­zon – the most thun­der­ous one be­ing Brexit. Bri­tain de­liv­ers more tourists than any other coun­try and they spent ¤1.45 bil­lion last year alone. But ster­ling has weak­ened as the UK’s chaotic de­par­ture from the EU nears and Ire­land has be­come more ex­pen­sive for British tourists. Mean­while, the UK has be­come much cheaper for vis­i­tors from be­yond its bor­ders. The fear is that a no-deal Brexit will cost Ire­land hun­dreds of mil­lions in rev­enue and tens of thou­sands of jobs.

There is lit­tle the Gov­ern­ment can do to avoid a hard Brexit but fac­tors un­der its con­trol also have the po­ten­tial to have a neg­a­tive im­pact. The 4.5 per cent VAT in­crease for the hospi­tal­ity sec­tor is al­ready driv­ing prices higher while leg­isla­tive changes aimed at lim­it­ing the ac­com­mo­da­tion avail­able via the shar­ing econ­omy, as out­lined last year by hous­ing min­is­ter Eoghan Mur­phy, will re­duce avail­abil­ity and the choice avail­able to vis­i­tors.

It is worth not­ing that the pol­icy changes which have had most im­pact on the sec­tor in re­cent months have emerged from out­side the Depart­ment of Tourism. The Depart­ment of Hous­ing was be­hind plans to re­strict the amount of Airbnb ac­com­mo­da­tion avail­able in Ire­land and the Depart­ment of Fi­nance was the in­sti­ga­tor of the de­ci­sion to re­store the VAT rate to 13.5 per cent for the hospi­tal­ity sec­tor.

There are le­git­i­mate ar­gu­ments for both de­ci­sions and it is too early to say what the out­come will be. How­ever, as an in­dus­try that has seen us through hard times and may be needed to do so again, the voice of tourism must be heard too.

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