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Address at the CERT Tourism Forum - Westin Hotel


Thank you Éamon for your warm words of welcome. As you know, I am a long time admirer of the work of CERT and I am very pleased to be here today to open this timelyTourism Business Forum. Well done to CERT for organising this gathering at what is undoubtedly a challenging time for your industry, and for people who count on tourism for their livelihoods. I would like to take the opportunity in my remarks this morning to speak about the key challenges I see going forward.After so many good years, 2001 is a tough one for Irish tourism arising from the Foot & Mouth crisis and the tragic events of 11th September in America.

I know that the economic uncertainty affects the whole economy, but the terrorist attacks of September 11 are unquestionably having a very special impact on international travel and tourism. We have not yet receivedofficial estimates in relation to the loss of tourism business following September 11th, but it is clear that the terrorist attacks will reduce visitors to Ireland, in particular from the United States, for the rest of this year and into 2002. And I know from my visit to Cork and Kerry last week, that there is concern about the international context.I used the occasion of my visit to repeat my strong view that it is important that we remain confident that the industry will recover in the near future. On the positive side, let us not forget that the past two months have seen a strong performance in the domestic market, driven by attractively priced offers by the trade and a strong Bord Fáilte/industry marketing campaign.

As Taoiseach I believe we have to keep confident, keep an eye on the long term and work strategically to position the industry to move ahead when the international recovery comes. At Government level, we are engaged in a series of new measures in terms of marketing, structural reform and new programmes which I would like to detail now. In the area of marketing, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Dr. James McDaid, T.D. and the Tourism State agencies have been working to ramp up ourmarketing efforts.Of the £90 million in the Exchequer budget for tourism, £14 million has now been targeted for extra marketing measures. These measures are designed to restore the confidence of international visitors following the foot and mouth epidemic. They will also fund a special Autumn and Winter marketing campaign to help address the problems following September 11th. The strong performance in domestic business in particular, reflects the success of these campaigns.We are also setting up new structures for the delivery of tourism policy.

On November 7th, the new all-island tourism marketing body, established under the Good Friday Agreement, Tourism Ireland Ltd., was launched. The company has a £21 million marketing programme for 2002. This is the largest ever budget available for the marketing of the island of Ireland as a tourist destination.Already, the company have unveiled an exciting new TV and print international tourism marketing campaign.I have great confidence that Tourism Ireland will prove to be a very effective and dynamic campaigner for tourism all over this island. Work is also underway on proposals for the establishment of a new integrated tourism development authority, which will combine the remaining functions of Bord Fáilte and CERT.The new authority will deliver integrated programmes and measures to support the future development of the industry. The Minister will be asking the Government shortly to give their approval to proceed with the creation of the new body. I believe that it is essential that we have strong structures in place to deliver our medium-term plans for international marketing and product and human resource development - as contained in the National Development Plan - in order to help the tourism industry meet the undoubted challenges that lie ahead.

The Government is also fully aware of the potential impact on tourism from the loss of air traffic into Ireland following September 11th, particularly from the route cutbacks announced by Aer Lingus. An Interdepartmental Group, established to consider appropriate steps in response to these events has submitted an Interim report with a number of suggested measures which might be taken. These are being pursued urgently in consultation with Aer Rianta.Of course, central to the work the Government is doing in relation to tourism is the support we receive from the EU.Since the late 1980s, the EU has co-funded two Tourism Operational Programmes. Under these two programmes about £1.1 billion of investment was generated in Irish tourism. This in turn prompted private investment in facilities and services for tourists of a multiple of that figure - including non-grant aided investment in hotels, hostels, self-catering. The benefits in terms of more jobs and higher profits ina top class tourism industry are there for all to see.I think that Tourism is a very good case of the "win-win" results which EU membership brings to this country. The progress we have made is an example of the dynamic and evolving nature of our role in Europe and our ability to promote a vital national interest in the EU context. On the tourism product side, I am very pleased to say that, after intensive negotiations, we have just recently succeeded in persuading the European Commission to give State Aids clearance for a new Tourism Product Investment Scheme which will belaunched in the near future.

This Scheme will be contained in the Tourism Measures of the Regional Operational Programmes for the BMW and South and East Regions. Between Exchequer and EU Regional Funds, it will involve an overall public investment package of around £100 million and will be implemented by Bord Fáilte.Although all regions have benefited from tourism growth over the past 10 years, it is evident that tourism activity in traditionally strong tourism counties has continued to grow at a much stronger absolute pace than in the traditionally weaker counties. The policy in the NDP is to focus future, publicly-funded, capital investment on the less developed tourism areas.

The overall objective of the Scheme is to develop the tourism product, in a sustainable way, that widens the spatial spread of tourism, diverts pressure from highly developed areas, and increases the under-performing regions share of overseas tourism revenue. In this difficult time for the tourist sector, we must have confidence in the strength the industry has established in recent years.We have enjoyed nine uninterrupted years of growth in Irish tourism. The industry has built up a strong product base which makes Ireland a very attractive international tourist destination.Businesses in the sector have responded quickly to the current difficult climate by adjusting their marketing and pricing strategies to secure extra businesses.

I believe that this responsiveness is essential at this time as we must increase competitiveness and keep prices as attractive as possible.. The rest of 2001 and the year 2002 will undoubtedly be challenging but we have a strong and dynamic industrywhich I believe will survive the current crisis and will enjoy a return to success and strong growth in the near future.In conclusion, I want to assure you that the Government is fully aware of the difficulties facing your sector. We are determined to help you respond effectively to the short-term challenge of the recent downturn - while also ensuring that we have the correct structures and strategies to realise the long-term potential contribution of tourism to the Irish economy.