Fine Gael spokesperson Olivia Mitchell focused on the dire state of the tourism industry in a keynote speech at her party’s annual conference in Killarney on Saturday afternoon. It is not hard to understand why – tourism was a mainstay of the economic boom and its failures are representative of failures in the wider economy.A lengthy article in The Sunday Times revealed that new figures would show that visitor numbers to this country were down by a record 13 per cent in 2009, marking a second year of decline after a decade of what  tourism economist Professor  Jim Deegan called  “super normal growth”. The UK, Ireland’s most important market, is down 16 per cent. Over the past two years the number of British visitors coming to the island of Ireland fell by 1.3 million. Tourism Ireland has described these losses as “colossal”.
The decline has been sudden and savage but not entirely unexpected. Professor Deegan believes the problems started earlier in the decade.  “When the Euro was introduced, Europeans were complaining about how expensive we were. The weakness of the Euro against sterling and the dollar just hid declining competitiveness.”
The task of rebuilding the industry has begun – Tourism Ireland is aiming for 3 per cent growth this year – but it promises to be arduous. Airlines continue to reduce services, Government action is threatening a chronic shortage of hire cars at season’s peak and the exchange rate is an on-going issue. Tourism Ireland is abandoning its focus on ABC1 travellers in Britain to take in the blue collar demographic. It unapologetically hired X-Factor contestants Jedward to front a radio campaign last December.
The Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, Shaun Quinn, empathises that there was “a decline out of Britain into all Eurozone countries of 10-15 per cent” so we were not alone but they are determined to regain market share and he foresaw gains in competitiveness having an effect this year.


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