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Helen Downes, CEO, Shannon Chamber

Critical east-west imbalance tackled

SHANNON Chamber has warned that the growing east west imbalance in tourism will continue unless actions are taken to redress the issue.
Responding to a specific set of questions raised by the Government in its Tourism Policy Issues Paper, Shannon Chamber also recommended that tourism be treated as a defined sectoral activity, in terms of economic performance and value to the economy, in the same way as other sectors are recognised.
“This may require collaboration between government departments who are supporting parts of the sector, but not regarded as mainstream providers. A Tourism Satellite Account, which will monitor and provide statistics on how tourism impacts the economy, would be an essential first step in this direction,” said the chamber’s chief executive Helen Downes.
“Ireland is an island economy so we have to view it from a tourist’s perspective to maximise its performance. Visitors come to see multiple products in a single destination; getting them to move east west and west-east is essential.
“Visitors go to the east coast for short breaks but do not extend to the regions. More emphasis is therefore needed on creating packages that promote regions other than Dublin.
“Setting regional targets might be a mechanism for delivering a fair dispersal of tourism throughout Ireland. More and efficient links between Dublin and the west of Ireland is also imperative; all parts of Ireland need a spread of visitor types, young and old, and from all continents. Creating products, packages and clusters to market to special interest groups would deliver greater payback to the economy as a whole.
“We cannot afford to be parochial or insular in our thinking; we must consider the benefits of choosing regions in Ireland for specific tourist offerings, not duplicating efforts or product types. The Wild Atlantic Way, which will give the west coast of Ireland greater visibility in overseas markets, is a definitive product, which will benefit the entire western region.”
In its submission, Shannon Chamber also made reference to the value of Aer Lingus’ Heathrow slots in supporting tourism describing them as “critical for national connectivity and essential for delivering tourism through Shannon to the west of Ireland.”
Calling for improved road access for tourists, Shannon Chamber cited the completion of the N17/N18 motorway to Galway and the M20 to Cork as essential for opening up the Shannon catchment area.
Questioning the competitiveness of the sector, Shannon Chamber pointed out that access costs, domestic pricing for products and services, water charges, and rates all feed into pricing and competitiveness in tourism, with the imposition of a tax for unused or unlettable properties feeding back to the tourism consumer in the long term.

“This clearly demonstrates how decisions in one government department impact on another at arms length. Collaboration between government departments must be taken into account when preparing a new Tourism Policy for Ireland,” Ms Downes said.
In its submission, Shannon Chamber also called for an extension of the trusted traveller programme to all non-EU markets and a more liberal and affordable visa regime to enable Ireland capture its share of the fast-growing Asian market; the need to eliminate overlap and create synergies between tourism agencies and local authorities; the retention of the key enablers such as air access, high-level influencers, and the partnership that fostered the success of the Gathering for the benefit of future national campaigns of similar magnitude; greater regulation of a national taxi service; future proofing the sector for new online product offerings; the establishment of Ireland as a centre of excellence for hospitality, training and education internationally, with Shannon playing a key role in specialty training.

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