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State tourism agencies to be grilled

Stunned hoteliers and other tourism interests will be demanding explanations rather than excuses for the unprecedented 2009 slump in overseas tourism to the West of Ireland when they come face-to-face with the responsible State agencies.
Even though they were forewarned that the last two years for tourism were going to be a struggle – “nothing prepared us for the 2009 outcome in the West of Ireland” a leading tourism industry operator said.
“In each of the past two years they told us that we were facing into the perfect storm, which meant that we were facing into a year when every possible negative factor and adverse influence would be running against us. We can only guess at what they are going to say this year,” he said of the upcoming return of the Tourism Roadshow.
The big national tourism bodies, Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are due to line up beside Shannon Development and are certain to face close questioning when the annual pep talk and preview of the year’s prospects takes place in the coming weeks.
What has startled tourism operators up and down the western seaboard is the mighty chasm that opened up last year between overseas visitor numbers to the western half of the country. End of year figures from Fáilte Ireland show that while overseas tourist numbers fell by 12% nationally, West of Ireland tourism was hit by an enormous 17% reversal.
Worse still was the situation in the Shannon Region. When putting all the “bad news” on the table last month, the Mid-West Task Force chairman, Denis Brosnan told a sorrier tale. While visitor numbers to the Shannon Region in 2008 were down by 3%, the decline in 2009 is being forecast at between 12 and 15%. That “awful year” as described by the task force chairman came at the end of a five year period in which the Shannon Region was the biggest loser of the country’s seven regions, with overseas visitor numbers falling by 17% in the three-year period between 2006 and 2008.
Also disturbing tourism interests is the breakdown of last year’s decline as mapped out by Fáilte Ireland. While visitor numbers from overseas were down 12% nationally, Dublin got off the lightest. In the area around the capital there was a 9% decline compared to 13% in the rest of the eastern side of the country and 17% in the West of Ireland.
“Yet the focus this year is on Dublin yet again as set out in the preview issued by Tourism Minister Martin Cullen at the start of the year. The regions outside Dublin got only passing mention with the emphasis this year on building up business tourism and that means Dublin,” an influential figure in the region’s tourism sector pointed out.
“The big focus in the minister’s statement was on the Dublin convention centre, which will not be open until the latter half of the year and on the other private enterprise ventures including the just opened Grand Canal Hotel, the O2 Arena and the Aviva Stadium. Now all of a sudden as a sop to the west of Ireland, they are talking about putting some funding into an effort to bring a big yacht race event back to Galway.”
Otherwise the message from the national tourism promotion agencies and Minister Cullen is that the big hope for 2010 is the home holiday market and the potential to be tapped as a country in recession turns back from the overseas trips that marked the Celtic Tiger period.
With further decline in Shannon Airport passenger numbers predicted by the Mid-West Task Force planners, the Shannon Region is facing into even thinner times over the coming year.
With the number of seats to be available on transatlantic flights this year predicted to be down by 10% by Fáilte Ireland, the agency is forecasting a decline in tourism from America. The markets from which Fáilte Ireland is anticipating some growth are the home market and business from Continental Europe from which Shannon will have substantially reduced access due to the upcoming pullout of services by Ryanair.
Fáilte Ireland is predicting an overall decline in US visitors, which will be felt at Shannon due to the withdrawal of US Airlines until 2011 and the continued uncertainty around Aer Lingus activity from Shannon.

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