Dáil Éireann - Volume 611 - 29 November, 2005

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Tourism Revenue.

[8]   2. Mr. Boyle asked the Taoiseach the estimated expenditure, classified by route of travel, by tourism visitors here since 2000, excluding the lower international fares; if the figures will be adjusted to take account of general inflation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34807/05]

  Mr. Kitt: The Central Statistics Office publishes annual figures on the estimated total earnings from all visits to Ireland. These figures include a breakdown into the following categories for overseas travel routes: air cross-channel, sea cross-channel, continental and transatlantic. I propose to circulate in the Official Report a table showing the relevant figures for the years 2000-04.

Expenditure by Overseas Visitors to Ireland classified by Route 2000-2004 (€m).

Route

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

Air Cross-Channel

1,145

1,244

1,282

1,334

1,388

Sea Cross-Channel

485

513

566

515

487

Continental

603

690

747

794

841

Transatlantic

385

445

451

555

488

All Overseas Routes

2,617

2,893

3,045

3,198

3,204

The figures in the table exclude all fares received by Irish carriers. The table shows a total of €3.2 billion spent by overseas visitors in 2004, an increase of 22.4% on the figure of €2.6 billion in 2000. Over the same period the consumer price index increased by 16%. The all-items consumer price index is the official measure of inflation for Ireland. Based on changes in the CPI, the annual average increase was 16% between 2000 and 2004.

A separate analysis of travel to Ireland by “lower” or “higher” international fares and the resulting visitor expenditure is not possible. The figures given for each route exclude fares. A separate estimate of fares received by Irish carriers is given in Table 1 of the CSO annual release on tourism and travel. It is expected that tourism and travel estimates for the year 2005 will be published in spring 2006.

  Mr. Gogarty: Does the Minister of State acknowledge that irrespective of whether one calculates the figures using the consumer price index or, as I did, by making a rough estimate of the inflation rate in a given year, the result will show that tourism expenditure has not increased over the rate of inflation? Does he agree that this raises serious questions, particularly given the threat posed by the Baltic and Scandinavian states which are successfully developing eco-tourism? Given that the number of walking holidays has decreased every year since the start of the millennium, Comhairle na Tuaithe is having no success in——

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, is here to answer questions on statistics. He has no responsibility for policy issues in tourism, which are a matter for the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.

  Mr. Gogarty: Will the Minister of State, on behalf of the Taoiseach, acknowledge that expenditure by tourists has not increased, primarily due to a decline in the number of walking holidays, and that action is needed on this issue?

  Mr. Kitt: While I greatly value the work of the CSO, it is always helpful to have more statistics. As the Deputy will be aware, the CSO compiles monthly figures on overseas travel and carries out quarterly and annual surveys on tourism and travel. The monthly figures cover total travel to Ireland. The Deputy is correct that the figures include a range of categories of visitors, including those who come here to work and those who come for a walking holiday. Through every phase one gets more detailed information. The quarterly survey contains country of residence information as well as the passenger card inquiry. The latter provides much more detail as to why people are coming here and where they are going. As I have said before, however, we need much more information, which would be of great help to us. That information is being sought and I am in constant touch with the Central Statistics Office regarding that.

I gave the Deputy the facts concerning the increase in expenditure from 2000, in accordance with the question, which was €2.6 billion on all [9] overseas routes. It has risen to €3.2 billion, which represents a rise of 22.4%. I also referred to the consumer price index increase. The annual figures for 2005 will be available next spring, which is the way it is done because it is detailed work. The most recent figures for visitor numbers are those for September 2005, which were published on 23 November. They show that the number of trips to Ireland increased by almost 53,000 on the same month in 2004. That is an increase of 8.9%, so the figures are looking good. I accept what the Deputy said in that some detailed work remains to be done on the precise reasons people come and where they are travelling within the country. We could do some work on a regional basis as well and I am pursuing that with the CSO.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Is there a breakdown in the Minister’s statistics of visitors by age? Are visitors from the North of Ireland classified as so-called foreign visitors or is it recognised that they are part of the island approach to tourism? The Minister and I have spoken about this approach in previous exchanges regarding these statistical questions. If statistics on visitors’ ages are available, and specifically concerning the North of Ireland, is this information feeding into the case for the roll-out of the yet to be delivered all-Ireland free travel pass for senior citizens, including pensioners?

  Mr. Kitt: The only information we have comes under the heading of cross-Border travel. The expenditure figure in 2000 was €207 million, and it was €236 million in 2004. Those are the figures we have and the Deputy can obviously access them on our website under the heading of tourism and travel 2004. They were published on 26 April 2005. We will have the new information for 2005 next spring.

3 o’clock

The Deputy asked about North-South co-operation, which was also raised in a previous question. I have asked my officials about the matter and there is a considerable amount of co-operation between North and South in compiling these figures. CSO officials met their Northern Ireland counterparts in the Statistical and Research Agency and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. While there is good interaction between our agencies and theirs in this area, we need to do much more work in this regard. As I have already said, when the institutions are hopefully back up and running, tourism is an obvious area where it would be most helpful to have an island of Ireland approach. I know our tourism agencies would welcome that approach in order to work together on compiling data. Alongside this work, Fáilte Ireland does a great deal of work on a regional basis. Many Deputies from various political parties have asked for more work to be undertaken [10] in this respect, and I am pursuing that matter with the CSO.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Would the Minister of State accept that, in light of the statistics he has indicated to the House in respect of spending in Ireland by visitors from overseas and, particularly, the North, in the event of the roll out of the free travel pass and given the significant spending power that visitors in the sterling area of the island would have in coming here, there would be a large advance in these figures on previous years?

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is a policy issue.

  Mr. Kitt: The short answer is definitely “Yes”.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Will the Minister of State encourage it?

  Mr. Kitt: Yes.

  Mr. Gogarty: I have two questions. The first relates to the cross-Border issue raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin. Is there any way, even anecdotally, of devising some form of analysis of the cross-Border figures to show how many people from overseas access the Republic via Northern Ireland as opposed to the many people resident there? They are different demographics and it would be interesting to view those statistics were there some way of doing so.

Staying on statistics, the Minister of State mentioned the quarterly figures which highlight the number of nights stayed by people residing temporarily in the country. These have been declining over a period. In this context and without prejudice to Fáilte Ireland’s work but recognising the sterling work done by the Central Statistics Office, its professionalism and capability in this regard, would it be possible to use the CSO to take a sample of customer satisfaction levels when people enter or exit the country and examine such issues as cost and customer services? These types of figures should be taken together statistically rather than waiting for annual reports from Fáilte Ireland which examines them in a different context.

  Mr. Kitt: The more information we have the better. It would help all of us at Government and tourism organisational levels in planning. My colleague, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O’Donoghue, has a keen interest in this area. As Deputy Gogarty said, the agencies under his Ministry are doing much work.

I understand that in other countries, departments and ministries work with hotels, for example, and much information is provided at that level. There are many other ways to compile information and we should examine every avenue. To be fair to the CSO, it has made signifi[11] cant recent advances. I have met the agency’s personnel a number of times to discuss the type of work it does. We should encourage it to continue getting more detailed information.

There is co-operation with the Northern Ireland institutions and organisations and information compiled at Belfast Airport and Northern ports would be shared with us. Returning to Deputy Ó Caoláin’s point, much more work could be done in this area. I thank the Deputies for their comments, which will be noted by the CSO, a point I always make. It listens to what Deputies say and will follow up on the matters.

  Mr. J. Breen: Does the Minister of State share the views of his colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, who has discouraged senior citizens from coming here to live or visit by saying this is a very expensive country? Was the Minister speaking on behalf of the Government or was he speaking off his own bat? His comment appeared in newspapers, which does not give a good image to senior citizens who wish to return to live here or visit. Will the Minister of State clarify whether he shares these views and will he ask the Minister to explain to the House what he meant by his statement?

  Mr. Kitt: I did not hear the comment made by my colleague, Deputy Brennan.

  Mr. McCormack: He is near enough to the Minister of State.

  Mr. O’Dowd: The Minister of State overlooked him.

  Mr. Kitt: I share his views. I am sure he said this is a country that welcomes back our people who went abroad. The figures show that many have returned. Returning to the earlier question and discussion on information technology and older people, we must make every effort for those members of our society who made a significant input to the building of this economy, which we should never forget. They have a special place in our society when it comes to any Government initiatives. A reference was made to voluntarism. Any initiatives from Government or at State agency level which are focused on the elderly whether those at home or abroad, are worthy of promotion. I am glad my colleague has alluded to this.