JOC Opening Statement - Paul Keeley on Developing Rural Tourism in Ireland

JOC Opening Statement - Paul Keeley on Developing Rural Tourism in Ireland

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media 

‘Developing Rural Tourism in Ireland’ 

Opening Statement   

Paul Keeley, Director of Regional Development, Fáilte Ireland 

3rd May 2023 

Cathaoirleach, Members, thank you for the invitation to attend today’s session. 

Tourism is a key economic engine that makes a sizeable contribution to communities across the country in terms of jobs and its support for the sensitive development and management of our natural and built heritage. It is Fáilte Ireland’s long-term objective to ensure a greater regional spread of the socio-economic benefits of tourism. At the heart of Fáilte Ireland’s work to develop the spatial spread of tourism are four regional experience brands: Wild Atlantic Way (we will be marking its tenth anniversary next year); Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands; Ireland’s Ancient East; and Dublin.    

For each brand, we have developed a Regional Tourism Development Strategy in partnership with local authorities, state agencies, communities and industry partners.  We have painstakingly developed these strategies to ensure the focus on tourism development is sustainable and regenerative and that the benefits accrue to local communities and to nature. They provide the blueprint for the development of sustainable tourism across all parts of the country. 

To deliver the strategies we are creating local area action plans across every region. We call them Destination Experience Development Plans – DEDPs - and by the end of this year there will 24 active destination development plans and 36 by the end of 2025. In short, every part of the country will have a dedicated tourism development action plan created in partnership with local stakeholders. 

The backbone of our regional strategies is a capital investment programme of €320million in attractions, outdoor changing facilities, greenways, trails and the wider public realm.  We are currently working on nearly 120 outdoor enhancement projects and are progressing well with our pipeline of 27 large scale attractions nationwide that will come on stream over the next 5 or 6 years.  While we recognise that we will encounter variations in anticipated timelines for project delivery, trying to manage these changes with a fixed annual capital allocation constrains our ability to manage our capital pipeline dynamically.    

By way of opportunity, the growing demand by visitors to explore nature offers real potential for rural Ireland. The natural heritage and cultural assets found in our National Parks and Forest Parks, our inland waterways and our coastal waters have the potential, if developed appropriately, to be a key motivator for visitors.   

Recognising the important role tourism plays in supporting rural communities, Fáilte Ireland has been awarded €68million through the EU Just Transition Fund to deliver a transformative Regenerative Tourism Scheme for the Midlands.  

Focusing on rural communities directly affected by the move away from peat production, this project will use tourism as a driver of employment.  We are currently developing the funding scheme and as part of it we are undertaking public consultation this month in the 8 counties in the Midlands that are set to benefit.  

Members, while we are hopeful for a strong summer season there are many challenges facing the tourism sector that will have an impact on rural Ireland particularly.  35% of all registered tourism bed stock outside Dublin is now contracted to the State and is not available to tourists. This means that activity providers, visitor attractions, hospitality businesses and retailers in impacted areas will have their business survival put at significant risk.   

Fáilte Ireland has already stated that this will cost the non-accommodation tourism sectors over €1.1billion in lost revenues this year, and it is worth repeating here today that a significant amount of this will be experienced in rural areas.  The lack of availability of hire cars during the summer season is another major challenge. 20% of all overseas tourists to Ireland rent a car and these visitors stay longer and spend more, particularly in rural areas. Lack of availability and the discontinuation of the repayment of VAT on VRT Scheme in 2019 has contributed to increased costs for car rental providers and their customers.  

Rising insurance costs and difficulties securing affordable liability insurance is also having a significant impact on tourism. This issue is particularly acute within adventure tourism, festivals and events. Not only does this have implications on jobs and revenue, but it also has the potential to seriously undermine Ireland’s overall tourism offering. Our analysis shows that the insurance difficulties facing tourism SMEs in Ireland is unique to us.  

We look forward to your questions. 

Go raibh maith agaibh. 

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