Launch of Fáilte Ireland’s 2023 Plans

Launch of Fáilte Ireland’s 2023 Plans

Thank you, Minister Martin, and thank you Paul but most of all, thanks to all of you for joining us online today as we outline Fáilte Ireland’s plans for 2023. 

Before I start, I just want to acknowledge Minister Martin and her officials for their unwavering support for the tourism sector in general and for Fáilte Ireland’s work to support the sector in particular. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our authority members and to our Chairperson, Paul Carty. Unfortunately for us, Paul’s time as Chairman of Fáilte Ireland’s Authority must come to an end in May and while I know we will be keeping him very busy for a few months yet, I wanted to take the opportunity while we are all gathered here virtually today to say thank you to Paul on behalf of everyone in the tourism industry, all the team at Fáilte Ireland and myself. Paul, your passionate advocacy for what is best for Irish Tourism has been so important and your unstinting support and positivity so welcome during the challenges of recent years. Go raibh mile maith agat. 

Previously we would have gathered in the Convention Centre or Croke Park in Dublin for our annual plans launch. This year we are trying a different approach to give more people an opportunity to hear our plans first hand without requiring people to spend a full day travelling to and from Dublin.  Our short virtual session today will take you through the national overview of Fáilte Ireland’s plans for 2023 and at the regional in-person events taking place from tomorrow, you’ll hear more about our exciting local and regional plans across Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, Ireland’s Ancient East, Wild Atlantic Way and Dublin. If you haven’t registered for your local event yet – I encourage you to do so this morning, you will get a lot more detail about how Fáilte Ireland will be supporting each business and each local area at these regional briefings.

Before we look at our plans for 2023, let us take a few moments to look back on 2022.

I know it is a year that posed immense challenges for many of you, but it is important to reflect on how well the industry dealt with these challenges and laid the foundations for future development. I would just like to share a short video on some of the ways that Fáilte Ireland contributed to the sector achievements over 2022.    

Watching that video reminds me of what we have all been through together and what we have all achieved in the last 12 months, and I think it is worth just taking a moment to reflect on what you have come through. A recent analysis conducted by our Economic and Industry Analysis team showed that the sector lost €12billion in revenue due to COVID-19. The very welcome and comprehensive package of Government supports injected about €6billion into the sector to keep businesses alive but the sector still had to manage through a huge net loss of €6billion in revenue which you all did with admirable resilience and agility as individuals, as businesses and as a sector.

I continue to be hugely proud of the team that I am privileged to work with in Fáilte Ireland. I’m in awe of their commitment to delivering for our industry and I can assure you that the focus and drive we have for sustaining and developing the sector is unwavering. We will approach 2023 with this same focus, energy and passion and we look forward to collaborating with you as we implement the ambitious plans I will outline in a few minutes.  

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people who have played a pivotal role in driving tourism recovery in the last number of years, including the Fáilte Ireland Authority as well as the Industry Advisory Group members, the Board, council and members of ITIC (Irish Tourism Industry Confederation) our partners in the OPW, Waterways Ireland, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Coillte, the 31 Local Authorities and the City and County Managers Association. In 2022, there was a lot of cross-governmental collaboration, so I would like to thank our colleagues in the Departments of Rural and Community Development, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Transport, Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, for all their dedicated work this year. 

And finally on your behalf I want to once again recognise the tremendous support we have received from Minister Martin and all the officials in the Department - Secretary General Katherine Licken, Assistant Secretary Cian Ó Lionáin, Bernard, Maria, Orlaith and all the team.

Now, before we get into our plans for 2023, we will take a brief look back on where we were at the close of last year.

The overseas market recovered well last year, and inbound arrivals got closer to pre-COVID-19 levels towards the end of the year. The EU market was the fastest to return and towards the end of the year we started to see strong US business, but the UK remains challenged.  

There was also a strong performance in domestic tourism in 2022. Total trips are up when compared to 2019 by 14% with holiday trips and holiday nights both up about 20%. We are particularly delighted to see that, despite the rush to our airports once travel restrictions were lifted, domestic holidays increased their share of total holidays taken by Irish residents from 51% in 2019 to 57% in 2022, which is great news from both an economic and environmental point of view. 

So, let's turn our attention to the outlook for this year. There are 3 things I want to talk about as we face into this year - the demand side opportunities, the supply side challenges and our new sectoral sustainability targets. 

Firstly, let's look at the overseas demand outlook. Last month, Tourism Ireland shared their latest overseas research and plans, and there is undoubtedly a big interest in holidaying in Ireland. As you can see from this chart, our air access capacity from all markets will be the best we have ever had, currently projecting to surpass 2019 levels by 3%.

Looking at the domestic market, consideration for taking a domestic holiday in 2023 is at 82% which is in line with 2019 levels and intention to take a domestic break in the next 3 months is at 23%. Visitor satisfaction is high but offering good value for money is critical to convert this domestic intention into domestic bookings. 

While the dollar to euro exchange rate has been a big help in value perceptions among US visitors, we are seeing early warning signs on our value for money ratings among domestic, UK and European visitors and this is something that we, as an industry, need to be really mindful of this year.

When we asked you “what do you think 2023 will look like?”, most businesses are predicting it being better than 2022, primarily driven by the return of overseas visitors. This is not uniform across all sectors and all regions, with some businesses predicting a more challenging year, particularly business based in areas where a lot of the tourism accommodation is unlikely to be available to tourists this season and this is particularly the case for food and drink-based businesses.

Turning to the supply side, here unfortunately the picture is less positive and there will be many businesses facing real challenges due to various supply side constraints either in their own business or in other sectors of the tourism ecosystem that they rely on. 

Firstly, you don’t need me to tell you about the unprecedented rise in operating costs that every tourism business is experiencing: energy, labour, insurance, food & drink, linen etc. These rising costs are putting huge pressure on all operators and many businesses are struggling to maintain margins. Fáilte Ireland is engaging with all stakeholders to ensure that there is a full understanding of these cost pressures and to push for any actions which can be taken to help businesses manage this. 

The accommodation market is experiencing capacity constraints, due to the humanitarian response to the Ukrainian conflict and issues around housing supply. Nationally, between 20-30% of the visitor accommodation stock could be unavailable for use in 2023 by tourists. There are counties and towns where the majority of tourist accommodation is currently unavailable to tourists and if this remains the case across the summer, this will have a devastating impact on other businesses that rely on visitors staying in the area. We are monitoring this situation very closely and are providing insight and analysis to government on this impact.

Recruitment and retention of staff continues to be an ongoing issue for the industry and the labour market remains very tight. 

The lack of availability of hire cars was an issue last year and while the situation has improved, hire car stock projections for the high season are still significantly lower than 2019. With such a strong air access forecast, this is likely to mean there will be pressure on hire car availability again this summer. 

And of course, as I mentioned earlier, value for money will continue to be a key issue, with many concerned about inflation and the general cost of living. 

As we seek to leverage the opportunities and deal with the challenges ahead, we do all this in the context of the global climate emergency and therefore we must all take the steps required to reach our national sustainability goals. The Irish Government has committed to carbon neutrality no later than 2050 and has set a target of a 35% reduction in emissions for our sector by 2030. 

The collective impact of the changes each of you make in your business can and will make a powerful and material difference - both for our industry's future, and for Ireland's climate targets- but we must take these actions today. This is no longer something we can leave until next month or next year - we must act now. 

So, given these are the opportunities and challenges the industry faces, how will Fáilte Ireland support the industry in 2023? Well, back in 2021 we conducted significant research and consultation to develop the best strategy to ensure that Irish tourism doesn’t just bounce back from COVID-19 but bounces forward to an even bigger and brighter future.

We arrived at 7 key areas of transformational change, these are still the most relevant areas today and our plans for 2023 are built around these 7 key pillars, as we call them. These are driving sustainable recovery at the level of individual businesses, supporting businesses and employees to have more and better careers in tourism, accelerating the growth in domestic tourism, enhancing our outdoor tourism offering, driving best practises in adoption of digital technology, continuing to develop the quality of the visitor experience at local destination level and getting these destinations into the global distribution channels and, of course, driving climate action.

I’m now going to take you through a few topline bullets for each of these 7 strategic pillars which outline how we will be supporting you and developing the wider tourism sector. You will get a lot more detail on how these plans will be brought to life in your local region at the regional face to face briefings in the coming days.  

Firstly, to support recovery at the level of the business, we will be engaging with over 1,000 businesses to build their capability in areas like commercial acumen, reducing operating costs, revenue generation and improving the customer experience. 

In tourism careers, we will build on the strong progress of 2022. 

In 2023 we will continue to help build businesses’ capabilities in recruiting and on-boarding staff as well as promoting careers in tourism to the next generation of talent from TY programmes at secondary schools through to third level colleges, and the ongoing development of

With so many new staff coming into our industry post-COVID, there is a big need for upskilling in a range of areas and our new online learning hub will provide a great platform to focus on three key strands to: 

Deliver structured induction programmes and initial skills for new staff 

Deliver skills enhancement to support career progression

Drive business performance focusing on in-demand skills like customer service  

And finally, we will continue to support employers to build both their capability and reputation as providing an excellent working environment through our Employer Excellence Programme.  In 2023 we will be focusing on getting more businesses on board with our current scheme, launching a new scheme designed for businesses of less than 20 employees and providing tailored supports to businesses to drive consistently good employment practices. 

Our Director of Sector Development Jenny de Saulles will tell you more about this later. 

The domestic market is critical for sustainable recovery and plays a key role in driving regional and seasonal spread.

This year, we have ambitious plans to increase tourism revenue from the domestic audience, which includes the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. To do this, we will 

Continue to focus on and invest in our regional brands.

Grow the numbers of consumers who say they ‘Intend to take a trip in Ireland’ through our Keep Discovering campaign, our RTE weather sponsorship and other media channels

Encourage consumers to book a trip by promoting festivals, events, occasions and other great reasons to travel

Build new partnerships with third parties to promote new campaigns and drive bookings, and we will use our websites to drive customer referrals directly to tourism businesses 

And we will continue to provide you with easy-to-use best practice tools through our sales and marketing supports 

Later this morning, my colleague Jill de Azevedo, our Head of Consumer Planning and Insights, will give you a sneak preview of our new Motivations Framework. This new best-in-world piece of research brings a new level of insight as to 'why’ Irish and Northern Irish people take a domestic holiday. These insights will enable you to meet customers’ needs better and attract more customers. So, make sure to stay tuned for this fascinating new research. 

Ireland’s beautiful natural scenery and quaint historic towns have always been a key driver for travel in and to Ireland, but while we have always had a great outdoors, we do not always make this as easy as it could be for visitors to access and enjoy. One of the lasting global effects of Covid is the massive increase in the desire for and the appreciation of the outdoors. Never has it been more important that we make the best use of our great outdoors. To this end, Fáilte Ireland is currently working on nearly 120 outdoor enhancement projects throughout the country that will come on stream over the next 5 years. 

This year, working with our partners in Local Authorities, we will complete 6 urban animation projects, 23 public realm enhancements in destination towns and deliver 4 major Outdoor Dining projects, adding nearly 460 extra outdoor dining seats to the 4,000 seats already delivered. 

This year, we will also complete 3 of our new world-class Facilities Centres for Water-Based Activities and continue to work on the development of the remaining 17. Working with our partners in Waterways Ireland, we also plan to get two new Blueways up to accreditation standard.

We will also continue to improve our walking and cycling trails. Working with Coillte, we will deliver 300km of mountain biking trails and we will continue our work with the Department of Transport enhancing the visitor experience on our Greenways, focusing on 3 in 2023. We will also continue to work with Department of Rural and Community Development on the Walks Scheme. In long distance walking, plans will be developed for both the Beara Breifne Way and the Wild Atlantic Way Coastal Path. We will also continue to work with the National Parks and Wildlife Service on enhancing and expanding the visitor experience at our beautiful national parks.

Finally - what better way to showcase Ireland’s outdoor tourism offering than through participative events like running and triathlon competitions. We started a pilot scheme last year and we hope to expand this in 2023, with the aim of growing the events into festival weekends for friends and family. 

You can find out more about how to leverage what is happening in your area at the regional face to face briefings from tomorrow. 

Another lasting global impact of Covid is the acceleration in the widespread adoption of digital technology, and to stay competitive, Irish tourism businesses need to make sure that we are at the forefront of this digital transformation. Later this year, we will be establishing a new division in Fáilte Ireland specifically focussed on helping industry to stay abreast of and adopt new developments in this area. 

But of course, we have already started to work on this. Our Digital that Delivers program is a ground-breaking initiative from Fáilte Ireland, designed to power digital transformation for visitor attractions, activity providers and day tours over a two-year programme. This program supports businesses to showcase their product in front of more domestic and international customers, grow online sales, and develop digital skills. Businesses on this program will become more promotable, searchable, and ultimately bookable online. We are delivering his programme in partnership with leading digital experts to provide training, mentoring and financial supports. These include a bespoke digital roadmap and action plan, grant funding for projects to enable areas like website enhancement, improved booking systems, new content and digital marketing strategies.

227 businesses will graduate from the programme in 2023 while a further 200 will be recruited to start a 2-year digital transformation programme this year. 

Expressions of Interest for the next Intake of the programme will start in Q2, and we will share more information through Fáilte Ireland channels in advance of that.  

As we all know the most important factor in our own holidays is the quality of the experience we have when in destination. Therefore, developing the visitor experience in destinations in a planful, coordinated and sustainable way is key to the sustaining long-term success in tourism, and this will always be a focus area for Fáilte Ireland.

In the coming weeks we will launching our 4 long term regional tourism development strategies, we will develop 10 new destination level experience development plans this year and we will continue to progress our nationwide pipeline of 27 large scale attractions. We have 3 of these exciting projects opening in 2023: Mount Congreve House and Gardens, in Co. Waterford, the new National Surf Centre in Strandhill and Queen Maeve’s Square in Sligo.  In order to attract visitors and enhance their experience, Fáilte Ireland directly funds and works with 45 key festivals, and we support a further 200 through our regional funding with Local Authorities. 

The flip side of developing brilliant destinations is getting these destinations into the shop window of global distribution channels. We do this by providing a massive 15,500 contracting opportunities for over 900 Irish businesses at 8 in Ireland sales platforms, including of course our flagship Meitheal event which will be in Killarney again this year. We also work with all 96 Irish based inbound agents together with our colleagues in Tourism Ireland, and  we will provide over 670 Irish businesses the opportunity to attend 48 international leisure sales platforms organised by Tourism Ireland. We will also be working with all stakeholders to develop new strategies to grow the golf and Luxury segments.  

On the Business Tourism side – after a very successful restart year in 2022, we have ambitious targets again for 2023 where we want to generate €275million worth of new leads, convert leads into confirmed events worth €192million in future revenue and support the delivery of confirmed events worth €210million in 2023. As 75% of all international conferences that come to Ireland are secured with the help of a Conference Ambassador, we’ll be launching a targeted Conference Ambassador recruitment campaign in the coming months. We will also enhance our conversion supports program and together with Tourism Ireland, our Department and the industry, we will launch a new strategy for the future growth of business tourism.

Underpinning all our work for the year is our commitment to driving climate action in tourism businesses. To do this, we are focusing on 5 key areas:

Firstly – we know you can’t manage what you can’t measure. This year, we will work with 350 strategic tourism businesses who are already actively using our carbon calculator and for the first time, we will establish base line data for the tourism industry. 

We will use our climate action road map toolkit to work with businesses to develop an action plan to support the reduction of their carbon footprint while also reducing their costs by making changes in areas like energy, food, water and waste. 

We will design, develop and start to roll out an Umbrella Certification program that will allow businesses to showcase their sustainability credentials to industry and importantly, to customers.

We will invest €500,000 in our first ever marketing campaign specifically to promote businesses that are demonstrating real progress on the sustainability journey.

And we will be collaborating with Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to enhance the tourism relevance and eligibility for their grant schemes.

Well, I hope that has given you a flavour of the work we will be doing to support you this year across these 7 key areas of transformation, business recovery, careers, domestic demand, the outdoors, digitisation, destination development and climate action. As I said you will get more details on these areas and a lot more local perspective at the regional face to face briefings. 

But our work doesn’t stop there! There are 3 major new strategic initiatives that will get underway in 2023 that will all be important in their own way to the long-term sustainable development of tourism in Ireland.

First, the EU Just Transition Fund. Fáilte Ireland was recently awarded €68million to develop and implement a regenerative tourism project in the Midlands before the end of 2026. 

The objective of Ireland’s Just Transition Fund is to generate employment for former peat harvesting based communities. Fáilte Ireland recognised the potential of tourism to achieve this and developed a submission to create new enterprises and jobs by establishing the Midlands as an authentic regenerative tourism destination, based on the sustainable use of the peatlands and wetlands. A team is currently working on this plan, which will focus on the development of a trails network, sustainable accommodation offerings and regenerative tourism business supports. More information on this transformational project will be provided in the regional briefing in Athlone on Friday.

Secondly the Shared Island initiative which aims to harness the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement to enhance co-operation, connection and mutual understanding on the island and engage with all communities and traditions to build consensus around a shared future. 

Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland developed a joint proposal for The Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coastal Route brands collaboration. This will connect the two routes to ensure visitors are motivated to stay longer and spend more in the area. The project covers parts of Sligo and Donegal on the Wild Atlantic Way, and parts of Derry and Antrim on the Causeway Coast.  It will also include the development of discovery points along the route, improving signage and orientation for visitors, as well as cross-border regional destination development to enable promotion of the region as a whole. More detail will be provided in the regional briefing in Sligo tomorrow. 

And finally, we have the new short-term tourism lettings register currently progressing through the legislative process and the new register is on track to be in place in Q2. This will mean that we will have some further short-term accommodation challenges to overcome, but we all need to recognise tourism can only flourish when it is developed in way that is consistent with the wider society interests. In the context of our national housing crisis, housing that was developed for and is more appropriate for residential use should return to the residential market and our new tourism accommodation register will facilitate the provision and marketing of all appropriate tourism accommodation. Jenny will go through this in more detail in just a minute.   

Before I hand you over to Jenny DeSaulles who will take you through a bit more detail on how we will be helping you with some of the supply side challenges and the new short-term tourism lets register, I want to thank you for your attention as I’ve outlined how Fáilte Ireland will be helping the Irish tourism sector this year. And I want to leave you with my two key asks to everyone out there about how you can help the Irish tourism sector this year. Firstly, protect our planet by taking meaningful action to reduce your businesses carbon emissions and secondly protect Ireland’s long-term reputation as a value for money destination. Short term excessive pricing in a time of capacity constraints will damage our value for money reputation which we know takes years to repair, let us all not let short term individual opportunism damage our long-term collective prosperity.

Go raibh maith agaibh  


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