Wednesday, 23 July 1969
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. M. O'Leary: asked the Minister for Transport and Power whether he is aware that the tourist trade is in serious danger of pricing itself out of the international market because of the exorbitant prices charged to foreign tourists; and that hotel meal charges have greatly increased in the course of the present season; and whether he proposes to take any action in the matter.
Mr. B. Lenihan: The levels of prices in hotels, restaurants and other elements of the tourist industry are affected by rising costs in the same way as other enterprises and some increase in prices is, therefore, inevitable. The average increases in hotel prices this year was 3.4 per cent. Hotel prices in Ireland are in general not expensive by international standards and Bord Fáilte have assured me that currently we are not in danger of pricing ourselves out of the international tourist market.
Maximum charges for table d'hôte meals in hotels are set out in the Official Hotel Guide published annually by Bord Fáilte and these prices may not be exceeded without the prior consent of the board. The board have informed me that such permission has been granted in only two cases this year. In addition to this machinery, there is also the effect of free competition between the various establishments.
I do not consider that any additional action on prices is called for at the present time but the effect of price increases on the competitiveness of our tourist industry is a matter which I am watching very closely and I propose to have discussions with Bord Fáilte about the situation in the near future.
Mr. B. Lenihan: The main complaint  relates to prices and not to standards. This is a matter about which we are all concerned and I am having the chairman of Bord Fáilte and his chief executive in to discuss the matter with me on Friday.
Mr. M. O'Leary: asked the Minister for Transport and Power if he is investigating the precise factors which have caused a fall off in the tourist trade to date in the present season; and whether he will make a statement on the present position.
The factors which govern the volume of our tourist traffic include some external circumstances over which we have no control, for example, the economic situation in Britain, the unrest in the North and the continued restrictions on overseas expenditure by French residents.
I understand that there was a slight fall in the number of persons who travelled to Ireland by sea during June, as compared with the same month last year, but that this has been offset by an increase in the number of passengers who came by air, especially from North America. Overall, the cumulative total for 1969 has tended to level off at last year's figure.
I am informed by Bord Fáilte that they are keeping the situation under continuing review, and as I stated in reply to the previous question, I propost to have discussions with Bord Fáilte concerning this matter in the near future.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I have gone to the trouble of checking. The projected increase has not so far occurred, but the cumulative total tends to be the same as last year. The Deputy will appreciate the total picture will not emerge until the end of the season.
I understand that there was a slight fall in the number of persons who travelled to Ireland by sea during June, as compared with the same month last year, but that this has been offset by an increase in the number of passengers who came by air, especially from North America.
Dr. FitzGerald: What has that got to do with the question? The question relates to the tourist traffic and passenger traffic and that includes Irish people returning from abroad and visitors coming here. There is no breakdown and it is quite possible that the levelling off relates to an increase in the number of Irish people going abroad and coming back. Does the Minister not agree with that?
Mr. T. O'Donnell: Does the Minister agree that the anticipated increase of ten per cent has not been achieved? This is a serious matter. More specifically, how far does the Minister think the policy of restricting charter flights by foreign operators has contributed to the decline in tourism this year? Furthermore, is he satisfied that the scheduled services operated by Aer Lingus into this country are geared to generate the maximum tourist traffic?
Mr. B. Lenihan: I hope never to be satisfied as long as I am in this job and that is why I am meeting the chairman of Bord Fáilte and his chief executive on Friday to discuss in depth the full implications of what has been averred about the tourist season. As the picture unfolds up to now it appears there is no diminution in traffic——
Mr. B. Lenihan: There is not the projected increase expected. We have to go into this in a balanced way, examine the causes, assess the situation and plan accordingly for next year. This is not something which can be done by way of instant action or instant response. It is a situation that has arisen and which must be examined in very great depth.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I am getting these figures. Unfortunately, we are not sitting next week but I have organised this full discussion and the question put by Deputy Sweetman to me is one of a number of queries which I will put to Bord Fáilte. I hope to have the matter thrashed out on Friday and I hope to have a full statement for the public.
Mr. Tully: Is the Minister aware that expenditure by Bord Fáilte on advertising has been switched from on-season to off-season and would he consider that that has caused quite a considerable drop in the numbers coming in? Is he further aware that the tourist organisations dealing with the eastern region have reported an alarming drop in the number of visitors this summer?
Mr. B. Lenihan: Let us not be alarmists here. We are all concerned about the progress of the tourist industry. All the indications I have show that there was no drop with regard to passengers and visitors coming in but that the projected increase this year over last year may not be reached, but at this point of time there has been no decrease.
Mr. B. Lenihan: I have the facts. People who are making alarmist remarks either inside or outside this  House are doing a grave disservice to a very important industry. All I can do in my capacity as Minister, and what I am doing, is to get all the facts. I have already submitted queries to Bord Fáilte and I am meeting the chairman and the director general of Bord Fáilte on Friday to ascertain the precise position and a statement will eventuate from the meeting in regard to the up-to-date position.
Dr. FitzGerald: Did the Minister clearly distinguish between the number of Irish people returning and the number of visitors? There could be an increase in the number of Irish people going abroad or returning combined with a reduction in tourists.
Mr. B. Lenihan: This is a trend that balances out year in and year out and the Deputy is aware that standards are adopted in regard to distinguishing between returning emigrants and tourists. I am well aware of this and Bord Fáilte are well aware of this and all this is qualified in the actual returns made by Bord Fáilte.
Mr. T. O'Donnell: asked the Minister for Transport and Power if he will indicate the progress made with the recently initiated campaign to promote off-season tourist traffic to this country; and the results which are likely to accrue during the coming offpeak season.
Mr. B. Lenihan: There has been an encouraging response from overseas markets to the campaign to increase off-season tourist traffic. Bord Fáilte have informed me that over 22,000 visitors came to Ireland during the period October, 1968, to April, 1969, on special interest holiday programmes.  Estimates compiled by the Central Statistics Office show that hotel receipts from visitors from outside the State in the October, 1968/March, 1969 period were 32 per cent higher than in the corresponding 1967/68 period.
The extension of the season is one of the main tourism objectives of the Third Programme for Economic and Social Development. Bord Fáilte and the various elements of the tourist industry will be developing the campaign with this in view and I expect that this will result in significant increases in off-season traffic in future years.
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