Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
29. Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Tourism; Culture and Sport in view of the expenditure of €114,000 on a consultants report on the potential economic benefits of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the number of times the high level coordinating group chaired by her Department met; when did the first meeting take place; the specific targets the group set for tourist visitor numbers, utilisation of sports facilities by foreign Olympic athletes and other quantifiable targets; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44051/10]
Deputy Mary Hanafin: As the Deputy is aware, a high-level co-ordinating group, chaired by my Department, is identifying the opportunities that may arise for Ireland across the sports, tourism and cultural sectors from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The group was established in November 2009 and has met five times to date. The sixth meeting of the group is scheduled to take place before the end of the year.
The task force report referred to in the Deputy’s question made a number of recommendations arising from an audit carried out of high quality sports facilities in Ireland and the findings of a report by Indecon International Economic Consultants on the economic evaluation of the benefit to the island of Ireland of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Indecon Report concluded that the largest potential benefits of the London 2012 Olympic Games were on the business side and Enterprise Ireland is actively pursuing opportunities for Irish business.
Given our proximity to London and the many accessible routes to and from the United Kingdom, we can also benefit from a sporting, tourism and culture perspective. The American Olympic synchronised swimming squad has chosen the National Aquatic Centre as its pre-Olympic training base. The Department and various sports facilities are working on attracting other teams to train here.
The tourism agencies are also working hard to maximise the potential benefits to Irish tourism of having the Olympic Games in London. For example, they are targeting tourists from London who may wish to get away from the city during the games. They are also working with UK inbound tour operators to divert people to Ireland who cannot be accommodated in London during the games given the reduced accommodation and carrier capacity that will be available there.
Given the many factors which may have an impact and are as yet uncertain, it is too early to set specific targets for visitor numbers or associated revenue arising from the Olympics at this stage. The high-level co-ordinating group will continue to meet on an ongoing basis to maximise opportunities and, obviously, this will influence the benefits to Ireland. The outcome of this work will be reflected in the visitor number and revenue targets contained in Tourism Ireland’s 2012 business plan which will be prepared next year.
Deputy Mary Upton: I suppose we should all be delighted about the synchronised swimming team coming to Ireland. It is a hugely popular sport here. We are talking about a huge international event. I am quite surprised there have not been formal bookings at this stage. A number of proposals have been put forward and the Minister identified a list of them. Having spent €114,000 on a consultants’ report, I wonder about the return on that since we do not have a commitment for anything other than synchronised swimming team.
Even on the business side, it is a very nice prospect but when can we firm up on what will happen? What kind of returns can we expect since we are talking about the Olympic Games and the impact it should have? As far as I can see, or as far as the Minister has identified, there have been no confirmations for anything other than a synchronised swimming team and I cannot imagine that will bring an influx of tourists to observe it, although it is an interesting sport to watch.
Deputy Mary Hanafin: I suspect the Deputy might be surprised. What was interesting was that a nation such as the United States would choose the National Aquatic Centre and state it was one of the best facilities it had seen anywhere in the world. We have been very quick to knock and condemn it and yet the United States acknowledged it was one of the best facilities available. I suspect there will be a huge amount of interest in going to watch the synchronised swimming team.
Use of the sports facilities is just one aspect. UCD and UL have made bids in an effort to try to attract not the large countries but some of the smaller countries and the individual sports from other countries which may yet be successful.
It is too early to tie down tourism. As we know, people book later and it is still only the end of 2010 and the Olympic Games will not take place for 20 months. It will probably only be towards the end of next year before we will see what the tourism impact will be but we are very much focusing on it. Even when I was in London for the day at the World Travel Market meeting with the various industry groups, we discussed this and they reckoned quite a number of people will want to get out of London at that time and that there may be potential there.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: Is the Minister aware that while we are trying to attract Olympic teams to Ireland, many of our Olympic teams are leaving the country to go to training camps elsewhere? Will she indicate if any of the Irish teams are using Ireland as a training camp? I am aware of a number of teams going to other parts of Europe. Does she believe that sends a very negative message to other countries? If our facilities are not good enough for our athletes, how does she expect their competitors to come to Ireland?
Deputy Mary Hanafin: It depends on the sport. Where we have top class facilities, people are using them. I am aware that the athletes all have to travel and participate in training camps abroad because we do not have the facilities. The facilities have not yet been developed in the Campus and Stadium Ireland.
Deputy Mary Hanafin: We would not aim to attract those athletes but perhaps individual sports. Our boxers are perhaps our best prospect for medals in the Olympic Games. Of the 24 Olympic medals we have, I believe boxing accounts for 12 of them. The boxers are all training in Ireland. It depends on the sport.
Deputy Jimmy Deenihan: The most successful Olympic Games we ever had were those held in Los Angeles in 1932 and the participants trained in Ballybunion in County Kerry. That was when we won most Olympic medals on track.
Deputy Mary Upton: Earlier, the Minister referred to the tourism opportunities. I would have thought that if key media contacts were coming, there would be a commitment at this stage. Do we have an update on that? I am also concerned about the business side and the Minister mentioned Enterprise Ireland. There is a knock-on effect from the Olympic Games and it will be a long time until we will be as near to the staging of the games again. We must capitalise on the issue. A great deal of money has been spent on the report.
Deputy Mary Hanafin: Enterprise Ireland earlier this year organised a two-day visit for a delegation from the Olympic Games to discuss business opportunities. In October, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, went to pitch on behalf of Irish firms such as building contractors, and Enterprise Ireland has held information evenings with the Olympic Games organisers. Up to 50 Irish firms are involved in that so all that is happening through Enterprise Ireland working with Irish firms.
With regard to the tourism sector, all the contacts have been made but contracts have not yet been signed; that will happen next year. There will be a positive spin-off, as we are also trying to work with other countries to add Ireland to the visit to London. The issue is being worked through at different levels.
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