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Calls to protect €5bn tourism industry ahead of Brexit

Protection measures are needed to safeguard Ireland’s €5bn tourism industry and its 300,000 jobs against challenges such as Brexit, the Government has been told.

The warning from Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons came as new figures show just a modest rise in tourists from Britain, with the fall in the value of sterling driving up costs for short breaks.

Mr Gibbons is optimistic that mainland Europe and North American tourist numbers continue to grow while attractions such as sports events and screen tourism bring new visitors.

Tourism Minister Shane Ross; Tourism Ireland chairman Joan O’Shaughnessy; and Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons at the mid-year review of overseas tourism. Picture: Chris Bellew

Tourism Ireland wants budget measures to bolster the industry, particularly with Brexit progressing, said Tourism Ireland chairwoman Joan O’Shaughnessy.

Mr Gibbons noted that British tourists are taking fewer weekend breaks. He said: “I think what we need is more certainty, to be quite honest. The Common Travel Area is absolutely vital for our business, people are going to continue to take holidays next year regardless of the outcome of the Brexit talks.

“The British take about 70m trips abroad every year, they’ll continue to go to sun destinations like Spain and Turkey. But short-break destinations like Ireland are most vulnerable, so it is important that we continue to invest in Great Britain. They are very much our biggest volume market.

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“And initiatives like the British Irish visa scheme that allows people from China and India, for example, to travel across the UK and Ireland as if it is one country, we need to see initiatives like that as well.”

Tourism Ireland’s mid-year review shows North American visitors increased by 10.7%, mainland Europe’s by 10.2% but only 2.3% for British tourists.

Increased access is opening up new opportunities to attract visitors, with new direct air routes including from Hong Kong and Beijing to Dublin as well as Paris to Cork.

Screen tourism is popular with some visitors coming to visit sites where Star Wars and Game of Thrones are filmed.

Diverse sporting events such as the T20 cricket match between Ireland and India in Malahide in June, also drew tourists, with promotional videos reaching some 255m viewers, many in India.

Tourism Minister Shane Ross said there is scope to widen attractions in some areas such as the ‘Hidden Heartlands’ in the midlands and an increase in the off-season visitors.

He said the figures show there are signs British tourist numbers are not increasing as they had done in the past. There are “bumps on the road ahead”, said Mr Ross, pointing to Brexit and the price of aviation fuel, as well as problems trying to maintain Ireland’s share of tourism markets.

“In the short term, we need to defend our share [of the market],” he said.