Two thirds of tourism operators believe that 2010 will be ‘similar or better’ than last year, a finding which formed the centrepiece of a Fáilte Ireland briefing held in Waterford earlier this week.
According to the findings, which were discussed at the Tower Hotel on Monday, 63 per cent of operators in the south east are confident of a similar or better year.
This contrasts with the 20 per cent figure that was recorded at the start of 2009 when operators were asked about their hopes for the following 12 months.
The majority of surveyed tourism-dependant businesses anticipate that employment levels during 2010 to be the same as last year, with less than five per cent hopeful of a jobs boost.
“This time last year, as we surveyed the tourism landscape, the outlook amongst tourism operators was universally bleak, prompting a widespread belief that 2009 was all about survival,” said Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn.
“This year the tectonic plates of business sentiment are shifting somewhat. Now operators are expressing greater confidence about the immediate future and at the very least are expecting greater stability upon which to begin recovering market share.”
But make no mistake, Mr Quinn warned, a tough year’s trading lies ahead.
“Pressure on revenues remains intense,” he added.
“And while many operators have taken tough steps to reduce those costs within their control, the continuing high level of local authority charges, energy costs and, to a lesser extent, restrictive pay structures are collectively placing an undue burden on the industry.”
Locally, enormous efforts have been made by Waterford City Council, Waterford Chamber, the city’s Enterprise Board and other local agencies to kick-start the industry ahead of the peak tourist season.
The development of the new Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre on The Mall, at the heart of the city’s ‘Viking Quarter’, forms the centrepiece of that plan. The return of the Tall Ships Race to Waterford next year will also provide a welcome cash injection into the regional economy.
Both the WWRD development and the Tall Ships, along with a call for an enhanced collective promotion of the region will be raised by City Mayor John Halligan at Thursday’s Munster Express/Dooley’s Heritage & Culture Awards.
According to Fáilte Ireland’s number crunchers, the domestic market currently accounts for 65 per cent of business in the hotel sector.
Regional hotel chains, including the FBD Hotel and the Griffin Group, have both kicked off significant marketing campaigns in recent weeks in a bid to entice the home audience into their premises.
Value is now the catch call of both operator and customer alike, with stay-at-home tourists set to benefit from prices that could scarcely have been envisaged only three to four years ago.
“The aggressive pricing and greater value in Irish tourism has percolated through to the home audience,” Shaun Quinn told colleagues.
“Irish people are now seeing the home holiday and, particularly, the domestic short break as an attractive alternative to the hassle of travelling abroad.”
Fáilte Ireland’s South East Chief Gary Breen said “the largest ever regional marketing campaign, both nationally and internationally” will aim to capitalise on the industry’s growing optimistic mood.
Almost €2 million is to be spent ‘selling’ the region, including an €800,000 outlay on an ‘East Coast International Campaign’ to be conducted in Britain, France and Germany.
A county specific and product campaign will account for €600,000, with €500,000 earmarked for promoting festivals such as Spraoi and Wexford Opera.
Mr Breen also referred to installing “the essential building blocks for the region’s future”.
He continued: “Central to our medium to long term plan is the further development of consumer focused collaborative tourism networks at local level.
“We have to date, in partnership with key stakeholders, developed: coastal resort networks with a focus on the Family Market: rural networks with a focus on the outdoor activities market including angling, walking and cycling; and urban networks with a focus on the urban short breaks market.”
Areas pinpointed for improvement include:
* The provision of further resorts to those already existing in both Waterford and Wexford
* The establishment of an activity network in County Waterford to complement the existing network in Tipperary’s Glen of Aherlow
* The development of new Heritage and Culture networks to complement the existing Christian Heritage network in County Carlow along with Visitor Attraction networks in Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford, and
* The development of ‘urban destination networks’ in Waterford city, Kilkenny city and Wexford Town.
“Despite the prevalent difficult trading conditions there are many encouraging developments taking place throughout the region that will underpin the sustainability of our industry,” Mr Breen added.
“This will serve to broaden the region’s appeal, make it easier to access the region and position us very well to take advantage of the upturn when it comes.”
The completion of the Waterford/Dublin M7 Motorway, the aforementioned WWRD project and the development of the Dunbrody Famine Ship Centre in New Ross are listed among Mr Breen’s “encouraging developments”.
Sounding a cautionary note, Gary Breen stated: “Despite some signs of hope, this will still be a tough year and that puts it up to us in Fáilte Ireland and the tourism industry to work together to reap all the potential out there.
“We will aggressively chase business and every last drop of potential in the home holiday market and we will continue to provide significant business supports and advice to tourism businesses throughout the year.
“Fáilte Ireland in the South East will not be taking its foot off the pedal in 2010.” Amen to that, cries a region.