Published on August 21st, 2016 | by Jim Lee0
First half of 2016 figures show that Irish tourism is having another excellent year although uncertainty over Brexit remains
On 9th August, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, published its Annual Report for 2015. The Report outlines key milestones achieved by the Department in 2015, including its high level goal for tourism, by supporting the tourism industry in increasing revenue and employment, through enhancing competitiveness and through marketing and product development.
The tourism and hospitality industry employs around 205,000 people and in 2014, generated €5.012 billion in revenue (excluding fares) from home and abroad. It is an industry mainly populated by smaller enterprises and is deeply rooted in the fabric of Irish economic life, urban and rural. Tourism is central to the Government’s economic recovery programme.
The report notes that 2015 was a record year for visit numbers to Ireland. There were a total of 8,643,100 visits, an increase of 13.7% compared to 2014. Comparing the main markets in 2015, Great Britain showed an increase of 12.1% (3.547 million visits), Mainland Europe showed an increase of 15.4% (3.043 million visits), and North America showed an increase of 14.0% (1.514 million visits) while other long-haul visits were up 13.7% (538,600 visits).
Earlier in a statement on 29th July, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross T.D. and Minster of State for Tourism and Sport, Patrick O’Donovan T.D. welcomed the continued growth in overseas visitor numbers for the first six months of 2016, as shown by the overseas visit figures which were released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
Speaking following the release of the figures, Minister Ross said: “We now have official figures for overseas visits to Ireland for the first half of 2016 which show that Irish tourism is having another excellent year. Today’s figures show that overseas visit numbers are up 13.1% compared to the first six months of 2015. This is good news for everybody involved in Irish tourism and reflects the hard work carried out by all those involved in the tourism industry”. The latest CSO figures on overseas visits show:
- At 4,383,600 visits, overall trips to Ireland were up 13.1% in the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015;
- Visits from Mainland Europe grew by 11% for January to June 2016, to 1,528,100 visits;
- North America registered an increase of 15% for January – June 2016 (758,400 visits);
- Visits from Great Britain were up by 15.7% for January – June 2016 (1,865,000 visits).
- Visits from the rest of the world, mostly long-haul and developing markets, were up by 1.8% totalling 232,200 visits.
Minister Ross added: “The latest statistics show that we are doing well from all of our main target markets including Mainland Europe, Great Britain and North America and it looks likely that 2016 will be another record breaking year for visitor numbers. While the result of the UK referendum may impact on the Great Britain market we will continue to monitor developments”.
Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, while acknowledging that the figures indicate that this was the best ever January to June period for overseas visitors to Ireland, their aim was to ensure that 2016 is another record-breaking year for Irish tourism. “We have seen exceptional results from North America for the first half – up +15% on the same six-month period in 2015. I also welcome the strong increase in British visitors (almost +16%). Mainland Europe has also turned in a superb performance (+11%), with important markets like Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the Benelux countries all showing really good growth” he added.
He went on; “The outcome of the recent EU referendum in the UK (the so called Brexit) has given rise to economic uncertainty and currency movements, which have the capacity to hamper growth. Although it is still too soon to fully understand the long-term implications of Brexit for tourism to the island of Ireland, Tourism Ireland has been monitoring the possible implications of Brexit, liaising with our key stakeholders, at home and overseas. The British market will remain of significant importance for all of us in the short, medium and long-term. For Tourism Ireland, the message is very much business as usual. Our €4 million promotional campaign will roll out in Britain from now until the end of the year, to highlight the island of Ireland to prospective visitors and maintain the strong growth we have seen in recent years.”
The consequences of Brexit for overseas tourism to Ireland
Speaking in the Dáil on 19th July, Minister Ross said that Great Britain has consistently been Ireland’s most important source market for visits to Ireland, as evidenced by the more than 3.5 million visits in 2015. This represented 41% of our total overseas visits. In addition, the CSO figures for the period January to May 2016 show further strong performance from this market as indicated above.
While the Great Britain market contributed 41% of overseas visits in 2015, the share of overseas visitor revenue from British visitors is approximately 23%. There is a commitment in the tourism policy statement to prioritising tourism marketing efforts towards those markets providing higher revenue returns. In 2015, the Department provided €34 million to the tourism agencies for the overseas promotion of Ireland as a tourism destination. While the main focus in terms of overseas marketing activity continued to be on the four key tourism markets of Great Britain, the US, France and Germany (which together contribute nearly three-quarters of all visitors to Ireland), there was also activity to support long-term opportunities in markets such as China, India and the Middle East.
Tourism Ireland, the agency responsible for marketing the island of Ireland as a visitor destination in overseas markets, has an extensive marketing programme in place for the second half of 2016 which is under way in 23 markets, including Great Britain. In the longer term, the programme for Government commits to implementing the policy objectives in the tourism policy statement, People, Place and Policy – Growing Tourism to 2025, and achieving the targets for Irish tourism contained therein. The UK vote does not change that.
In the short term, there are no changes to how people can travel between Ireland and the UK, and the Government has said it will be doing its utmost in future discussions to maintain the common travel area. In terms of the relative reduction in the value of sterling and the implications for the cost of a holiday here, this has similar implications for all Eurozone countries, many of which compete with us for these tourists.
The Great Britain market will remain of significant importance to Irish tourism in the future, and the Minister believes that Ireland’s excellent tourism offering will ensure that we continue to perform strongly. He said that Tourism Ireland is closely monitoring the situation and has met with tourism industry representatives to plan ahead in this new market environment. In the longer term, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will work closely with other Departments and agencies and respond to any changes as necessary.
In the UK BALPA has voiced concerns after Brexit
The British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA), established to represent the interests of all UK pilots, has called on the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, to bring certainty to the UK aviation industry, following the vote for Brexit.
In a statement, BALPA has said that the UK aviation industry, is worried after Brexit and airlines have already been hit particularly hard following the vote to leave the EU. Its members are urging the Government to bring aviation to the very top of matters and begin working on “how the UK will thrive outside the EU”.
BALPA said that they were already seeing a reduction in demand for leisure and business travel, and volatile share prices affecting airlines but have yet to fully understand how the changes will affect aviation regulation.
In a comment, Brian Strutton, General Secretary of BALPA said: “Pilots are conscious of the many potential effects of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on the future of our thriving aviation sector and it is surprising that there seems to be no plan ready to deal with the consequences. “There is a lot of uncertainty ahead and BALPA is already working to obtain the best outcomes for pilots, passengers and the industry as a whole”.
In the meantime, he said that they were urging the Government to start making some swift decisions on the future of aviation. As a response BALPA will dedicate one day of its two-day Annual Delegates Conference in November to Brexit, and will be discussing what the implications are for pilots, the industry and, crucially, for flight safety regulation.
Government response to UK’s Brexit referendum
On 24th June, the Irish Government adopted a contingency framework identifying key policy issues to be managed by Government Departments, arising from the referendum vote for the UK to leave the EU. The framework maps out the key issues that will be of most importance to Ireland in the coming weeks and months. This will be a process, as important issues that emerge and recede in the course of negotiations will be reflected upon.
The contingency framework is being co-ordinated by the Department if the Taoiseach. It is based on preparations over many months, including inputs by Departments to identify the key strategic and sectoral issues arising from the UK’s disengagement with the EU. Substantial work has been undertaken across Government to identify those key strategic, policy and operational risks. Priority issues identified include UK-EU negotiations, British-Irish relations, Northern Ireland, trade, investment, North-South Border impact, competitiveness and macroeconomic issues, research and innovation funding, and energy. More will be added as the terms and conditions of the new UK-EU relationship evolve.
A number of existing structures are being strengthened as necessary. These include the Cabinet committee on EU affairs, the North-South Ministerial Council, and the British-Irish Council; and at official level, the joint Ireland-UK Secretaries General-permanent secretaries process, the EU senior officials’ group, the interdepartmental group on the UK EU referendum, and external stakeholders and interested bodies.
The Taoiseach has confirmed, that former Prime Minister David Cameron, had in the aftermath of the referendum, committed to dealing with Ireland directly with respect to the common travel area, the peace process, the open Border with Northern Ireland and the interconnectedness of our trade. The wish of the Irish Government is for Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom to remain part of the Single Market in order to avoid any borders between people, goods and services on these islands. The former Prime Minister also committed to ensuring that there would be early bilateral engagement at senior official level on key issues arising. With the resignation of David Cameron, it seems that some of these commitments, particularly the latter, may be now in doubt.
Other key Irish interests affected by Brexit
Apart from the consequences of Brexit for overseas tourism to Ireland, there is a practical and emotional issue of the land border on the island of Ireland, which would become an external border of the EU. Since the Irish and UK immigration authorities have had common ‘black lists’ for arriving passengers for many years, it is hard to see it becoming a ‘hard border’ for people. There are precedents for common travel areas, such as Norway-Sweden, although neither state appears to be as concerned about immigration as the UK. In addition both subscribe to the Schengen agreement on open borders which the UK does not.
Trade and transporting of goods across the border is another matter Therefore, the Irish interests includes a fast agreement and on terms which ensure the benefits of the trading arrangements with the EU and with third countries are preserved. Of particular interest is agricultural and food trade with UK and UK trade is particularly important to small and medium enterprises. The two markets are close to domestic markets to each other. Tariffs, different product standards, import/export paperwork would all be bad news. There is also the question of ‘duty-free’ coming back between the countries, but personally, like many other commentators, I can’t see that happening.
On the other hand, better and more assured access for Irish, rather than for UK-based firms for business with the EU, would enhance Ireland’s attraction for foreign direct investment, possibly including some transfer of activity from the UK. In the short term, the fall in the value of sterling has implications for cross border activity. Weaker sterling should make also the UK more attractive for Irish visitors and Ireland less so for UK residents compared to domestic trips. There has also been a reduction in overall demand from the UK as uncertainty depresses economic activity.
Since the UK referendum result, there has been a notable increase in queries concerning Irish passports and citizenship from Northern Ireland, Great Britain and elsewhere. Statistics relating to passport applications are released on a monthly basis. In the month of June this year, there were 7,045 applications in total from Northern Ireland and 5,719 applications from Great Britain. These represent increases of 9.5% and 20.5% respectively over the same month in 2015. However, the absolute numbers need to be taken in context as the Passport Service issued over 670,000 passports last year. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan has indicated that it is too early as yet to identify the precise impact of the outcome of the referendum in terms of the volume of passport applications from the United Kingdom and the extent to which any initial increase will be sustained.
He added that there is no need for concern in terms of freedom of movement or entitlement to an Irish passport. The process of negotiation to enable the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is likely to take two years as envisaged under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and once the article is triggered. During this period, the United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union and its citizens continue to enjoy full rights including freedom of movement within the EU. At the same time, the referendum has not in any way changed the entitlement to an Irish passport including as it extends to those people born on the island of Ireland and those with Irish citizenship through parents or grandparents born in Ireland.