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Minister Catherine Martin TD delivers opening address to AVEA Conference


AVEA held its Annual Conference on 17th and 18th October in Wexford Town. The event, which was attended by over 180 delegates including AVEA members, our partners, and tourism stakeholders, provided a highly enjoyable and engaging opportunity to discuss all things related to the visitor experience. Catherine Martin TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, delivered a warm and engaging opening address which recognised the significance of visitor attractions in the tourism offering.

“Dia daoibh go léir.
Anuraidh labhair mé libh go léir ag an comhdháil seo sa Stóras Guinness agus is mór an onóir agus an pléisiúr dom filleadh air i mbliana chun hun comhdháil AVEA 2022 a oscailt.
I would like to congratulate Catherine Flanagan as your inaugural chief executive and I look forward to engaging and working with you as tourism in Ireland continues to evolve.
Tourism is woven into the fabric of our Irish cultural and social life and is of crucial importance to both our labour sector and regional economies. Tourism’s contribution goes beyond just employment, economic activity and exports, it has an effect on other sectors such as retail, food, beverage, agriculture and transport.
This has never been more evident as tourists, both domestic and international, return to visitor experiences or attractions that leave them with incredible and lasting memories of the iconic and stunning settings to take home with them. While they enjoy these experiences, they also support local communities by staying overnight and availing of local cuisine, culture and adventures. These sites include St Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cliffs of Moher but also not forgetting our local important regional sites here in Wexford such as Hook Lighthouse, The Irish National Heritage Park, Johnston Castle and the Dunbrody Famine Ship to name but a few. Attractions and experiences like these are a key asset in differentiating Ireland from other destinations and illustrate the very fabric of our culture and heritage.
Here in Ireland, we pride ourselves on our warm welcome, excellent service as well as the quality and value of our overall tourism experience. The return in visitor numbers and revenues reflects the on-going efforts of the tourism agencies, in collaboration with the industry, to market Ireland in a range of markets with the highest revenue growth potential.

You collectively are the largest employer in the country, providing much needed jobs throughout the country, and particularly in rural and regional areas where over 70% of jobs were based outside of Dublin pre pandemic.

Can I say I am very much aware of how hard it was for members to hold on to their core staff, and of course, ‘people’ are at the heart of Ireland’s tourism experience. The contribution made by you, our industry partners, must be acknowledged. Well done. But I do know it continues to be a challenge.

The high level of investment in the tourism industry reflects the confidence which the industry has in itself. With the support of Government and my Department, the incredible work of our tourism agencies – Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland – with the cooperation of Local Authorities, tourism operators, local communities across the country and all of you here today, we are constantly improving, innovating and expanding our tourism offering whilst continuing to invest in the people. They are the future of this industry.

It is the quality and dedication of you and your teams – as you look after our visitors and add the all-important personal touch in terms of warmth and attention – that really marks out the visitor experience to Ireland. So for that, I would like to thank each and every one of you here today.

As you know all too well, the impact of this pandemic on tourism globally was overwhelming and immediate. The Government, my Department and Fáilte Ireland responded quickly and comprehensively to address the crisis and support the industry to survive and recover. Whether directly or indirectly, I hope that you and your businesses have benefitted from the broad suite of supports as well as the wide range of horizontal measures such as the Wage Subsidy Schemes, which enabled many businesses to hold on to their staff. These were all designed to aid and support tourism businesses to survive the pandemic and reopen in a safe and sustainable manner.

Whilst the tourism sector continues to emerge from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is also important that we plan for further recovery and rebuilding. And the Programme for Government includes a commitment to develop a new tourism initiative to aid recovery in the sector. This new initiative will seek to promote and build on the warmth of our welcome, the beauty of our landscape and the richness of our culture.

I secured a €5 million allocation in Budget 2023 to continue the development of the Invitation initiative. This project will provide an excellent opportunity to advance the recovery in multiple sectors that have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. I hope to bring proposals to Government in the near future outlining my full ambition for this project and providing further detail on the work underway. I have no doubt that a project of this nature will provide a much needed boost in overseas visitor numbers and strong reconnections with diaspora groups and indeed with the culturally curious and the wider “affinity diaspora”. I know Irish tourism is in a better place now but we must caution against using 2022 as a benchmark for future recovery. I am conscious of the many challenges facing you all. It is important that Government and the industry continue to work and engage together to chart that path through these challenges. In common with wider society the cost of living increases are putting additional pressures on sectors overseen by my Department. The Government has now responded strongly to the fresh pressures brought by rising energy costs and inflation. In that context, Budget 2023 brings a wide range of exciting and important new initiatives, supporting further growth and development in the important sectors of tourism, arts and culture, Gaeltacht, sport and media.

The aim of this Budget is to support the tourism industry to recover and grow in a sustainable way. I secured €30m continued additional funding to support tourism development at home and amongst overseas visitors.

The Budget for tourism also includes €36.5m in capital funding for tourism product development for the continued delivery of enhanced visitor experiences. This is against the back drop of cross departmental initiatives such as the Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme which will provide vital support to businesses that have experienced a significant increase in their energy costs. The details of this scheme will be finalised as part of the Finance Bill this week.

The tourism sector is also continuing to face challenges such as skills shortages. In addressing recruitment and retention of staff, officials in my Department and Fáilte Ireland continue to collaborate with industry and other Departments to coordinate measures to addressing the labour and skills shortages.

The Tourism and Hospitality Careers Oversight Group, which brings together industry representatives, state agencies, Government Departments and the education sector, has pivoted to focus on supporting the industry to address some of its immediate recruitment challenges.

Initiatives to support industry recruitment include a national marketing campaign to drive awareness of live jobs in the sector, a programme to support businesses to access people on the Live Register via the Government’s new Pathways to Work strategy as well as linking businesses with local third level students. Fáilte Ireland also launched A Transition Year Work Placement Programme to give TY students a high-quality work placement to motivate them to consider a course or career in the industry.

As part of the drive to promote tourism as an attractive sector within which to work, Fáilte Ireland has launched a new “Employer Excellence” programme to support businesses to consistently drive good employment practices, drive greater employee engagement, build the appeal of their workplace and showcase good employers across the industry.

In recent times there has been an increasing recognition that tourism growth must be sustainable, environmentally as well as commercially and socially. It has given us an opportunity to re-imagine the tourism sector-now that we have entered the recovery phase. It is becoming more and more apparent that a tourism enterprise built on sustainability principles, is good for business as it promotes longevity and further interaction with key stakeholders. Consumers are voting with their wallets and this has led to many enterprises taking steps to make their offering more sustainable, generating more business as a result. It is clear, therefore, that the industry needs to continue moving in a sustainable direction – both because of the benefits to the environment and host communities, but also to individual businesses. We must ask ourselves “How do we travel to an attraction or visitor experience?”, “How can we link into our local economies?”.

Fáilte Ireland has taken steps to address these challenges including the development of a Climate Action Playbook and a Carbon Calculator for tourism businesses. This will allow our industry to measure and understand their carbon footprint, set targets for emission reductions and benchmark their business both with themselves over time and other tourism businesses.

It is through the development of tourism experiences and attractions that we can truly leverage the global growth in tourism and ensure that Ireland – and every region – receives its share of the benefits tourism brings - socially and economically. These offerings are packaged and promoted under our world-class tourism experience brands –the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and Dublin – to ensure Ireland stands out in the international marketplace. Highlights this year have included
- Beyond the Trees Avondale
- The National Famine Museum at Strokestown, which I opened last week
- Céide Fields
- Brú na Bóinne, Knowth
As well as The Irish National Stud & Gardens which I will be visiting later this month.

Fáilte Ireland have invested over €44 million in four projects as part of the Platforms for Growth 1- Immersive Heritage and Cultural Attractions. This is the most significant investment in visitor attractions ever undertaken by Fáilte Ireland that will have far-reaching national and regional economic benefits.

Up to 8,000 direct and indirect jobs are set to be created and sustained across the regional economy over the next 10 years as a result of this investment and it’s expected over €290 million will be generated from domestic and international visitors.

These projects are -
• Fort Dunree in Donegal.
• Restoration and Interpretation of Westport House & Gardens, Co Mayo.
• This Is Ireland in Co Dublin.
• Cavan Burren and Shannon Pot.
In summary, I know that Fáilte Ireland’s approach has been to seek to deliver innovative projects that will transform visitor experiences for Ireland’s target markets, increase visitor spend and encourage visitors to spend longer in an area.

Táim muiníneach go mbeidh borrradh faoinár n-earnáil sna blianta atá romhainn mar gheall ar na leibhéil feidhmíochta agus gnóthaithe bunaithe ar áiseanna den chéad scoth, luachanna seasmhacha na timpeallachta gan mhilleadh, agus an chairdiúlacht agus an fáilte mhór a chuirtear romhainn anseo. Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.”