Playing to embarrassing national stereotype?

Leading figures in the drinks and hospitality industries gathered in Dublin’s Camden Court Hotel last month to discuss DCU economist Tony Foley’s report on The Contribution of the Drinks Industry to Tourism and discuss its findings. Enid O’Dowd reports.

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1 October 2014 | 0

 

A new report, ‘The Contribution of the Drinks Industry to Tourism, was launched at a debate in the Camden Court Hotel recently between leading tourism stakeholders on the relationship between the hospitality and drinks industry in Ireland and the country’s tourist offering. It was facilitated by Professor Kevin Rafter and the event, entitled Ireland’s tourism offer – are our hospitality and drinks industries unique resources or do they play into an embarrassing national stereotype? was hosted by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland as part of its ‘Support your local…’ campaign.

In launching his report, Tony Foley stressed that his statistics came from official sources like Fáilte Ireland and Revenue, so the results were bona fide and not open to query on the basis that the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland had commissioned the research as part of its ‘Support your Local Campaign.’

He explained that Fáilte Ireland had asked tourists before they visited Ireland what they hoped to do and 83% wanted to visit an Irish pub. After their visit, when asked about their actual holiday activities, 80% reported ‘listening to Irish music in a pub.’

Pubs came in fourth (22%) in the list of positive holiday experiences after people (53%), scenery (46%) and culture/history (38%). He pointed out that the first three are natural features of the tourism product, not specifically policy- or enterprise-determined as are pubs.

He said that there were 7,315 pubs (see panel 2) spread out over the country forming a network for people to interact with others – a network that was now more important given the number of post offices closing which had once been centres of community interaction. Given the uncertain Irish weather, the shelter role of the pub is also important!

Tony Foley’s findings endorse the 2012 Lonely Planet Guide’s comment that ‘going to the pub’ is the greatest experience a tourist can have in Ireland.

One negative – the report showed that tourists ranked the price of drink joint-third at 9% in their list of negatives. This long-running gripe about the cost of drink in Ireland is addressed in the panel comments below.

 

Comments from the panel discussion facilitated by Professor Kevin Rafter:

  • Need to uncouple good drink and bad drink. Tourism and hospitality go hand-in-hand. We mustn’t kill the good part which contributes so much to the economy due to social issues. The research shows tourists don’t report they come here to get drunk.
  • Tourists come for history and culture, not the drink. They want the pub for conversation and interaction.
  • The panel agreed that the ball was in the Government’s court regarding binge-drinking; promises had been made – but no action. The Government had passed the 2008 Licensing Act which could tackle below-cost selling of alcohol but no commencement order has been signed. Why is there no political will to do so?
  • Drinks industry makes a huge contribution to tourism product.
  • Cultural tourism is a possible growth area and brings in higher-spending tourists. The drinks industry is a serious sponsor of festivals (see panel 3) and also of sport which attracts tourists. Unfortunately there’s no Gathering this year. Maybe an events CEO would be helpful to encourage events. Cultural events can extend the tourist season.
  • Lots of pubs are historic sites themselves giving the potential for development.
  • We need to encourage tourists out of Dublin. The Wild Atlantic Way is a great innovation.
  • We could do more were it not for oppressive taxes hindering competitiveness.
  • Due to tax, gin is cheaper in Wisconsin than in Dingle.
  • International price comparisons are meaningless without context. Tax differences and lower minimum wages are the reason for Irish prices being higher than elsewhere.
  • SOLAS should have a Hospitality Department to raise the status of hospitality. Since 2011 30,000 jobs have been created in hospitality. Currently 11% of the workforce is in hospitality yet the Government sees these jobs as lesser jobs.Young people need to see the excellent career prospects there.
  • Ireland is streets ahead of other countries in providing infrastructure for tourism and we should say so; we should believe in ourselves.

 

The panel discussion was observed by a number of journalists including this one. The industry experts criticised the media but very politely! Their beef was – why do the media sometimes react negatively to positive news about the drinks industry?

The first example cited was the new Whisky Museum, to open later this year opposite the main entrance to Trinity College, which was not seen as a positive initiative creating jobs. Ailbhe Roche explained that Enterprise Ireland had not supported the project financially; it had suffered from red tape and planning problems and was a year behind the original schedule, but she hoped to open on October 31st.

Paul Carty, Managing Director of the Guinness Storehouse agreed. He could not understand why people complained about the Queen visiting the Guinness Storehouse, asking why she had been taken there.

“The Storehouse is a world class product and nobody should have to defend the decision to take Her Majesty there.”

The statistics back up Paul Carty’s comment. The Storehouse was the top fee-charging attraction in 2013 with close to 1.2 million visitors, way ahead of other tourist venues.

Perhaps things are changing. Tony Foley’s report made the RTE news and the print media gave it good coverage.

Hopefully the new Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Paschal Donohoe will read this report and put up a fight for the industry at the Budget 2015 negotiations.

The panel were unanimous that –

  • the 9% VAT rate must be retained as it has been a huge success
  • the 2013 excise hike should be reversed
  • below-cost selling of drink should be stopped.

While the experts were confident that the Minister understands the benefit of the lower VAT rate there was a caveat: if, as many observers predict, there will be limited income tax cuts in the budget, these have to be paid for and a soft target could be a further increase in excise duty on wine.

As the tourism industry is expected to be a major source of economic development and employment growth over the coming years (see panel 4) let’ s hope that Ministers Noonan and Donohoe leave the drinks industry alone in the Budget. A ‘thankyou’ for its contribution to the tourism industry would not be unappreciated….

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