Licensed premises form a major element of the Irish tourism product, states the DIGI’s new report The Contribution Of The Drinks Industry To Tourism, Festivals And Sport which updates previous reports on the subject in 2005 and 2009.
The on-trade presently comprises 7,616 pubs, 931 hotel and other bars and 2,017 restaurants with wine licences and 416 with full licences.
Rural bars in particular “provide physical facilities and services for tourists and contribute to the tourism experience in a positive and significant way. This is particularly so in light of the poor quality of public facilities in many areas and the often bad Irish weather conditions”.
Pubs provide food, hot meals and entertainment specifically for tourists.
“This regional spread of public houses and other licensed premises facilitates the geographic spread of tourism and supports regional development,” claims the DIGI.
The pub remains the most widely-used facility for meals by overseas tourists, an extensively available source of hospitality, personal services, food and information provided without any Government support.
Indeed the pub is mentioned by seven per cent of all visitors as a positive distinguising feature of Ireland.
“Public houses were the fifth-ranked positive feature of the Irish tourism experience,” notes the report, “Public houses did not feature in the disadvantages”.
The drinks and hospitality industries are the main sources of festival sponsorship providing almost half of all sponsorship.
In fact the top two sources of funding cited are ‘publicans, restaurants, hotels and other hospitality: 27 per cent of all festival sponorship’ and ‘breweries and distillers: 21 per cent of all festival sponsorship’.
In contrast, banks and building societies provide only six per cent of commercial sponsorship.
The drinks industry not only lends direct financial support to many festivals and to cultural tourism, it also provides non-monetary assistance eg advertising and promotion, facilities and expertise.
But while admitting the relevant events might well continue in the absence of such support from the industry, the DIGI points out, “It is reasonable to expect that the scale and economic impact of many festivals and other events would be lessened in the absence of drinks industry support and that necessary financial support could be diverted from other desirable programmes”.
The industry is a major supporter of sports events including GAA, rugby and horseracing where – at almost one-quarter of all horse racing sponsorship (sourced from outside the racing/bloodstock industry) – it’s the largest single largest sponsor. However the absolute amount of industry sponsorship has declined due to the recession in the economy.
Again, the DIGI report admits, “Even if there was no sponsorship most, if not all, of these sporting events would continue but not with the same level of public interest”.
The additional finance needed to replace the sponsorship could be diverted from other desirable programmes.
The industry directly provides some of the country’s tourist attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Jameson Distillery, “significan features of the Irish tourism product”.
The Guinness Storehouse was the second-largest fee-charging tourism attraction in the country after Dublin Zoo last year having been ranked top in previous years. It’s the largest international visitor attraction, generating 180 million global media impressions a year.
It attracted 930,000 visitors last year of which 92 per cent were from overseas. A similar overseas percentage applied to the 208,800 who visited The Old Jameson Distillery, the 12th-ranked attraction and other such visitor experiences around the country .
All of the above generate a positive international awareness of Ireland as do global brands such as Guinness, Baileys and Jameson. These contribute greatly to the awareness of Ireland as a location associated with hospitality and relaxation and supplement the marketing effort.
“The presence of Irish pubs in many foreign cities also contributes to the awareness of Ireland as a location associated with hospitality and relaxation,” states the report.
However international recession has damaged tourism’s substantial economic role over the years since 2007. Overseas visitor numbers dropped from eight million in 2007 to just six million in 2010.
Foreign exchange earnings from tourism totalled €4.9 billion in 2007 which fell to just €3.9 billion in 2009. Domestic tourism added another €1.4 billion to this.
In 2009 the tourism tax take topped €1.3 billion comprising a foreign tourism take of €900 million and a domestic one of €400 million. Foreign exchange receipts from tourism were 2.6 per cent of total exports of goods and services. In addition, tourism activity has lower import content than most other exports. Fáilte Ireland estimates that tourism represented 3.8 per cent of GNP in 2009 with the broader tourism sector providing 190,000 jobs (admittedly a substantial decline since 2007).
Despite tourism facing substantial economic difficulties here with high domestic costs, high unemployment and lower disposable incomes providing a weak business enviroment for domestic tourism, the Government intends that tourism will play a major role in the recovery of employment and economic activity over the next few years.
Domestic tourism will also be important as a source of domestic demand and employment and as a means of reducing foreign holidays by Irish people.
According to the DIGI report, “The first quarter of 2011 has brought the first signs of a tourism recovery. Foreign trips to Ireland increased by 8.6 per cent in the first three months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. There are reasonable expectations that this recovery will continue in the second quarter of 2011”.
The DIGI points out that drink-related activities form a substantial part of the tourism/leisure experience. If tourism is vital to our recovery then the drinks industry has a substantial role to play in this going forward.