Overseas tourists spend one fifth of their vacation spend on food and drink, highlighting the significance of the hospitality industry to our tourism economy.
As set out in People, Place and Policy – Growing Tourism to 2025, the Government aims to raise overseas tourism revenue to €5 billion in real terms from the €3.3 billion/€3.5 billion generated from overseas visitors in 2013/2014.
A new DIGI report from Economist Tony Foley cites the 2015 Government tourism strategy in the context of 8,098 pubs and hotel bars as well as 2,458 restaurants dotted around the country in 2014.
The Contribution of the drinks industry to Tourism updates previous such reports published in 2013 and 2014.
The role of on-licensed premises in the tourism drive
Irish pubs have a major part to play in the tourism drive.
2014 saw 7,457 public houses and 641 hotel bars in addition to 2,458 restaurants according to licensing data from the Revenue Commissioners.
Research from Fáilte Ireland in 2013 found pubs to be the fourth-ranked positive feature of the Irish tourism experience for overseas visitors after people, scenery and culture/history.
The DIGI report makes the point that the latter three are “deeply imbedded or natural features of the tourism product. In a sense they are not specifically policy or enterprise determined features unlike the pubs which are enterprise determined”.
Fáilte Ireland’s 2013 research also asked overseas tourists to identify the Irish tourism aspects they desired to experience that influenced their decision to visit Ireland. In this case the top-ranking response was “an Irish pub” with 80% mentions.
The research also asked overseas visitors to identify those tourism elements in which they’d participated or visited during their stay. From this, “listened to Irish music in a pub” emerged as the highest-ranked response, experienced by 83% of the survey respondents.
It rose to 88% for North American visitors.
After “visiting a coastal town” (82%), “tasted Guinness” ranked third with a 79% response.
Yet the Irish pub seldom gets the credence or kudos it deserves in the country’s national tourism policy drive, with Fáilte Ireland only obliquely mentioning pubs, drinks or craic in its promotional literature.
“Fáilte Ireland’s own research shows the Irish pub as one of the key attractions for tourists yet they’re not getting the message out there regarding the importance of the Irish family-run pub to the tourism industry and there’s little consultation by the tourist agencies with the pub trade,” agrees VFI President Noreen O’Sullivan, “This needs to be rectified so that the overall tourism industry can benefit. The pub is crucial to this country’s tourism offering and as tourism continues to play a big part in our recovery our industry has a duty to ensure every visitor’s experience is joyous, positive and valued.
“It’s the pub which attracts the visitors back to our shores every year.
“The vast majority of pubs have focused on changed offerings, gastric pubs, craft beers, Irish whiskey, music and the cead mile fáilte, ensuring that when a tourist visits the pub they’re enjoying an enhanced experience and are getting value for money.”
Festival tourism and the drinks industry
The DIGI’s report also emphasises that the drinks industry is a major supporter of many events, particularly the larger international ones and that the drinks industry is a major business sponsor of festivals.
As for sports, it’s estimated that drinks industry sponsorship of sports in 2012 was about €35 million.
Yet this contribution to the tourism draw remains largely unrecognised by Government.
The drinks industry as tourist attraction
The largest fee-paying tourist attraction in Ireland last year was the Guinness Storehouse which has not only topped the list of visitor attractions every year except for 2010 but has just been named ‘Europe’s leading tourist attraction’.
The drinks industry’s visitor attractions are particularly important in overseas tourism, points out the DIGI report.
“Based on industry information, 91% of the Old Jameson Distillery/Midleton Jameson Experience visitors were from overseas with 43% from the US, 13% from Germany and 10% from France,” states DIGI.
“The overseas share was 93% for the Guinness Storehouse in 2012.”
The DIGI, too, is concerned about this lack of profile for the wider drinks industry in the tourism drive.
“It’s a core part of the Irish tourism offer,” commented DIGI Secretary and LVA Chief Executive Dónall O’Keeffe, “It ranges from some of the best tourism attractions in Ireland to the emerging craft beer and distilling sector to our iconic brands to our world class pubs.”
Once again, the industry is attempting to re-engage with the state agencies to address these issues.
Drinks brands and international profile
High profile high quality international Irish brands such as Guinness, Jameson and Baileys also contribute to the positive profile of Ireland.
“Drinks products are associated with leisure, relaxation and the hospitality industry which adds to the tourism promotion effect,” states the DIGI report, “These are all recognised as high quality premium products. They are directly associated with Ireland and generate a positive impression of the country from a tourism perspective.”
The report adds, “The presence of Irish pubs in many foreign cities also contributes to the awareness of Ireland as a location associated with hospitality and relaxation”.
In stark contrast to this growth and optimism for our export markets the outlook for our industry here in Ireland is extremely concerning, pointed out Irish Distillers Chairman and Chief Executive Anna Malmhake in a recent statement.
In advocating that some slack be cut the drinks industry by the Government in relation to Ireland’s exorbitant excise tax and its effect on tourists, jobs and tourists’ perceptions of Irish drinks brands, she states, “The penal excise increases on alcohol accumulated since 2013 endanger the export success of indigenous products such as Irish whiskey as well as the 92,000 jobs being supported by the drinks industry in every county throughout Ireland.
“In fact Ireland is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy Irish whiskey.
“We regularly receive queries from visitors wondering why it’s so expensive to buy Jameson here. One has to ask, how sustainable is the current international growth of Irish whiskey without a solid local market in which to support home grown brands as well as new market entrants.”
Public houses are identified as “an advantage that positively distinguishes Ireland by 22% of overseas tourists, states DIGI.
In summary the drinks industry contributes to tourism through:
- the extensive and geographically-spread network of public houses and other full on-licensed premises providing services and facilities
- substantial contribution to the visitor experience
- financial and other support for festivals tourism
- financial and other support for sports events
- direct provision of major tourism attractions such as the Guinness Storehouse, Old Jameson Distillery and other visitor centres
- the generation of positive international awareness of Ireland through major global and international brands which have a particular association with Ireland such as Baileys, Guinness, Jameson and Magners which complement the international tourism marketing spend.
So shouldn’t the country’s national tourism agency become more involved than at present?
LVA Chairman Oliver Hughes certainly seems to think so.
“The simplistic and erroneous approach to alcohol (missing the education element) by some groups results in some government organisations sitting on the fence in respect of the Irish pub,” he told Drinks Industry Ireland, “This attitude is detrimental to the economy because the Irish pub is unique but under threat and needs support”.