Paul Kelly is Chief Executive Officer of Fáilte Ireland and was in conversation with Joan Scales, Editor ITTN Ireland
What has been the feedback from the tourism industry after the first few weeks being open?
The feedback from industry is positive; people are pleased. There has been a good level of activity out there. In general, it is stronger than last summer and obviously very different in some parts of the country. Dublin, Cork and Limerick are more challenged than the traditional summer hotspots. People in the industry are also worried about the autumn and winter, not having much sense of what to expect.
How did hospitality and tourism providers cope with opening sooner than expected?
People were happy to get back to work and they coped with opening. However, there are significant challenges in getting staff. There are a lot of new people in the business. And a lot of people left the business.
What have Fáilte Ireland being doing to help with recruitment and training?
We have been running lots and lots of courses to train people, and training trainers too. There are a lot of new people that need to be trained. Existing staff that have been out of work for a year or more also need training and upskilling. Training is provided by Failte Ireland and most of it is online now. We have a significant training programme to support businesses and for professional development.
With such successful years in tourism, had Ireland become dependent on foreign staff for the hospitality industry?
A lot of foreign staff have gone home and we have lost people to other sectors, like retail, pharmaceuticals and other industries. People could not get mortgages on the Pandemic payment or wage subsides. This has led to extra challenges this year.
We had a good mix of both Irish and foreign nationals in the industry. Staffing challenges are not just in Ireland, but all across Europe. And while the salaries and wages are good in Ireland the cost of living and accommodation is high.
What is being done to try and get international business back?
Tourism Ireland are ramping up their marketing efforts and working with the international airline industry to try to get as much aviation back as soon as it is safe to do so.
Fáilte Ireland is working with the hospitality industry to make sure they are ready for business and helping to get digital and online presence as good as it can be.
Do you think the nine percent VAT rate should be maintained?
We really welcomed the extension of the nine percent VAT rate to September, but would like to see it at that rate made permanent. It is the right competitive rate to put us in the midst of VAT across Europe.
The Government and the tourism industry want to bring in the living wage and provide better working conditions for employees. This rate will help us stay competitive.
What about the failure rate in the tourism industry this past year?
It is true that certain businesses will not return, some have already closed. And every closure is a tragedy. It is going to continue being challenging until international business returns to Ireland, which will not be until at least spring next year.
Businesses are going to need support from Government and from us, to keep going until that revenue begins to return. Reserves this winter will be much lower than last. But those relying on overseas visitors and attractions and city centre hotels are really teetering on the brink. Government support needs to stay in place to help them.
What about future plans from Fáilte Ireland to attract visitors to Ireland?
Before the pandemic happened, we have been working on the Programme for Growth. We identified that we have a range of visitor attractions but what were is missing is large immersive, iconic ones that can really transform areas.
The programme attracted almost 200 original ideas, and we went through a process to narrow down the potential ones. The projects chosen had to be the right idea, have the location, management and economics for us to invest in them.
Fáilte Ireland’s investment is €44.3 million matched with €28 million from the projects. Two of projects are with Fáilte Ireland and local authorities and the other two are partnerships with private companies. The projects that made the final list are Shannon Pot & Cavan Burren Park, ‘This is Ireland’ North City Centre, Fort Dunree & Head, Buncrana and Westport House Estate & Gardens.
The conference, convention and business travel market has been a big player in the major cities, do you think it will take long to come back, or have work practices changed with video conferencing?
There are two types of business traveller, the first is the non-promotable. They are people coming to visit companies and they will be slower to come back. They can do more online now and their companies may be happy to add the travel and expenses costs to the bottom line.
There is significant growth in Dublin particularly in the Foreign Direct Investment companies. There is and will be a big expansion in that workforce. There may be less travel but there will be more people.
The other side of the business travel market is the promotable business, those that come here for conventions, conferences, to network and make new relationships. The lead in time is longer, but our sales team did not stop last year and Ireland has banked over €100 million in forward events. Every business delegate is worth multiples of a leisure traveller. There is over €1 billion pipeline of this type of business out there for the next 10 years and Ireland is bidding for it.
How long do you think it will take to get back to the record year of 2019?
It will probably take until about 2025 to see figures like we had in 2019. It will all depend on how aviation goes. Playing the eternal optimist, maybe we will have that V-shaped recovery once we get enough people vaccinated globally. People have a lot of pent-up savings and a lot of pent-up demands, then things could bounce back sooner.