The tourism industry is vital to Galway’s economy, employing some 15,000 people.
Despite the challenges faced as a result of Brexit, almost three quarters of hoteliers are seeing an even better start to this year than last, according to a new survey by the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF).
A strong growth in business from the US looks set to continue in 2017, with almost half of hotels and guesthouses reporting an increase from this important market.
Visitor numbers from German and French markets are proving buoyant too. A third of premises are reporting an increase in German visitors so far this year and nearly one in five are benefiting from increased business from France, with advance bookings from these markets seeming robust.
Domestic tourism is also proving positive, already this year two thirds of hotels and guesthouses are reporting an increase in business levels from home grown visitors with most also seeing a rise in advance bookings.
But Brexit looms large on the horizon, as Irish Hotels Federation Galway Branch Chairperson Rory FitzPatrick explains. 29% of hotels and guesthouses are seeing a decrease in business from Britain, with 20% seeing an increase, while just over half report no change.
British visitors accounted for €1billion in direct spending during trips to Ireland in 2015 and these customers are “the biggest single inbound market into Ireland, they’re important to every region,” says Mr FitzPatrick.
“There is no doubt that we are seeing a negative impact from Brexit and the sterling differential on 2017 bookings from our key market of Great Britain. This is before any details of what an actual split from the UK will look like and is concerning.
“It is our biggest tourism market and while we are seeing growth from other EU and long haul markets, that new growth needs to be faster and sustainable if it is to have any real prospect of replacing the value and numbers of our nearest neighbours,” says Mr Fitzpatrick, who is General Manager of Galway’s Clayton Hotel.
Tourism is one of Ireland’s largest indigenous industries, employing in excess of 220,000 people.
Mr Fitzpatrick explains, “We have seen good growth in recent years, although from a low base, and the general outlook for the year amongst our members is positive and we are on target to create a further 40,000 jobs by 2021.
“However, our industry has always been dependent on the economic conditions of our major source markets. When they sneeze, we stand to get the cold.”
But he is hopeful that the industry is “well equipped to deal with the repercussions of Brexit”, advising businesses to keep “competiveness to the fore”.
He adds, “It is critical that there is continuous new product development and marketing.
“The Wild Atlantic Way and more recently Ireland’s Ancient East show the positive impact that creative and innovative products can have on Irish tourism success, re-invigorating regional areas with new compelling reasons to visit.
“We cannot overstate the importance of keeping our tourism product fresh and relevant. It’s vital to sustaining and broadening Ireland’s appeal to existing and new source markets.”
He adds, “We’ve learned as an industry, and I think as a people, how to put our shoulder to the mill through the recession.”
The recent IHF survey shows that the vast majority of hoteliers intend to undertake some capital expenditure projects during 2017.
Most plan to refurbish and redecorate their premises while one in six intend to increase their facilities with extensions to their properties.
Mr FitzPatrick says “it’s a healthy sign” and key to delivering on consumer expectations.
When it comes to Galway, he believes, “Galway is very fortunate that we’ve got such a stunning product to attract so many people.”
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