To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to the Department of Justice’s extension and continuation of the visa waiver scheme, the value of this to the tourism industry in Ireland; if he will provide details of the way the tourist agencies intend to take advantage of this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Anthony Lawlor.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 28th March, 2012. Ref No: 16545/12

Answered by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar:

The Deputy’s question relate to the potential offered to the tourism industry in Ireland by tourism from China and other BRIC markets, as well as from the visa waiver scheme.

The recent visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was a wonderful opportunity to showcase Ireland to potential holidaymakers in China. A large media contingent travelled with Mr Xi, bringing the story and images of the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle, Riverdance and Dublin to a huge audience of potential holidaymakers in China. The Deputy can be assured that Tourism Ireland is working to maximise the tourism potential of the visit.

The visit, along with initiatives such as the visa waiver, provide opportunities to expand beyond traditional markets and look to the long-term opportunities presented by developing markets such as the BRIC countries, particularly China, India and the Middle East. Earlier this year, Tourism Ireland announced a new strategy to attract more high-spending visitors from the emerging tourism markets of Brazil and Russia building on the existing focus on China, India and the Gulf States. The organisation targets potential holidaymakers in these markets by working closely with airlines and tour operators to increase exposure and demand for holidays to Ireland.

The benefits of the visa waiver scheme are already apparent and this was reflected in the decision by my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality to extend the scheme. Tourism Ireland has been working hard to maximise the benefits of the scheme, promoting it to travel trade contacts, industry partners and to consumers through an extensive programme of marketing activity and media relations in relevant markets. Since the visa waiver scheme was introduced here by the Government last year, there has been a noted increase in demand from tour operators for visits to Ireland.

Already 24 new tour operators and travel agents (9 from China, 10 from India, 5 from the Gulf States) who already programme the UK are programming the Republic of Ireland in 2012 for the first time on the back of the new Visa arrangements. Further growth is anticipated for 2013.

However, we must be realistic. The majority of our overseas visitors come from the core source markets of Great Britain, North America and Mainland Europe and this will continue to be the case for some years. Our focus is on creating sustainable growth in revenues across all markets rather than dramatic growth in any one market.