5. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on discussions held on the 28 November 2012 of the North/South Ministerial Council meeting in Armagh on tourism and Tourism Ireland Limited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 57752/12 asked on 20 Dec 2012)

(Deputy Michael Ring): I attended the 13th meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in tourism sectoral format in Armagh on 28 November. The Northern Ireland Executive was represented by Ms Arlene Foster, MLA, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and Ms Carál Ní Chuilín, MLA, Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Tourism Ireland’s chairman, vice chairman and chief executive officer also attended.  

The meeting provided a good opportunity to discuss tourism performance for the island of Ireland to date in 2012, including the overseas marketing highlights of the year.  In terms of the future, Tourism Ireland’s business plan for 2013 was discussed.  We also had a very useful exchange on major tourism events and initiatives planned for next year. Obviously, our main focus is on The Gathering, while the focus in Northern Ireland will primarily be on Derry-Londonderry’s designation as United Kingdom city of culture and the World Police and Fire Games which are being held in Belfast. A paper dealing specifically with the Great Britain market was also discussed. The work of the tourism recovery task force was welcomed and agreement made that the recommendations of the GB Path to Growth strategy will be implemented by Tourism Ireland in 2013 and beyond.  

The meeting also provided me with the opportunity to invite the Ministers, Ms Foster and Ms Ní Chuilín, and their relevant officials to EU Presidency-related events we will be hosting next year. It was agreed to hold the next tourism sectoral meeting next spring.

Deputy Sandra McLellan: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Tourism is specifically identified in the Good Friday Agreement as one of the key areas for North-South co-operation and consequently one in respect of which the North-South Ministerial Council meets in sectoral format. The aim of the council in this particular format is to make decisions on areas of common policies and approaches specifically as they relate to tourism. These include policies and actions to be implemented by Tourism Ireland, the body with responsibility for promoting the island of Ireland overseas as a tourist destination.

The previous meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in tourism sectoral format took place on 25 January 2012. Among the issues on the agenda at the most recent meeting of the council, on 28 November in Armagh, were, as the Minister of State indicated, Tourism Ireland’s business plan for 2013, major tourism opportunities North and South in 2013 and a review of this year’s visitor numbers to the island of Ireland. Will he elaborate on some of the discussions that took place in regard to the business plan and the tourism opportunities?

The Minister of State mentioned the tourism recovery task force that was formed early in 2011 with the aim of ensuring growth in inbound tourism. It includes representatives of Fáilte Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland and is expected to make recommendations to the council. Will the Minister of State provide specific details of the recommendations made for 2013?

Deputy Michael Ring: It was a great experience for me to attend my first meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in tourism sectoral format. In particular, I was pleasantly surprised at the way in which participants worked so closely together. Both North and South, we are all aware of the importance of tourism to the island as a whole. We spoke about upcoming major events in the sector, including The Gathering, the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast next year and Derry’s designation as the United Kingdom’s city of culture for 2013. We also discussed the efforts being made to win back some of the British market. Despite a very successful 2012 in general, the reduction in the number of British visitors represented a weak link, particularly given that it is the most important market for both North and South. In addition, we discussed the business programme to be put in place for next year, which will include an aggressive marketing campaign in Britain to win back some of the visitors we have lost in recent years.

The most pleasant aspect of this discussion was the evidence of how well we are all working together, the common denominator being our desire to attract people to the island as a whole. I was delighted to have the opportunity to engage in discussions with the Deputy’s colleague, Ms Ní Chuilín. I have invited both Minister, Ms Ní Chuilín and Ms Foster, to participate in the major tourism conference that will take place from 7 to 9 March, inclusive, during Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union. We hope to assist them in any way we can, and vice versa, in meeting our joint objective of attracting visitors to the island.