TOURISTS ARE NO longer flocking to Ireland in large numbers, leading to the coach tourism sector to run at a loss.
Fáilte Ireland said today that the sector had seen a drop in coach-touring visitors of 16 per cent, while hire-out rates had dropped 5 per cent.
The information comes from Coach Tourism: A Sectoral Study, which drew upon a confidential questionnaire sent to 66 coach tour operators listed on www.discoverireland.ie.
Follow-up case studies of a smaller number of coach operators were undertaken by an accountant who examined their finances.
Gerry Mullins, Chief Executive of the Coach Tourism & Transport Council, described the results as “grim reading”.
The study makes grim reading, but is not a surprise. It confirms what we have said for some time; that coach tourism is going through a particularly difficult time, and that the ever-increasing tax burden placed on coach tourism companies is unjust.
Fuel is our biggest input, and the cost of diesel has shot up in recent years because of Government policy. We can’t be expected to pay more and more in fuel tax while our rates and the number of tourists in the country are down.
Mullins added that last year the Government cut the rate of VAT for hotels and restaurants, “but has only increased VAT for coach companies”
He described this as “blatantly unfair, and not healthy for the tourism industry generally”.
Our visitors deserve the most modern and comfortable coaches when touring Ireland, but because of high fuel taxes, coach companies cannot replace their vehicles, and the national fleet is ageing rapidly.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Mullins said that the recession had an impact on the number of overseas tourists visiting the country and taking coach trips, while the number of domestic visitors also dropped. “The peak year was 2008, but we saw very severe falloff in 2009, 2010 and 2011,” he said of this impact on the coach tourism sector.
He noted that there are signs of a small recovery this year. Many coach drivers are in an “impossible situation”, he said, running at a loss while paying off loans on their vehicles.
In an effort to improve the amount of people availing of coach services, coach drivers are generally not increasing fares and are taking part in tourism markets and getting involved with Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to help spread the word about their business.
The study noted there were 300,000 overseas coach tourists to Ireland in 2010, who contributed an estimated €180 million to the Irish economy.
It is fair to say that coach tourism contributes hugely to the regional distribution of spending power, the sustainability of hotels across Ireland and spreads demand across the off-peak shoulder periods.