Hotel and guesthouse owners in Mayo and across the country are reporting a good start to the year, according to an industry survey undertaken by the Irish Hotels Federation.
Most are forecasting an increase in business levels for 2018 with an improvement in advance bookings from domestic and key overseas markets. This is helping to offset the drop in bookings from the UK, Ireland’s largest market, where visitor numbers continue to fall, while the high cost of doing business, including insurance, continues to be a major concern.
Seven in 10 hoteliers say their overall business levels are up compared to this time last year, with a similar number reporting an increase in advance bookings for the remainder of the year.
Business levels from the US look set to remain strong with more than half of hoteliers surveyed reporting an increase in business from this market. Visitor numbers are up too from continental Europe, with almost a third reporting an increase in business from Germany and nearly a quarter seeing a rise from France.
Closer to home the domestic market remains buoyant with almost seven in 10 hoteliers experiencing an increase in home-grown business. However, in contrast, the UK market remains a significant concern with more than half of hoteliers reporting a drop compared to this time last year, and almost four in 10 seeing a drop from Northern Ireland.
Darren Madden, chair of the Mayo branch of the Irish Hotels Federation, says overall hoteliers are confident about the outlook for 2018, but not complacent.
“The increase in business levels that we are seeing from key international markets and from within Ireland itself, following on from strong growth in recent years, gives us some confidence," he says.
"However, the negative effect on visitor numbers from the weakened sterling and uncertainty over Brexit reminds us that we’re an island nation, dependent on the vagaries of other, larger economies, and there is never room for complacency. Tourism currently supports 4,400 jobs in Mayo and contributes some €204 million to the local economy annually.
“We operate in a price sensitive sector where we compete with the UK for overseas visitors. A sustained fall in sterling could have a negative effect on visitor numbers from other markets who may opt instead to go to the UK."
Cost-competitiveness is critical, he says.
"Government cannot influence the economic conditions affecting other countries, but there is a wide policy range of measures within their control that can enhance competitiveness. The nine per cent VAT rate and zero travel tax, for example, have been hugely significant in underpinning the recovery of the tourism sector."
However, he says, more needs to be done to bring down the high costs that are stifling business in Ireland, such as insurance, where the costs are now so high they are a significant concern for almost nine in 10 hoteliers.
“It is important there is a continued commitment to enhancing and developing the experiences that we offer visitors from at home and overseas," he says. " The hotel sector has an important role to play here and, as our member survey highlights, most hoteliers across the country are planning to invest in their properties this year, from expansion in some cases, to refurbishment, or investing in new technology to upgrade existing operational and guest services."