In a submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sports and Media, the leading representative body put forward a number of proposals – to include increased marketing investment, enhanced regional infrastructure, and the need for parity of treatment on equivalent VAT rates
The country’s leading representative body for commercial bus operators, the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland (CTTC) has issued a number of recommendations to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sports and Media, citing the need to prioritise sustained investment in rural tourism to help bolster consumer confidence in group transport and provide a much-needed boost to regional economies.
The recommendations – which were issued via a submission to the Committee’s Chairperson, Deputy Niamh Smyth – pertained to a number of key issues for the sector. These included the need to direct marketing funding for coach tourism towards key markets such as Central Europe and the United States. The CTTC has long called for increased funding for this purpose, and was buoyed by the Government’s recent decision to allocate €15 million to Fáilte Ireland initiatives as part of Budget 2023. While the announcement was welcomed, the CTTC asserts the need for this funding to be strategically dispersed towards the regions which tend to attract the majority of coach tourists. A recent survey confirmed that 58% of coach tourists visiting Ireland come from North America, while 18% come from Mainland Europe.
In addition, the CTTC is recommending greater engagement between transport stakeholders and Local Authorities, to better understand the distinction between the requirements of scheduled bus services versus touring coaches. Touring coaches generally require dedicated parking facilities, as well as adequate and fully accessible service stations for passengers. The representative body highlighted the example of France, where the vast majority of service areas are equipped with adequate refuelling facilities, allowing for the delivery of a best-in-class service.
As part of its submission, the CTTC is also urging the Irish Government to rectify the existing disparity of taxation treatment between operations in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Currently, while operators in Northern Ireland benefit from a zero percent VAT rate – allowing them to reclaim all their operational and other inputs – coach tour operators in the Republic are unable to claim back VAT on simlar expenditure. This has led to increasing number of coaches from Northern Ireland being used for the provision of coach tours in the Republic. While acknowledging that Ireland must have strict compliance with the EU VAT Directive, the representative body notes the potential for negotiation on this issue.
Speaking today, Chairperson of the CTTC, John Halpenny said: “The CTTC is pleased to have the opportunity to make this submission to the Committee, and I would like to thank the Chairperson and Committee Members for their invitation to do so. The private bus and coach sector plays a pivotal role in attracting two million international visitors to Ireland each year and is key to the provision of tourism services in Ireland – helping to sustain regional and rural economies throughout every corner of the country. Our tourism product is one which our members take enormous satisfaction in delivering, and so we are keen to ensure that every available resource is deployed to aid the development of rural tourism.
Based on extensive consultation with our members, it is clear that consumer confidence in group transport has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, and this is particularly pertinent as we enter the winter months, as these concerns may be exacerbated given public health warnings. The CTTC believes that consistent, strategic investment in marketing Ireland abroad, enhanced and fully accessible service facilities along major tourist routes, and a commitment to rectifying the present disparity in VAT rates between operators in the North and South will go a long way to creating a rural tourism offering that we can all take pride in”.