Government urged to promote tourism
The Government has been called on to make a concerted effort to promote Irish tourism and support employment in the sector.
The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) claimed thousands of jobs are under threat unless innovative policies are implemented to develop and expand the industry.
It wants the travel tax abolished and a marketing campaign targeting the Irish market and visitors from the Far East and South America.
Mark Fielding, ISME chief executive, said the importance of the tourism sector had been downplayed for too long.
"The essential role that tourism plays in the Irish economy cannot and must not be overlooked," he said.
"The tourism industry is one of Ireland's largest and most important indigenous sectors, supporting an estimated 180,000 jobs, generating 4.6 billion euro (£4 billion) in revenue, yet the tourism industry receives no priority status from the Government and relatively little financial support."
ISME said addressing business costs and increased promotion are essential to sustain and maintain the sector. Mr Fielding called for a root and branch reform of the existing tourism agencies, grant aid for the marketing of restaurants, hotels and guesthouses, and a reduction in rates, water and waste charges.
Ireland should also be promoted as an ideal location for sporting holidays, including golf, fishing and shooting, during the upcoming London Olympics, he added.
Mr Fielding said: "Ireland has a significant offering for potential visitors, more so than many of the mainland European countries. We are still seen as 'green' environmentally, with exceptional scenery and excellent golfing and other sporting facilities.
"The potential that the Irish diaspora presents together with cultural, heritage and genealogy tourism must be the focus of our international marketing with additional resources directed to this crucial area."