Head to Head: Should we discourage tourism?

Garrett Kennedy and Clodagh Healy go head to head on the topic of tourism in Ireland

YES by Garrett Kennedy

The priority of any government should be towards it citizens. The same goes for a city. Ireland is encouraging tourism which is worsening the housing crisis and eroding the culture of Dublin and other cities. We should not let this happen.

Tourism obviously has lots of economic benefits. Having people come into your country just to spend money and leave again seems like a pretty good deal right? However, it is not without its economic costs. The most obvious of these is tourism’s impact on the housing crisis.

Airbnb is the most obvious culprit for this. In March 2018, there were roughly 7,300 Airbnb listings in Dublin. That number is surely even higher now. Of course, if Airbnb was banned in Dublin, not all of those rooms would become available for renters but many would. This would make a significant dent into the problem.

This would obviously damage tourism numbers but that economic cost seems justified given the scale of the housing crisis. There are about 10,000 people homeless in Ireland right now. There are many more that are struggling to afford accommodation or trapped in apartments which are woefully inadequate.

This is a problem which needs addressing urgently, no policy should be considered too radical. If banning Airbnb gets a few families off the streets at the expense of some British stag parties not being able to vomit all over Temple Bar, that seems a price worth paying.

All of this is before we get onto the cultural cost of tourism. Even if you think the economics is all rosy, there is no escaping the fact that excessive tourism makes cities far less enjoyable to live in. Venice is literally sinking from tourism. So many locals are leaving that the city now resembles more of a living museum than an actual city. There are many restaurants in Berlin where the waiters do not even speak German because of how anglicised tourism has made the city. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world but nowadays it is mostly filled with stag parties. There are undoubtedly huge economic benefits from all of this but at what cost? If you are making the cities worse for most of the people who actually live in them then are these benefits worth it? I don’t think so.

Will Dublin get like this? It seems to be going that way. Locals are being pushed out by high rents and high prices. Cultural institutions like the Bernard Shaw are shutting down in place of hotels. All we are getting in return is another Wetherspoons, a few more tech offices, and more hotels.

It is also worth noting that Dublin is not the only part of Ireland which is suffering from excessive tourism. Kilkenny, among many other Irish cities and towns, is also becoming a popular destination for stag parties. These groups obviously spend lots of money and the local bars and hotels benefit financially from their being there. However, it ruins the nightlife for the locals who want to enjoy their city without having to interact with scores of drunk Englishmen dressed as various Disney characters, fighting or catcalling anyone in sight. There is surely a point where we accept this needs to be limited. It is either that or we believe it is acceptable for our cities to become theme parks for foreign idiots.

Obviously, not all tourism consists of stag parties. There are many tourists who are respectful, polite, and simply want to enjoy what Ireland has to offer. These tourists have good intentions but there are still large negative externalities which result from their visits.

As I’ve already said, one of the main ones is that tourism makes cities more expensive. A pint in most central Dublin pubs costs about €5.50. In Temple Bar, that goes up to about €7. The average rent in Dublin is now €1,713. The government should start incentivising developers who are building hotels to spend that money on building apartment blocks instead.

Some of the more important externalities are not economic. Excessive tourism kills the soul of a city. It replaces the beautiful dirtiness of Dublin with shiny hotels, brightly lit bars, and souvenir shops. These all stimulate the economy but change the city from a living organism full of history and people whose families have lived there for generations into an ugly playground for rich tourists.

Of course, there are many other factors contributing to all of this. Fine Gael’s apathy to everyone outside the South Dublin suburbs has as much to do with it as anything else. Nonetheless, what is certain is that the Irish government is prioritising economics over everything else and most of these economic benefits are not going to the people who need them most. Unless that changes soon, which is unlikely, limiting tourism seems a decent stopgap.

Rebuttal by Clodagh Healy

The government doesn't prioritize economics; they prioritize the easy option. The one that makes them look good now, over the long-term solution that works. The problem is affordable housing. A lot of Airbnb listings are spare rooms in the houses of people trying to make and extra few euro to support themselves.

If the Airbnb apartments did come on the rental market; what stops them from charging the outrageous prices that forced these families onto the street? Nothing. Affordable housing can be created for these families and protect our cultural sites at the same time. With so much vacant property which includes a fifth of O'Connell Street, there is plenty of room for everyone. The Irish government needs to protect sites such as the Bernard Shaw. Destroying sites like this hurts tourism as well as locals. Destroy the culture? Why would tourists come? The issue is terrible planning, not planning itself.

As much as we would all love to, we can't entirely blame the English here. The majority of antisocial behaviour comes from Irish citizens; the majority of tourists are well behaved. There is no room for violence on Dublin streets. More crime deterrents such as fines for disorderly misconduct are needed not fewer tourists. As for Venice, Dublin can't be compared. The Venice canals might be sinking, but there is no fear of the Ha'penny Bridge. Tourist money helps maintain our streets.

The people who make up the tourist industry are Irish citizens, and they need to be protected.

NO by Clodagh Healy

It is easy to listen to housing Minister Eoghan Murphy talk about putting families in emergency accommodation ahead of the tourism economy, before remembering why they are there. It is government officials like Mr Murphy that have failed this city and these families, not the tourism industry.

The housing crisis is due to many things, but tourism isn’t one of them. Since the 1980’s governments of all political persuasions have consistently underprovided social housing in Dublin. According to the Irish Examiner, 2,600 people have been waiting for accommodation on Dublin City Council’s social housing list for the last decade, with similar levels across the wider Dublin area. Had governments kept social housing as a consistent priority throughout the boom and the bust, this crisis would not have been so severe, and the government would not be looking to scapegoat tourism.

At the crux of the slow recovery of the private housing market is the cost of land and construction. Currently, apartments are not financially profitable for investors. Investors are struggling to make a profit from building apartments to rent as much as people are trying to afford the rent. Talking to Fora, the CEO of Hibernia has admitted that renting out two-bedroom apartments for €2,400 will make them little to no money because the cost of land and construction are so high, and that 'people need profits in projects'. If investors aren't making money building apartments, and tenants are struggling to afford the rent who is winning here?

The state has relied too long on the private sector to provide social housing and affordable housing. The purpose of social housing is to provide housing for people who cannot afford to provide it for themselves, and given the cost of housing, that includes a lot more people than it used to. In 2018, there were 71,858 households in need of social housing. Local Housing Authorities built only 3,233 social housing units between 2016 and the middle of 2018. The government must ramp up its own building programme.

The Government’s Action Plan for housing includes many measures designed to increase the supply of housing which thankfully includes building more houses and bringing back vacant homes into use. Progress is slow. Currently, there are calls for measures to make building land available for lower prices to developers and to make the planning process easier to navigate. The government also have to start being more proactive about land vacancy tax established under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 to ensure that vacant land in urban areas is brought to use. Dublin City Council Development Plan 2016 -2022 zoned 47 hectares of land for development, much of it for a mix of uses. This land has the potential to provide 3,650 housing units over the lifetime of the plan. The solution is to build on this land.

Overseas tourist spending has brought 1.9 billion euro into Dublin in 2018 alone. It supports close to 325,000 jobs on this Island. Tourism supports the everyday person trying to pay their rent and pay their bills. In addition, many third-level students in Dublin depend on their part-time and seasonal work in the tourism industry to fund their third-level education.

In a report by Failte Ireland, they state that Dublin is facing a deficiency of 1,000 hotel rooms. They also say that over 85% of tourist access Ireland through Dublin and if they cannot access the capital 'it’s highly likely they may not visit the country at all.' Discouraging tourism to provide housing might not seem like a bad idea - at least it gives the government an excuse for its failings - except we know it won’t solve the housing crisis. However, for a rural Ireland still grasping to stay afloat long after the recession is deemed over, every tourist counts. What Dublin does causes a ripple effect across the country.

The real issue here is the failure of government's housing policy. Restricting Airbnbs isn’t going to cut it and doing so causes unnecessary hindrance to a sector that is highly valuable to this country.  Instead let’s use the vast amount of empty property and vacant land that sits within our city just waiting to be developed - and yes, and let’s put a few hotels in there too.

Rebuttal by Garrett Kennedy

The housing crisis and excessive tourism are related, but different problems. Attempting to fix excessive tourism will obviously not fix the housing crisis but as I already stated it will surely make some kind of dent into the problem. This is true given part of the problem with the housing crisis is a lack of supply. If you put more apartments on offer to locals as opposed to tourists that should decrease rent somewhat. Obviously this does not fix the problem entirely but it does make things better. More importantly, it is not mutually exclusive with building more social housing.

The better argument my opponent offers is that this will damage communities outside Dublin. I think this is true to an extent. However, I think even if this is damaging economically, the cultural harms of excessive tourism cannot be understated. Many cities throughout Europe have economies which are hugely reliant on stag parties. I think it’s really important that we stop Dublin and other parts of Ireland from going that way.