There is a mismatch between the green image of Ireland being sold to tourists and the reality that greets them when they arrive, Fáilte Ireland's environmental unit manager Paddy Mathews said yesterday.
He said a survey found that 80 per cent of visitors who came here last year were drawn by the scenery, and the vast majority were satisfied by what they saw.
However, the same visitors' attitudes survey found that 60 per cent of tourists believed the streets were cleaner in their own countries. Only 39 per cent agreed that the litter bins in Irish towns were emptied regularly.
"There's a mismatch between image and reality, between some of the images which are peddled in the marketplace and what we are actually serving up when they arrive," said Mr Mathews.
He was speaking at a conference on planning and heritage organised by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.
Mr Mathews said while tourists may continue to come to Ireland in the short term even if the image and reality did not match, this could not continue in the long term. "The environmental image will track environmental quality."
He also called on tourism providers to look at their own environmental performance and reduce any negative impacts.
Mr Mathews pointed to a reluctance among some tourism providers to carry environmental rating labels because they feared that it suggested a reduction in quality, luxury and standards.
Earlier the conference heard that some people were using heritage as a weapon to stop planning developments.
Tim Carey, heritage officer with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, said he regularly received calls from people asking if there was heritage in a certain area. "When the conversation continues it becomes apparent that their only interest in heritage is that it will stop the development."
He pointed to the proposed prison site at Thornton Hall, and said there had recently been "a huge increase" in interest in the heritage of the Co Dublin area.
"Was it because they particularly cared about the heritage of the area, or was it because people wanted to find something that would stop the development of the new prison?"
Mr Carey warned that the use of heritage to stifle development "rarely advances the cause of that heritage".
While much attention had focused on the damage caused to heritage by large infrastructural developments, it was the smaller residential and commercial schemes that had a larger incremental effect, "something akin to death by a thousand cuts".
The conference heard a call from Prof Gabriel Cooney of the UCD school of archaeology for a national landscape policy.
He said archaeology and landscape was often only considered when a problem arose in a development, such as the proposed motorway through Meath.
A national policy would help to avoid such controversies by elevating the profile of landscape issues and informing decision-making.
The conference continues today.
The Irish Times