Fáilte Ireland last year spent €441,802 (incl VAT) marketing and advertising the Government's 'stay and spend’ scheme.

That is according to new figures provided by Fáilte Ireland to co-leader of the Social Democrats, Catherine Murphy.

The tourism body confirmed that the spend was on marketing and advertising activity to the 'Business to Business' and 'Business to Consumer' audiences.

‘Stay and Spend’ was introduced in October to boost hotels, bars and restaurants by offering tax relief on money spent in the sector. 

It was initially expected to cost the Government about €270 million, based on total spending by some 2.15 million consumers of about €1 billion. 

However, the scheme flopped amid tightening Covid-19 restrictions which closed much of the hospitality sector during the three months of the operation of the scheme in 2020.

Now, the latest figures provided by the Revenue Commissioners show that a total of 49,765 receipts have been uploaded to the Revenue Receipts Tracker. 

A Revenue spokesman stated: "The expenditure recorded on these receipts amounts to just over €8 million and, assuming all such expenditure is claimed and qualifies in full for tax relief, the potential tax cost is approximately €1.6 million."

Commenting on the initiative, Deputy Murphy stated that the spirit of the incentive "was well intentioned".

"Unfortunately the timing of it really raises a question in relation to the strategy of Government to realistically manage appropriately the rolling restriction we have endured.

"The stop-start nature of hospitality for the past year has had a detrimental impact on the sector," said Ms Murphy.

The Deputy stated if the scheme is extended, "hopefully the amount spent by Fáilte Ireland to date in relation to the scheme is recoverable in that way".

Well-known Lahinch hotelier Michael Vaughan described the scheme as "misconceived" in how it was drawn up.

The former President of the Irish Hotels Federation said it was not a universal scheme and did not allow all citizens of the State to access it.

"It went against the grain of the State mantra surrounding Covid that 'we are all in it together’.

"If we were all in it together, the benefits of the scheme should have been able to have been enjoyed by all households not households limited to a higher income which was the case," said Mr Vaughan.

Mr Vaughan said that it was a very limited scheme "given the large swathes of the population who have been on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and they in particular wouldn’t have been able to avail of the scheme."

He stated that the scheme "would need to be broadened considerably and simplified to be successful at all".

Mr Vaughan said that a voucher-based system would have worked much better.

"There would have been huge PR value to have a vouch delivered to each household.

"To my mind the biggest flaw is that it wasn’t open to all householders in the State for the times that are in it.

"Some people would have felt marginalised because they didn’t have the ability to use it," he added.

On the Fáilte Ireland spend, Mr Vaughan stated: "It would unthinkable if a scheme like that wasn’t accompanied by an appropriate spend by the relevant state tourism agency."