Boom to Bust in the blink of an eye
In 2019 tourism was Ireland’s largest indigenous industry and biggest regional employer. The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) estimate that revenue has fallen by 90% in the last 12 months with a staggering 160,000 job losses in the sector. Within the Government’s own Path Ahead plan it is acknowledged on page 16 that the tourism sector is the industry hit hardest by the Covid crisis.
The collapse has been vertiginous and shocking and thousands of businesses are teetering on the brink.
In that context Government must intervene in a catastrophic market failure not of the industry’s own making. ITIC welcomes Government support to date and acknowledges that crucial schemes such as the EWSS and CRSS have now been extended to June 30th, as has the commercial rates waiver, but more will be needed. These supports will need to continue for the whole calendar year and business continuity grants through Fáilte Ireland will need to be topped up urgently to ensure the oxygen of cash is allocated to tourism enterprises.
Remarkably within the new Path Ahead plan – and despite Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan being at the press briefing – there was no mention of restoring international connectivity. As an island nation Ireland is evidently exclusively dependent on air and sea access and we must plan a restoration of connectivity in a safe manner with a scale-able testing regime as well as exploring the use of health passports. The idea of leaving a “closed sign” above the country would have an enormously damaging legacy for tourism as well as broader economic reasons.
IATA – the global trade body for airlines and soon to be headed by ex-Aer Lingus and IAG CEO Willie Walsh – is trialling a health passport and Ireland should be taking a lead on this and proactively trying to a secure a multi-lateral EU solution. Government’s expected report next month on the optimal use of antigen testing will hopefully mean that this alternative to the costly and unwieldy PCR test can be used for international travel this summer.