An island off a non-EU island off the European continent?
There remains significant doubt about the timing and nature of restoring international connectivity by both air and sea which is the mainstay of the Irish tourism economy. 75% of Irish tourism is dependent on international visitation and thus it is critical to tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses that inbound markets are opened up once again. Aer Lingus’s decision this week to close its bases in Shannon (permanently) and Cork (temporarily) highlight the enormous damage being done by the state’s decision to restrict aviation.
In pre-Covid times Ireland was a globally connected, dynamic, open economy where trade and tourism flourished yet the current attitude to international travel, including the harshest restrictions across Europe and mandatory hotel quarantine for our key strategic markets, makes us now a very vulnerable island on the Western coast of Europe.
Mixed messaging from Government as to how and when aviation can recommence is worrying not just for tourism reasons but also for broader economic reasons. Although the mood music is more positive from senior politicians, a cabinet decision on the matter was deferred yet again this week and it leaves the tourism and aviation industry greatly concerned and frustrated.
Ireland’s aviation industry – including big hitters like Aer Lingus, Ryanair, daa and Shannon Airport – last month published a plan to rescue the country’s aviation sector before it is too late. The Aviation Restart Plan sets out a balanced and evidence-based approach to enable the recommencement of aviation and the restoration of Ireland’s connectivity. It contains a comprehensive set of recommendations which, if finalised and implemented, can facilitate the restoration of connectivity whilst continuing to protect public health. The Government’s own recovery oversight group has made similar recommendations to restart international travel.
The EU’s Covid-19 Certificate offers a pan-European approach to restore international connectivity, whilst assuaging public health concerns, and encouragingly Ireland has confirmed its involvement. But frustratingly there is no definitive date yet as to its adoption and implementation. As a result airlines, airports and sea carriers can’t plan or schedule with any confidence.
Government positive sentiments must be translated into firm actions. As well as intra-EU tourism, the Common Travel Area, which has been in existence since the 1920s, should operate in full allowing free movement between Ireland and the UK, the latter well ahead of our own vaccination rates.
And talking about vaccination rates, the US market – key for Irish tourism – will have its adult population inoculated by the end of this month. The EU has already signalled that fully vaccinated people can enter the continent and a travel corridor between Ireland and the USA should be very achievable.
We can’t assume Ireland’s connectivity to the world will resume once this crisis passes. A plan needs to be put in place and it will take intense work and commitment over many years to restore routes and gateways.