Eoghn O'Mara Walsh has made a strong case for enhamced tourism industry support in an artiucle published in to-day's 'Irish Examiner'.
'It can come as no surprise to readers that Ireland’s tourism and hospitality industry has been hit harder than any other economic sector during this dreadful pandemic.
If tourism is thought of as the free, unfettered movement of people, then the impact of Covid-19 simply couldn’t be more destructive.
The closure, by government decree, of tourism and hospitality businesses for long periods; the reduction in capacity due to social distancing rules; and the effective restriction to the country of international tourists has caused massive carnage to Ireland’s largest indigenous industry and biggest regional employer.
This year has truly been an annus horribilis and, with a hard-Brexit looking ever more likely, many in the industry are facing a very bleak outlook.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation — now headed by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, a former minister for tourism — has projected that there will be 200,000 job losses within the tourism industry over the next 12 months.
That represents nearly eight in every 10 tourism jobs. A staggering figure, and it seems beyond belief that the Government would preside over this without deploying every pro-tourism policy in its toolkit.
And, it need not be like this.
With 75% of the Irish tourism economy dependent on international visitation, getting aviation recommenced in a safe manner must be the number one economic priority for the Government.
This can be done, as has been rolled out successfully in other European countries, by introducing a comprehensive pre-travel Covid-19 testing policy to replace the flawed and ineffective quarantine rule and green list.
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Dalton Philips, CEO of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), which operates both Dublin and Cork airports, stated just last week that the DAA is losing a whopping €1m every day. Such losses are, by definition, unsustainable.
Something has to give and if it is the aviation infrastructure of a small island on the western coast of Europe, then we are heading into a long and self-induced economic depression.
Regional Ireland, as always, risks feeling most of the pain if the Government does not change course.
It is reported that Aer Lingus, now owned by international conglomerate IAG, is considering moving its transatlantic aircraft out of Shannon, while Ryanair is looking to end their bases at both Cork and Shannon.
Such moves are a direct consequence of the draconian and disproportionate travel restrictions that are currently in play. And, who can blame an airline for transferring their expensive assets to countries that allow them to be utilised?
Should this happen, the consequence will be shattering to the south-west.
Some €1.2bn has already been lost to Cork and Kerry this year due to the lack of international tourism.
A loss of air connectivity to the western seaboard will imperil current and future foreign direct investment also.
Covid-19, from the outset, has been a public health issue, but saving lives and saving livelihoods cannot be seen as mutually exclusive.
Any return to stability for Ireland’s tourism and hospitality businesses will be long and arduous. And the Government, which by its decisions effectively closed the sector down, is obliged to support those same businesses in the path to recovery.
A reduced Vat rate, business continuity grants, and a more generous wage subsidy scheme must all be on the table.
Such financial measures will hopefully materialise in next month’s budget. However, before that, and starting today with the Government’s medium-term economic plan, must be the safe re-opening of international aviation.
The current quarantine rule is akin to a “closed” sign above Ireland for inbound tourism and must be overhauled if Ireland’s proud tourism industry is to survive this existential crisis.