Severe travel restrictions and social distancing are threatening the survival of many parts of the tourism industry, the Oireachtas tourism committee has heard.
Industry representatives said the outbreak of Covid-19 created the “perfect storm”, leaving a major gap in Ireland’s economy.
Tourism Recovery Taskforce chairman Ruth Andrews said: “Tourism is the most important indigenous labour-intensive sector in Ireland and generates very substantial export earnings and tax revenues.
“It is woven into the fabric of Irish culture and social life and is of critical importance to regional economies in particular.
“Because tourism is so integrated into the economy and so diverse and overwhelmingly made up of SMEs, it has suffered from a lack of visibility and recognition as an internationally traded service.
Information provided to the committee said that Ireland depends on overseas tourism for 75% of its revenue, and as the number of international visitors plummet, many businesses are struggling to survive.
Tourism in Ireland provided €9 billion to the economy last year and supported 260,000 jobs, the committee was told, and it is predicted that this year it will provide less than €3 billion, and 180,000 jobs are either already lost or vulnerable.
“The requirement to trade in an environment requiring social distancing and limited gatherings, together with the fact that travel restrictions have meant that overseas tourism has virtually disappeared, is threatening the survival of a large part of the tourism ecosystem in Ireland.”
The severe travel restrictions mean very few international travellers have visited Ireland since March.
Paul Gallagher, general manager of Buswells Hotel in Dublin, said the tourism industry is in a “very precarious place”.
He said: “We are in a different world altogether – there’s no footfall in Dublin and the tourism sector is in lockdown.
“We are in a very precarious place, many businesses will find it very difficult to survive and it will prove to be an enormous issue as we come to the end of the year.
“As companies have to complete their audit accounts, the undertaking they will have in order to continue to trade will be extraordinarily difficult because hotels are unable to take on new debt based on their performance.”