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‘Government just don’t get’ need to save tourism - industry chiefs

Irish Tourism Industry Confederation seeks €1bn emergency grants paid via Fáilte Ireland, not Enterprise Ireland

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Chairman Maurice Pratt

Chairman Maurice Pratt

Chairman Maurice Pratt

Ireland's lack of tourists will mean €5.5bn in lost spending this year and ‘staycationers’ won’t plug that gap, according to tourism chiefs who accuse the new Government of not taking them seriously.

Maurice Pratt, acting chairman of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC), said he initially couldn’t believe that the Government is lumping tourism in with five other portfolios in Catherine Martin’s new Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sports and the Gaeltacht,

“My honest reaction was: oh my God,” said Mr Pratt, the former chief executive of C&C and Tesco Ireland and managing director of Quinnsworth, describing the moment he first saw Ms Martin’s ministerial brief.

“My second reaction was that the Government just don’t get it. They don’t get the importance of tourism to our economy,” he said. “My third reaction one was: Well, we have to live with this - but how do we get airtime from a minister who has six briefs?”

He spoke to the Irish Independent as the ITIC appealed for €1bn in State grants and €500m in long-term liquidity loans targeted to keep tourism businesses alive through the winter.

The group said such aid must be disbursed by Fáilte Ireland, not Enterprise Ireland (EI). Mr Pratt and chief executive Eoghan O’Mara Walsh said EI is more focused on tech and agrifoods and doesn’t appreciate the economic importance of tourism, particularly along the Wild Atlantic Way from Kerry to Donegal, where one in five jobs depends on tourism.

Mr Walsh said larger tourism firms could give the State equity stakes in return for grant aid.

Mr Pratt, who also leads B&B Ireland, said thousands of those family-operated firms have yet to receive any State loans or wage subsidies and had “no business case to reopen”.

They do not quality for most State-subsidised loans because they are too small to pay commercial rates. They often don’t qualify for Covid pay subsidies because they are husband-and-wife operations whose average age tops 60 years. Those aged 65 and over cannot receive weekly Covid payments of €350.

He said accommodation providers in rural areas could woo ‘staycationers’ - if they get pricing right.

“My personal sense if that people will be more comfortable in the next two or three months holidaying in Ireland outside of cities, where there aren’t large gatherings of people,” he said.

“I’ve seen ads over the last two weeks for five- and six-star hotels on the west coast offering four-night stays at prices equivalent to what they were charging last year for a one-night stay, particularly to Americans who were happy to pay it.”

But those Americans - representing a third of the €5.1bn spent here in 2019 by overseas visitors - won’t come back until the State removes the 14-day quarantine rule for arriving passengers at Ireland’s airports and ferries.

The ITIC’s ‘Tourism Industry Revival’ report said domestic tourists, including from Northern Ireland, spent €2.4bn in the State last year but this will fall to just €1.1bn in 2020 despite marketing efforts to boost 'staycations'.

It offered optimistic, baseline and pessimistic forecasts. Its baseline scenario sees overseas tourist spending return to 2019 levels only in 2025. If the virus returned in 2021 and 2022, overseas tourist spending would reach only €4bn by 2025.

Even if the Government met the ITIC’s entire wish list and a Covid-19 vaccine is found, the group still doesn’t envisage overseas tourists spending more than €5bn in Ireland again until 2024.

Online Editors