THE decision to include responsibility for tourism in Minister Catherine Martin's new Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sports and the Gaeltacht has been sharply criticised by industry representatives.
Veteran business leader Maurice Pratt, who is acting chairman of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC), said he initially couldn't believe the new structure.
"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.
"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 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 loans targeted to keep tourism businesses alive through the winter.
The industry is facing a crisis as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown and travel restrictions. The lack of overseas tourists will cost Ireland €5.5bn in lost spending this year, according to tourism chiefs who accuse the new Government of not taking them seriously.
The ITIC says the aid it is seeking should be disbursed by Fáilte Ireland, not Enterprise Ireland (EI).
Mr Pratt said EI is more focused on sectors including technology and agrifoods and doesn't appreciate the economic importance of tourism, particularly along the Wild Atlantic Way, where one in five jobs depends on tourism.
The ITIC said in return for support, some larger tourism firms could give the State equity stakes.
Mr Pratt, who also leads B&B Ireland, said thousands of those mainly family-operated firms have yet to receive any State loans or wage subsidies and had "no business case to reopen".
They do not qualify for most State-subsidised loans because they do not pay commercial rates, he said. They often don't qualify for Covid pay subsidies because they are husband and wife-run operations where the average owner-operator's age tops 60. Those aged 65 and over cannot receive weekly Covid payments of €350.
He said accommodation providers in rural areas could woo 'staycationers' - but only if they get pricing right.
"My personal sense is 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 visitors from North America - representing a third of the €5.1bn spent here in 2019 by overseas visitors - are seen as highly unlikely to return to Ireland until the State removes the 14-day quarantine rule for passengers arriving at Ireland's airports and ports.
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.
The report sets out what it called optimistic, baseline and pessimistic forecasts.
Under the baseline scenario, overseas tourist spending will return to 2019 levels only in 2025. If the virus returned in 2021 and 2022, overseas tourist spending would reach only €4bn by 2025.
The ITIC doesn't foresee any scenario where overseas tourist spending will fully recover before 2024.