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'We are not just restricting travel, we are demonising it - and it will cost us dearly'

Pól Ó Conghaile


How did travel get so toxic? Our Travel Editor says the ‘travel shaming’ of last summer seems almost cute compared to now

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A man receives a nasal swab Covid-19 test at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

A man receives a nasal swab Covid-19 test at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

A man receives a nasal swab Covid-19 test at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Travel used to bring us together. Now, it feels like it’s tearing us apart.

I don’t mean the €500 fines and 14-day quarantines. Travel may be connected to a fraction of our outbreaks, but we all know that Covid-19 and its variants didn’t blow in with the wind.

Now is not the time for holidays. Tough restrictions are necessary.

But we are going beyond restricting travel. We are demonising it. And by obsessing so hard on one area, by continually failing to see it within the context of flawed plans, community transmission and vaccine delays, we are tying it to fear and panic. We are removing hope for 2021, and we risk deepening Covid’s devastation of our holiday and tourism industries.

The ‘travel shaming’ of last summer feels almost cute by comparison. At Dublin Airport, DAA chief Dalton Philips has sent staff a message describing the sector as “villianised”. On Liveline, Frank and Una threw themselves to the wolves from their balcony in Gran Canaria. In the UK, Boris Johnson called holidays “illegal”. Travel agents here are fielding angry calls.

“It’s nothing more than a distraction,” says a livid Paul Hackett of tour operator ClickAndGo.com.

After Dr Tony Holohan dubbed overseas summer holidays “unrealistic” recently, Hackett’s staff got “dog’s abuse” from customers looking to cancel, he says. Restrictions are needed now, but ruling out travel for 2021 is premature given vaccinations haven’t been rolled out, he adds. “It’s as if we’re giving up the game before we’ve started to play.”

Sun holidays are just the start. Travel is also about connectivity, business, seeing family and over 250,000 Irish tourism jobs. Taking a blunt hammer to it doesn’t just stop trips now; it thrashes confidence in the future. It may prompt airlines to move planes elsewhere, or overseas tourists to look beyond this island for trips in 2022 and 2023, and that will cost us dearly.

The message that Ireland is closed is drowning out the one that it will reopen. State supports have been critical in keeping hotels, restaurants and B&Bs from collapse, but any new clampdowns should come with the reassurance that travel will play a big role in our recovery, or we risk decades of experience running out the door.

Countries like Greece and Spain have mixed hard lines with hopeful notes, talking not just of travel in terms of “bans”, but of their hopes and plans for when vaccinations and testing will make it possible to welcome us once again. By comparison, Ireland feels like it is in cold storage.

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Clearly, we can’t court tourists now. But travel was central to our island economy and identity, and will be again. We don’t need to demonise or politicise this. We need to place travel in the bigger picture, see it within the full, chaotic context of Ireland’s Covid crisis, and remind ourselves that we will holiday abroad, and we will welcome visitors again, when it is safe.

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