THE Irish hotel and restaurant industry has demanded emergency support measures from the Government as more than 100 outlets began closing over the Covid-19 crisis with mounting fears over the future of almost 200,000 direct and support jobs.
áilte Ireland admitted the situation facing tourism operators nationwide was now "catastrophic."
A number of high-profile Irish hotel and restaurant owners confirmed they have opted to close their premises until March 29 - with fears all Irish restaurants, with the exception of takeaways, could be forced to close because of collapsing bookings.
This is despite many having put in place careful seating arrangements to adhere to the Government's strict social distancing guidelines.
Dozens of Irish hotels could close over the next 48 hours.
Fáilte Ireland chief executive Paul Kelly said the sector is now facing a challenge unprecedented in its history.
"The impact of Covid-19 on the tourism and hospitality industry is catastrophic in the short term," he said.
"In addition to the pub closures, what we are picking up from the industry in general is that we could be facing into potentially as many as 170,000 short-term lay-offs across pubs, hotels and restaurants."
However, a further 30,000 support jobs could be temporarily lost in industries such as laundry services, baking, food supply, tour guides and transport.
Emergency meetings of hoteliers have taken place in Dublin, Cork,Kerry and Galway - with some operators already deciding to close until March 29.
In Cork, the high-profile Vienna Woods Hotel closed with the loss of 100 jobs.
Owner Michael Magner said the decision was "totally unavoidable" given the scale of the crisis.
"We now need the Government to step up and offer the industry the leadership and support it needs," he said.
The Carrigaline Court Hotel - located in Carrigaline, the political base of Tánaiste Simon Coveney - said it was "with a heavy heart" they were restricting their operations to hotel residents only.
One Dublin hotelier, who asked to be unnamed, said his operation had lost €300,000 in bookings over the past four days.
"We undertook a significant refurbishment and expansion recently and our loan repayment on that is almost €40,000. You can do the maths yourself," he said.
Kerry now faces per capita the greatest scale of job losses and hotel closures given the sheer size of its hospitality and tourism industry.
The county boasts almost a 10,000 bed capacity within its hotel and guesthouse sector.
Irish Hotel Federation (IHF) members now want the Government to outline what it proposes to do to help the virus crisis-hit industry.
The IHF - which represents 1,000 hotels and guesthouses across Ireland - said practical supports could range from a VAT reduction to PRSI payment suspensions and from loan directives to the banks to a special marketing fund once the crisis has passed.
Each season, the Irish hotel industry contributes some €8.75m to the economy and employs almost 70,000 people both full and part-time.
Some restaurants said their bookings had collapsed by 90pc over the past week.