Covid-19: Little room for error if tourism is to reopen for staycations

Cantillon: Hospitality sector needs to be open in time for school holidays or face disaster

If there is even a moderate upsurge in virus infection rates in coming months, there is a real risk that the industry’s only saving grace for the season ahead, summer staycations, could be damaged. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

If there is even a moderate upsurge in virus infection rates in coming months, there is a real risk that the industry’s only saving grace for the season ahead, summer staycations, could be damaged. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar is continuing with his presumably deliberate policy of flagging what lies ahead to his parliamentary party, which then leaks to ensure things are flagged to the public. In his latest email to his party’s TDs, he concedes there will be no economic reopening until May, with the exception being retail click-and-collect services.

This was not wholly unexpected. But the timeline he laid out indicates just how close to the wind the reopening could sail for the hospitality sector, with little room for setbacks along the way. If there is even a moderate upsurge in virus infection rates in coming months, there is a real risk that the industry’s only saving grace for the season ahead, summer staycations, could be damaged.

If there is no economic reopening until May, it is likely that most of that month will be given over for the release of the non-essential retail sector, and observation of its effects. It could be June until the hospitality sector begins reopening, and even that will be staggered.

The staycation season must align with school holidays. Secondary school students will be free at the beginning of June. Primary school students will be free by the end of that month. The beginning of July is the acid test. If the hospitality sector is not fully open by then, with a complete absence of inter-county travel restrictions, then the industry is headed for complete disaster.

The reduction in case numbers has slowed over the past 10 days and now sits almost on a plateau of more than 600 per day – too high to reopen anything. Schools are going back. Retail will reopen after that. Then the inter-county travel restrictions will go. A lot can go wrong before the hospitality sector gets its turn.

On the bright side, the vaccine rollout should help to cap infection rates by then. Better weather and longer days should also keep us outdoors. It could be a close-run thing to get the tourism sector reopened in time for the staycation market.

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