Every corner of the economy needs State help

Cantillon: Coach and tour operators are asking the Government for a €32m bailout

While there will be efforts to help the wider tourism and hospitality industry in the upcoming July stimulus, there are associated parts of that sector that may be impossible to prop up, unless the State simply steps in to pay their bills until there is a coronavirus vaccine or effective medicine. That is a big ask for taxpayers.

Take coach and tour operators, for example, who, through their industry lobby group Coach Tourism and Transport Council (CCTC), are asking the Government for a €32 million industry bailout.

There are more than 1,700 private coach operators in the State with a fleet of about 11,000 buses. Almost all of them are lying idle because who wants to hire a bus these days? There are no weddings of any scale whose guests need to be transported, no sports outings to ferry people to, no major public events of any description.

Irish holidaymakers may pick up a small bit of the slack in the tourism industry, but there is almost zero likelihood of Irish domestic tourists taking the kind of coach tours around the Ring of Kerry that previously would have been the preserve of foreign visitors. The CCTC said 95 per cent of the sector’s business disappeared overnight when the pandemic arrived, and it is hard to see much of that coming back while the virus remains a factor.


Public purse demands

There are a growing number of demands on the public purse for State assistance, but what can taxpayers do to help a completely neutered sector such as coach operators? Perhaps some could be put to work ferrying children in a socially distanced manner come September. Beyond that, the sector may simply be beyond help, unless taxpayers make direct cash transfers.

Many coach operators invested heavily in their fleets in the past year, in anticipation of cashing in on the high levels of tourism into the State. Then the virus hit. Those buses will have to be financed.

Coach operators are but one in a long list of micro-segments of the economy that are in deeper trouble than anyone could possibly have imagined.