The resumption of international tourism is back on the agenda with the Government understood to be planning to open a travel bubble between Ireland and Britain within weeks.
Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, will present to the Government next week a report from a tourism advisory group that makes several recommendations designed to prepare the State for the resumption of inbound tourism.
The report by the Recovery Oversight Group for Tourism, chaired by former newspaper editor Nóirín Hegarty, calls on Ministers to publish a plan no later than the end of May, setting out when restrictions on inbound travel will be eased to allow for inbound tourism to resume.
It also recommends the removal in coming weeks of restrictions on UK visitors, which would also effectively allow Irish residents to travel to Britain on holidays without restrictions. This would be outside the architecture of any European Union "green certificate" travel scheme that is planned for later in the summer, and would constitute the effective restoration of the Common Travel Area.
The rationale being considered by the Government for British travel is that from May 17th, non-essential travel between Britain and the North will resume under UK rules in any event. With an open Border between the Republic and the North, those visitors would be able to freely travel throughout the island anyway.
It is envisaged that free travel between residents of the State and Britain could resume by the end of May, or mid-June at the latest. It is unclear yet whether foreign tourists who enter Britain would be permitted automatic travel to Ireland under the bubble, or CTA.
The oversight group’s plan also calls for the Government to introduce a mechanism similar to the EU’s digital green certificate to allow tourists from third-country markets, such as the US, to enter Ireland for tourism purposes. While the risk of new virus variants must be assessed, the EU’s Schengen travel area countries are moving to allow access for vaccinated people. The group recommends the Republic does the same.
If access into Ireland to tourists from the UK, European and US markets is granted in coming months, it means close to 90 per cent of the Republic’s inbound tourism source markets will be restored, based on pre-pandemic ratios. UK tourists, for example, accounted for almost 40 per cent before the virus. Foreign tourists also accounted for about 75 per cent of the value of the market.
Free of restrictions
Separately, Government sources have suggested that Ministers will discuss the State signing up to the EU’s green certificate travel scheme at a Cabinet meeting next Tuesday. It is thought likely that the scheme could be opened up to foreign travel to participating countries by Irish citizens by the end of June, or possibly mid-July.
A sample of healthcare workers have been used as a test-bed for how Ireland might technically administer the scheme, which will grant restriction-free travel for people who are vaccinated, who have a negative PCR test, or who can show they were infected with the virus that caused Covid-19 and subsequently recovered, giving them a measure of immunity.
The tourism sector has leaned heavily on State financial supports during the pandemic. About €288 million has been paid out to tourism businesses in Covid recovery support scheme (CRSS ) payments, which disburse up to 10 per cent of a closed business’s weekly revenues. In addition to wage subsidies, more than €100 million has been paid in additional measures for tourism businesses, such as continuity grants and other schemes.