Joe Walsh Tours, one of Ireland’s oldest travel agents and tour operators, has ceased trading after 60 years, citing Ireland’s travel protocols due to Covid-19 as “the most restrictive in Europe”.
Joe Walsh Tours was established in 1961 and was family-owned. It was the largest fully Irish-owned tour operator providing group travel to pilgrimage destinations.
Joe Walsh was born and raised in Bangor, Co Down, and on leaving school, he worked with the Ulster Transport Authority. On moving to London, he worked with Thomas Cook and saw the potential in the growing travel industry.
A Dublin move followed, and in 1961 he set up his own business – Joe Walsh Tours – in a small office in Nassau Street with three employees.
At its peak it employed more than 100 people, while the headcount was 25 at the time of closure, and 35 before the onset of the pandemic. In recent times, his sons Barry and David Walsh ran the business.
Joe Walsh Tours operated the first computerised booking system in Ireland or the UK. It also offered sports travel, along with cruising holidays and military and heritage tours.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) said Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours, which was trading under 10 different names, was unable to fulfil its obligations to customers and would cease trading.
It said the company was also operating under the names Concorde Travel; Cara Holidays; Paul Claffey Tours; GLA Travel; Leinster Rugby Travel; Pilgrimages Abroad; Laurie Duffy Travel; Fatima Pilgrim Tours; and RU Adventures.
“The commission operates a consumer protection scheme and, if you find you are out of pocket, you may be covered by this scheme,” it said.
“The commission also operates a refund credit note scheme. You may be covered by this scheme if your holiday has been cancelled due to Covid-19 and you have yet to receive a refund from Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours.”
Paul Claffey of Paul Claffey Tours later said the CAR had “made a mistake” and that his is a “a totally separate company”.
“They’re not connected with me in any way other than that they sell holidays on my behalf,” he said. “I’ve a full programme of events going for next year.”
In a separate statement, Joe Walsh Tours said it has not traded since the start of the pandemic. However, it remained open during this period to assist customers with refunds and rebookings.
“Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours did everything they could to see themselves and their customers through the pandemic,” it said. “Travel protocols in Ireland are the most restrictive in Europe, putting Irish travel companies at a disadvantage to their European counterparts.
“Like many travel agencies and tour operators Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours was paying overheads, while at the same time unable to trade and also waiting on refunds from suppliers. Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours has worked full-time during the pandemic for no return.”
The group said it had business interruption insurance in place and had hoped to be able to continue trading with the benefit of a large refund claim from the insurers.
“However, it has not been possible to reach agreement with the insurers at this stage,” it said. “This will now be a matter for the liquidators to progress in due course.”
The directors of the company said the decision was made in the “best interest” of all concerned.
“We would like to thank, at this time, all our customers over the years. We would also like to acknowledge the incredible effort that our staff have made, and for their loyalty and support, particularly during the last year.”
A spokeswoman for the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITTA) said all customers would receive refunds and would have nine months to cash the credit refund note from the date of receipt.
ITTA chief executive Pat Dawson said it was “a sad day for the travel industry as this long-established agent closes its doors”.
“Many travel agents throughout the country learnt their trade with JWT before opening up their own travel agencies,” he added. “This closure highlights the difficulties the travel industry has been experiencing.”
The company holds a bond with CAR, which provides financial protection for flight inclusive travel packages originating in the Republic. It said its directors are liaising with CAR.
CAR will manage any outstanding refunds, including those under the Refund Credit Note scheme announced by the Government last year. Any customer of Joe Walsh Pilgrimtours with monies paid towards a cancelled booking or a future travel package can contact CAR and make a claim.
Claim forms can be downloaded here.