Travel and tourism facing a long-haul journey back to normal

Despite Government’s big spend, we could be waiting awhile for the big spenders to return

Tourists on board the James Joyce Ulysses tour bus in Dublin city centre, back in the good old days. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tourists on board the James Joyce Ulysses tour bus in Dublin city centre, back in the good old days. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Irish Tourism Industry Council’s pre-budget submission estimated that Covid-19 caused hospitality businesses €13.4 billion worth of damage in 2020 and 2021.

With recovery a reality, the Government this week pledged to up tourism spending by €67.6 million next year to €288.5 million. That does not include the €90 million earmarked for airports so they can lure airlines back with extra incentives.

Combining those sums with €20 million committed to airports earlier this year gives you close to €400 million that will be spent one way or another getting tourism and travel back on their feet.

Government seems optimistic about this. The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media release detailing its Budget 2022 allocation says €50 million will go to supporting businesses until next summer, “when it is expected that inbound tourism will recover”.

Positive signs

That is a bold statement. Tourism may reach about one quarter of pre-pandemic levels this year. While there are positive signs, we still have some way to go to restoring the air routes that bring tourists here, particularly from the US.

Government wants at least some of the €90 million aid to airports to be used to start restoring transatlantic flights. But throwing money at this problem may not really solve it, as long-haul flying is taking longer to recover from the pandemic everywhere.

More than half the total tourism increase – €35 million – will go on boosting the State’s marketing fund to €82 million, much of which will target the UK and US. That includes €5 million to prepare for the themed “Year of the Invitation” meant to stimulate extra demand.

That title manages to be saccharine and ironic. Earlier this year, at public health advisers’ behest, the State was confining visitors to hotel quarantines for two weeks. That included vaccinated US citizens who we are now trying to lure back.

Catherine Martin, the Minister for Tourism, insists the Government’s recent anti-travel zeal has not damaged our welcoming reputation. Let’s hope the Minister is right, as it will cost us a lot more than €400 million if she’s wrong.

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