Travel and Covid-19: ‘Our industry has been hardest hit’

Passenger numbers in Republic down 94% with under 4,000 travelling each day

It is difficult to overstate the scale of the crisis which has brought the global travel industry to its knees over the last year.

Any glimmer of light for the sector in Ireland appears to have been extinguished in recent days by public-health officials and Ministers.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar last week said international travel was likely off the table for this year and this week he cast doubt on the possibility of staycations.

While people may “be able to have beers outdoors with friends this summer and get around the country”, he said, “you just never know because this virus has torn up our plans so many times”.


His gloom was echoed by chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, who said he does not believe "we're headed for a summer where millions of people from this part of the world, from Europe, can expect to be heading to beaches" that are not in their "localities".

Airline activity over and into Ireland paints a grim picture. At lunchtime on Thursday there were six aircraft flying over or into Ireland, according to flight-tracking website Flight Radar 24. On Wednesday, 19 flights landed at Dublin Airport, including four from Donegal and Kerry.

Passenger numbers were down by 94 per cent last week, with an average of 3,996 passengers coming and going each day. Normally in February, Dublin would have about 63,500 passengers daily.

Things are worse again at Cork Airport, where passenger numbers are down 99 per cent year on year. About 50 passengers are passing through the airport daily.

‘Quickly deteriorating’

Eurocontrol, the European organisation for air navigation safety, said air traffic throughout Europe was down by almost two-thirds in January and is “quickly deteriorating”.

"It is clear that the months of February and March will be exceptionally low across the network, except for cargo, some business traffic and skeleton schedule services," Eurocontrol director-general Eamonn Brennan said.

“Even April is expected to perform very poorly with only a limited pickup for the Easter period. Flights in Europe will probably only be around 25 per cent to 30 per cent of normal. It is a complete disaster for European aviation – an industry that’s already on its knees.”

What happens after that is unclear, he said. “It is reasonable to expect that the epidemiological situation will have improved in many European states by Q2 and that the most vulnerable citizens across Europe will have been vaccinated,” Brennan said, adding that this could “lead to the possibility for non-essential air travel to become more accessible”.

However, it is “reasonable” to expect that even if the Covid-19 situation improves between April and June, many states “may potentially choose not to relax their national travel restrictions”, which would leave the aviation sector waiting “until the summer period at the very earliest” to take off, Brennan added.

The upshot of this will likely be more heartache for an Irish travel industry already close to breaking point.

‘The worst’

"At least the pubs were able to press pause, but we have not been able to do that," said Sunway Travel managing director Tanya Airey. "We are all working really hard and getting nothing. It is as bad as it could be, it is just the worst."

She said there has been “a trickle of bookings” for later in the year and questioned why politicians and health officials are being so gloomy about the months ahead.

“I don’t know how they can say what is going to be happening in six months when they can’t say with any certainty where we are going to be a month from now,” Airey said. “I think ruling out international travel and holidays until next year is taking hope from people.”

Linda Jones of the Travel Boutique in Bray said she has had no bookings for this summer but a handful of people made provisional bookings for December cruises.

“As an industry we have definitely been hardest hit,” she said. “We have had to refund people for bookings made in 2019 and then for bookings made in 2020 and now it looks as if 2021 is going to be a write-off as well.”

Paul Hackett, chief executive of Click and Go, could scarcely contain his fury at the developments in recent days. He said the public announcements from Holohan and Varakdar panicked people, soured moods and took hope away.

“We are getting people ringing us now demanding that we cancel their holidays for next September and they are quoting Tony Holohan. My staff are getting dogs’ abuse.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor