Ireland will have to move fast to exploit the "enormous pent-up demand" among fully vaccinated Americans or risk losing hundreds of millions of euro to rival tourism destinations across Europe as international borders begin to reopen, it has been warned.
The suggestion from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, that Americans with a Covid -19 vaccination should be allowed to travel to Europe this summer, has been welcomed by the Irish tourism industry with the prospect of a multi-million euro boost to the hospitality sector by August.
Ms von der Leyen told the New York Times the EU would accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). "The Americans, as far as I can see, use EMA-approved vaccines," she said. "This will enable free movement and travel to the European Union. "
While the comments took many in the tourism sector in the Republic by surprise, it has been welcomed nonetheless.
"There is pent-up demand but Ireland can't get left behind, so we have to be ready to move with great haste," said Ruth Andrews, the chief executive of the Incoming Tour Operators Association (ITOA). "If we don't, other countries will steal a march on us and that pent-up demand is only going to be there once."
She said US residents “returning to our shores will make a phenomenal difference. They stay longer, visit more regions, spend across all sectors and are very good when it comes to spending on gifts to bring or send home.”
She said ITOA members “are dealing with people from North America daily, who are really looking forward to coming here and we are increasingly optimistic it will happen this summer, but this is a jigsaw puzzle and all the pieces need to come together so we hit the sweet spot.”
She pointed to the digital green cert and said the vaccine rollout programme in Ireland will have to hit its targets.
She told The Irish Times that it would be important to "adopt a cautious approach" and pointed to August or September for the return of visitors from the United States. "That is traditionally a strong month for visitors from that part of the world, not only in the leisure sector but the corporate sector too."
Eoghan O'Meara Walsh of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation also welcomed the comments from the commission president saying it would be "absolutely fantastic" to see the resumption of tourism from the US.
He said in a good year US visitors spend about €1 billion in Ireland. “They stay longer, an average of seven days, and travel more around the country so more places benefit, and spend a bit more, which makes them even more valuable,” he said.
He called for “a line of sight and a roadmap as to when travel from the US will resume sooner rather than later so airlines and the wider industry can put plans in place.”
‘Too early to call’
A spokeswoman for Tourism Ireland said it was “still too early to call when we will be in a position to welcome US visitors back to our shores”. She added that it was “a really important market for us, with a spend of €1.8 billion in 2019. Tourism Ireland is in regular contact with the air carriers and with travel operators in the US. The decision on the timing for opening Ireland to US tourists will be a matter for the Government. We look forward to the return of US tourism as soon as the time is right.”
Aer Lingus welcomed Ms von der Leyen’s comments, saying they were consistent with the recommendation contained in Ireland’s aviation restart plan, that vaccinated passengers should not be subject to travel restrictions.
“The aviation sector works to long lead times, and parameters for the opening of our economy, including the restoration of international travel, aligned with vaccination rollout and appropriate public health measures need to be developed,” a spokesman said.
He added that “urgent focus is required from Government to finalise a plan setting out the metrics that will enable the reopening of international travel”.
According to Government sources, any change to travel restrictions on inbound fully vaccinated visitors from the US will, at least initially, be based around self-quarantine rules, which require fully vaccinated visitors from the US to spend a 14-day period at a specified address, although the period can be reduced in the event of a negative PCR test five days after arrival.
The US, for its part, still categorises Ireland as a high-risk Covid-19 destination and its citizens are advised to avoid travel here. Travel in the other direction is more problematic and entry is either severely curtailed or denied to non-citizens who were physically present in Ireland during a 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the US.