‘Urgent funding’ required to keep coach tour operators on road

Coach tourism representatives say €10m grant in 2020 is insufficient to meet needs

The Coach Tourism & Transport Council is requesting supplementary supports to be provided. File photograph: Getty

The Coach Tourism & Transport Council is requesting supplementary supports to be provided. File photograph: Getty

 

Coach tourism operators are calling for urgent financial assistance to keep the industry on the road in 2022 and beyond.

Feargal Barton from the Coach Tourism & Transport Council (CTTC) said the sector received €10 million as part of a July 2020 stimulus package, but it has not been given any financial assistance this year. “Urgent” funding should be continued into 2022 to reflect the “real and actual damage done to the sector”, Mr Barton told the Oireachtas tourism committee.

The CTTC is requesting supplementary supports to be provided in the upcoming budget, to include retrospective funds to compensate for 2021 losses.

Covid-19 restrictions and successive lockdowns have brought severe disruption to the 1,700 coach operators in Ireland who together carry more than 75 million passengers per year, he said. Tour buses bring visitors to “every region”, from Co Donegal’s Gweedore, to Dingle in Co Kerry, with peripheral areas benefiting significantly, the committee heard.

Government funding provided so far would have covered two to three months of loan repayments for many coach operators. But their fleet will have been parked up for 24 months before there is any sign of the market recovering, said the CTTC’s Mike Buckley, who runs Kerry Coaches.

Mr Buckley said the €10 million industry grant was the equivalent of putting a “bandage on a major bleed or a haemorrhage”.

He added that “the majority of people have huge debts . . . the stimulus was literally a lifeline to support people to get them into 2021”.

No business

However, continued restrictions on international travel has meant there has been “effectively” no business this year either, said Mr Buckley. Looking towards the 2022 season, there continues to be a huge amount of uncertainty and tourists may be reluctant to book large group tours, he added.

There will also be a “huge” staff shortage when the industry eventually recovers as many drivers have retired or moved to different industries, he said.

A report prepared by economist Jim Power in March 2021 found coach operator incomes had “collapsed”. The sector turned over €617 million in 2018, but throughout the pandemic the parked-up fleet depreciated in value.

“The sector did not get sufficient support in 2020, and without a significant increase in funding in 2021, a serious crisis will result, with very negative economic and social consequences,” Mr Power wrote.