The Irish Times view on: The future of tourism

A road map to recovery

Tourism employs over 300,000 people in Ireland and generates billions of euro annually from more than 11 million overseas visitors

Tourism employs over 300,000 people in Ireland and generates billions of euro annually from more than 11 million overseas visitors

 

It is almost impossible to overstate the scale of the crisis that has engulfed global tourism in recent weeks. Covid-19 has seen the carefully constructed plans of governments, state agencies, multinational companies and small, medium and tiny enterprises disintegrate while the holiday plans of countless individuals and families are in disarray. And no one knows how, when or even if those plans can ever be reassembled in a socially distanced world.

Global tourism is worth trillions of euro and the job losses the sector faces are horrific. Many operators living this nightmare have gone to ground or issued vouchers instead of refunds, often with the tacit support of governments. While retrospectively changing regulations to facilitate credit notes over cash is unfair, there is logic to it. Vouchers protect dwindling cash reserves and encourage future travel. Such encouragement will be essential for people suddenly scared of human contact and crowds.

Consumers are, effectively, being asked to bail out the travel industry and while some may take cancellations on the chin and accept credit notes, confident they will travel again, others, suddenly out of work, cannot. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work and more flexibility and imagination is required to help those hardest hit.

Ireland is particularly vulnerable to this crisis. Tourism employs over 300,000 people and generates billions of euro annually from more than 11 million overseas visitors. Now, it looks like few will visit from overseas this year. Domestic tourism cannot fill the gaps, with Irish people unable to travel more than a few kilometres from their homes until the middle of the summer at least.

Tourism is a fragile chain, only as strong as its weakest link. All the elements have to work well for it to work at all, which is why EU-wide solidarity is essential. Internal market commissioner Thierry Breton is seeking a tourism “Marshall Plan” and he is right on the money. A road map to European recovery, with significant financial backing, is vital, both to save a crucial sector and to give people hope that better days are ahead.

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