The Irish Times view on the prospects for Irish tourism: Rebuilding an industry

Ireland will not recover from Covid-19 until tourism recovers

Ireland will not fully recover from Covid-19 until Irish tourism recovers. Photograph: Brian Lawless/ PA Wire

In pre-pandemic times the loss of over 100,000 jobs in any sector in a matter of months would have been unimaginable, but that is the grim reality which has knocked Irish tourism so radically off course since early last year. Behind each one of those job losses is a personal story – people who have spent 18 stressful months in a state of suspended animation, relying on the meagre support offered by Covid-19 social welfare payments and with little idea when they might be able to return to work.

While the success of the vaccination programme is – barring the emergence of new, more virulent or vaccine-resistant variants – bringing the worst of the pandemic to an end and creating space for Government to reopen social and economic life, the road back for Irish tourism will be long and hard. Last week a typically bullish Michael O'Leary of Ryanair said Ireland was facing "four to five years" of hard times. He castigated the Government's handling of the crisis, accusing Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan of doing "nothing for the [aviation] sector for 13 months" – a claim rejected by the Green Party leader.

The Minister’s insistence that everything that could have been done has been done is dubious. The Government was too slow, for example, in rolling out the Digital Covid Certificate, which was introduced almost three weeks behind other EU countries.

While three weeks may appear insignificant, in tourism terms the delay was devastating and cost Ireland's hospitality sector a large part of its summer business while giving a fillip to rival destinations across Europe.

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O’Leary taking pops at people in power is hardly new, but this time he is not alone. The broader tourism industry wants action too in the form of extended wage subsidies, more money for marketing Ireland overseas, a continuation of its 9 per cent VAT rate and a cut in employers’ PRSI. When supports for aviation are added to the shopping list, it’s a very long list. But given the importance of tourism to the economy, it is clearly going to need significant help.

Since the 1970s Irish governments have supported multinational enterprises and fought tenaciously to protect a corporate tax rate structured to make Ireland as attractive as possible to foreign investment, often at the expense of Ireland’s reputation on the global stage.

Individual components of the tourism sector, from the Sligo surf school to the Clifden coffee shop, the five-star hotel in Dublin or the airlines that come and go, might not have the ear of Government as readily as multi-billion euro tech giants but they matter too and, crucially, provide employment across the whole country and not just in urban centres.

Ireland will not recover from Covid-19 until tourism recovers.