Seanad debates

Monday, 22 March 2021

Covid-19 (Tourism): Statements

 

10:30 am

Sharon Keogan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

Sadly, the past 13 months have been a disaster for the tourism industry and the people and families who rely on tourism to make ends meet. I acknowledge the work of the tourism recovery task force that prepared the Tourism Recovery Plan 2020-2023, which was published in October. It appears to be a comprehensive plan, containing critical measures to ensure the survival of as many jobs and businesses as possible. Some of the key points of the plan are: business continuity grants and additional operational supports for enterprises; professional development supports for workers in the sector; liquidity measures to support vulnerable but viable businesses; facilitating the resumption of inbound international tourism; increasing competitiveness through a VAT reduction; actions to increase supply and reduce the cost of insurance; and increased domestic and overseas marketing expenditure. The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation also published a tourism industry revival plan in July 2020 with 45 policy recommendations designed to help avert a complete catastrophic collapse of the sector.We need to see these recovery plans urgently implemented. What parts of these plans have been implemented? What progress has been made since last summer to reverse the decline we have seen in the industry? I am concerned about whether we have seen sufficient action on the part of the Government.

I have been contacted by numerous people who work in tourism and who run businesses reliant on tourism. One individual who contacted me is Chris Slattery, who owns the Station House Hotel in Kilmessan. It is in such distress at this stage that it may have to close permanently, making the staff redundant. Mr. Slattery states:

We are seeking several urgent, immediate measures to help our industry survive the extended restrictions and secure the livelihoods of 270,000 people employed in tourism across the country, representing 1 in every 10 jobs before Covid-19.

This has been a traumatic experience and at this stage we are in a critical financial situation after 12 months of practical closure, we have encountered extreme hardship during this time and we now need to open urgently for the business to survive,

We are a small, family owned and run country house hotel located in the middle of the Boyne Valley in the village of Kilmessan, Co. Meath and during normal trading times we employ approximately 50 staff. We have been operating for 37 years and provide a huge amount of indirect revenue for many local businesses as a knock-on effect from our wedding business such as hairdressers, beauty salons, shops, hotels, and guesthouses. As weddings are our primary business, we need clarity as to how many guests we can accommodate, we need to know when we can accommodate 25, 50 & above and commencement dates and when we can eventually get back to normal trading,

We need to know this to decide on whether we need to close our business completely, we have remained operating behind closed doors with skeleton staff during this time and we need clarity for us to continue in business. We need the current financial support measures to remain in place, hospitality VAT rate to remain at 9%, we ask that all municipal and state body bills be [waived] until the pandemic is over and present conditions concluded.

We did apply for a government backed working capital loan with Bank of Ireland to support us through this period and it was unfairly declined, these so-called government backed loans are not widely available for small, family-owned businesses fundamentally defeat the purpose for which they were established. We need the government to protect us during this time, we contribute hugely to the economy and the local communities but also ensure that our Irish heritage is preserved and not over-run instead by large international brands taking money out of Ireland and ultimately destroying the economy and the uniqueness of Ireland in the long-term.

The all-important summer trading period serves as a lifeline to sustain the other months of the year in normal times. If this is eroded, additional government supports will be critical to survival. It is now "make or break" time.

We are calling for your help.

I want to make a point about the importance of vaccinations to get domestic tourism flourishing again and to attract international visitors. International tourism is vital. A total of 75% of spending on Irish tourism relies on foreign visitors. A total of 100,000 people in accommodation and food services receive the pandemic unemployment payment, with more tourism and hotel jobs receiving government wage subsidies. Industry estimates suggest many thousands of Irish jobs are at risk if international tourism fails to reopen this summer.

There is only one gig in town to sort out this crisis and that is vaccination. I have a national insurance number in the UK. As an experiment, yesterday afternoon I went online to see whether I could arrange a Covid vaccination. I was able to book an appointment for this Wednesday for vaccination in the Ulster Hospital. I am not in any particular bracket as I am in my 50s. We really need to get our act together. The Government needs to stop shrugging its shoulders and take action on vaccinations.

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