Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
118. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the steps her Department is taking to mitigate the impacts of Brexit and Covid-19 restrictions on the tourism sector; the steps she is taking to address the drop in UK visitor numbers in 2020 and 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38583/21]
I would like to thank the deputy for raising this matter.
The tourism sector has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary public health restrictions introduced to control it. Since my appointment as Minister, I have been fully engaged with stakeholders in seeking to identify and implement supports to ensure the sector’s survival and recovery.
A Tourism Recovery Taskforce was appointed last year to prepare a Tourism Recovery Plan with recommendations on how best the Irish Tourism sector can adapt and recover in a changed tourism environment as a result of the crisis. The taskforce presented its Tourism Recovery Plan 2020-2023 to me on 30th September last. The Plan made a number of recommendations to help tourism businesses to survive, stabilise and recover from the COVID pandemic. It has been a very useful input for me and my colleagues in Government in considering measures to assist the sector and will remain so as we move from survival to recovery.
As recommended in the Tourism Recovery Plan, I appointed a Recovery Oversight Group in December 2020. The group has met eight times to date, most recently on June 30th. It has reported to me twice with regard to the implementation of the Plan and the recovery of the sector. These reports have further informed my thinking, and that of my colleagues in Government, with regard to ongoing measures to support the sector.
I secured €55m in Budget 2021 for Fáilte Ireland’s Tourism Business Continuity Scheme, three stages of which have now closed for applications. The aim of the Scheme is to assist certain tourism services survive the pandemic and drive recovery. The Scheme will contribute to the fixed costs of identified tourism businesses, which are not eligible for CRSS, to support their survival.
In addition to the Tourism Business Continuity Scheme, my Department funded Fáilte Ireland’s delivery of the €10m Coach Tourism Operators Business Continuity Scheme and the €10m Ireland Based Inbound Agents Continuity Scheme in the final quarter of 2020.
During the same period, a total of €26m was provided for Fáilte Ireland’s Covid-19 Adaptation Fund and the tourism agency also administered the €8m Restart Grant Plus for B&Bs, on behalf of the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment. Funding of €5 million has also been provided for upskilling training and to improve digital presence for tourism businesses. The tourism and hospitality sector has also benefited from the VAT reduction to 9%, which will now extend to September 2022.
Tourism businesses have also been supported by horizontal supports and measures such as the CRSS, PUP, EWSS, tax warehousing and the commercial rates waiver, some of which have been enhanced or extended under the recent Economic Recovery Plan.
My Department and Fáilte Ireland continue to monitor and evaluate the business continuity requirements of the tourism sector and I will be announcing further funding calls under the Tourism Business Continuity Scheme in due course.
The Deputy will already be aware that Great Britain has always been one of our most important tourism market, in terms of visitor numbers. Before COVID-19, in 2019, revenue from British visitors was worth over €1 billion to our economy. Unfortunately, the necessary public health measures introduced to control the pandemic have meant that inbound tourism has been decimated and the British market is no different in this respect. Due to the devastating impact of Covid-19, the impact of Brexit on our tourism sector may not become apparent for some time.
Getting inbound international tourism back up and running is vital for the recovery of the sector and the continued economic well-being of this country. Tourism cannot begin to fully recover until we can find a way to safely resume inbound tourism as it accounts for about 75% of the revenue generated by the sector.
The introduction of Digital COVID Certificates by 19 July provides much need clarity to our tourism and hospitality sectors as regards a roadmap for the resumption of international travel. Alignment with the EU’s Digital COVID Certificate regulation will facilitate a gradual and safe resumption of inbound tourism, as well as allowing Tourism Ireland to take appropriate steps to market Ireland in overseas markets.
Tourism Ireland has been actively planning for the restart of international travel and is rolling out a significant promotional kick-start campaign to entice and welcome back overseas visitors. Phase one involved a major digital video campaign, which went live in Great Britain in June. I am aware also that the agency has significant additional activity planned for the second half of this year to stimulate British tourists to return to Ireland and will work with the industry to facilitate this.