I’m going to talk briefly about the tourism impact of Covid-19, the industry supports that have already been put in place by Fáilte Ireland and the challenges that lie ahead, but first, it is worth reminding ourselves of the vital importance of tourism to Ireland.

Tourism accounts for 260,000 or 1 in 9 jobs and was worth almost €8billion to the economy. In some counties along the Wild Atlantic Way tourism now accounts for over 1 in 5 jobs. But tourism is not just about jobs and money, it sustains infrastructure and businesses that are vital to the wellbeing of local communities, culture and environment.

Covid-19 has been catastrophic for tourism. Economically tourism was hit first, hit hardest and will take the longest to recover. The sector has now had four months of no revenue. While revenue stopped the costs did not. Despite the supports the Government put in place, our initial ballpark estimate is that tourism businesses have incurred well over €1billion in unavoidable costs while closed.

Before we look at the future challenges it is important to look at some of the supports we have put in place to help the industry navigate the huge challenges over the last 4 months.

Fáilte Ireland’s response was immediate, constructive and comprehensive. In late February we established a Covid-19 Advisory Group comprising of industry associations, agencies and department officials. This group has met 15 times.

We refunded €3 million to businesses in fees paid and set up an internal Covid-19 Taskforce. We created 14 separate suites of new online business supports and training tools to help businesses manage their people, their operations, and their finances during closing down, surviving while closed and reopening. These supports have been highly valued and have been accessed over 300,000 times by industry on our online Hub.

We developed 8 new sets of Safe Reopening Guidelines for specific tourism sectors – these have been viewed and downloaded over 40,000 times.

Our response has been informed by extensive research, we have had over 5000 direct industry engagements and spoken to 21,000 domestic holiday makers.

We developed and submitted 2 separate grant proposal schemes, one to help cover costs incurred while closed and another to help businesses meet the costs of adapting their premises to operate safely. We also developed and submitted a proposal on tourism specific working capital loans to help get much needed liquidity into the sector.

Last weekend we launched a new heavy weight domestic marketing campaign ‘Make a Break for It’. We also briefed industry on the Fáilte Ireland Covid Safety Charter designed to instil public confidence in the safety of tourism businesses. We already have over 700 businesses signed up to this and we will be launching this to consumers this weekend. We have established 23 local Destination Recovery teams all around the country and we have created a new discoverireland.ie website.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge all involved for their incredible work over recent months.

Looking to the future, while we are delighted that tourism is beginning to reopen, the path ahead will be extremely challenging due to a number of factors.

Firstly, businesses are now carrying a high level of unplanned debt accumulated over the last 4 months which will make survival extremely challenging if not addressed.

Secondly revenue will be a lot lower due to a number of factors. The complete absence and slow rebuild of revenue from overseas visitors. The blanket 14-day self-isolation writes off over 70% of the sector’s revenue. We simply must find a way to facilitate the re-opening for overseas tourism as fast as public health considerations can allow. In addition to this, the capacity restrictions of social distancing measures and the challenges to domestic demand created by health and economic concerns will also depress revenue levels.

And thirdly, business operating costs will be higher in the Covid-19 world with increased cleaning, screens, signage, PPE etc.

The range of intervention supports and actions urgently required are in the interim report of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce and we believe these need to be implemented in full immediately.

It will be a long hard road to recovery, but we must not shy away from providing tourism the support required to recover. To do so would be to abandon balanced regional development and self-sustaining rural communities.

Following the financial crisis, tourism got more people back to work faster than any other sector and tourism will recover again but to do so it needs significant Government support now and for the next few years.