The chief executive of Tourism Ireland has said he does not underestimate the size of the challenge ahead for the tourism industry but is hopeful that international travel will resume in the third quarter of this year.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Niall Gibbons said the sector is facing "a very, very difficult picture moving forward".

Mr Gibbons said that Ireland has lost connections with ten of 24 North American and Canadian gateways as a result of the pandemic.

These include places such as Miami, Atlanta and Vancouver, which he said "represents an enormous amount of decline".

Mr Gibbons said there is "big" and pent-up demand among people to return to Ireland, and that there is a significant amount of pick-up by vaccinated Americans who want to travel.

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However, he said trends show people are heading to Latin America and the Caribbean, and that a lot of golf tourists are "drifting to Scotland".

"It is quite clear there will be no recovery in the first half of this year, but we are hopeful of seeing recovery in the second half of the year," he said, adding that Tourism Ireland will work with international golf tour operators to drive business into the country later this year and into 2022.

Mr Gibbons said that the EU digital green certificate will be welcomed, but the whole bloc will not move as a whole to welcome visitors from North America, who play a significant part in tourism spend in Ireland.

He said that international spend accounted for 75% of tourism spend in Ireland in the pre-Covid year of 2019.

This amounted to €5.8 billion, he said, which was critical to rural Ireland, with a large part of it coming from North America.

Mr Gibbons said that a roadmap nominating what is likely to happen in the third quarter in relation to international travel, including a testing regime, quarantine and vaccination passports would be useful.

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