The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation has outlined nine key policies which it says are needed to safeguard the industry as it continues to deal with the harsh impact of the Covid-19 restrictions. 

The tourism industry here took an 85% hit in revenue last year with the loss of 160,000 jobs due to Covid-19.

The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation said that as businesses in the sector continue to remain shut for public health reasons for at least the first few months of 2021, Government support is critically needed to ensure the essential fabric of the tourism industry is preserved. 

It predicted that a recovery will start in the second half of 2021 but only if certain policies are implemented to support the country's largest indigenous industry and biggest regional employer.

Among its policies, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation said the the vaccination programme needs to be rolled out "urgently, effectively and speedily".

It noted that there is frustration within the industry that Ireland seems to be slower than other countries in this regard. 

The ITIC also wants the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) to be doubled and extended to all tourism businesses.

It said the criteria for CRSS needs to be relaxed for tourism and hospitality enterprises with the 10% calculation of weekly turnover doubled and the €5,000 cap removed. 

It has also urged that the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, which has proven a key measure for tourism businesses since the start of the pandemic, be extended at current levels for the sector for the rest of the year.

"Tourism is an extremely labour-intensive sector, with a significant regional bias, and people are vital to the industry and everything must be done to keep employees linked to their employers," the ITIC stated.

The confederation also said that tourism budgets should be doubled to include business continuity grants, upskilling supports, and international marketing funds.

It claimed these marketing funds are vital to allow Ireland to compete on the global stage once the pandemic is over.

On the Stay & Spend Scheme - which was launched as part of last year's July stimulus package - the ITIC said the scheme was "flawed" from the start and described it as "an unnecessarily complicated tax rebate". 

It said that even before the current Level 5 restrictions, draw-down of the scheme was negligible with Revenue confirming last month a take-up of just 0.2% of original projections. 

The current restrictions means the scheme needs to be relaunched as a consumer-friendly upfront voucher for every household redeemable against any tourism and hospitality businesses, as opposed to just accommodation and food. 

It also said the voucher needs to extended to the end of the year rather than the scheme's current end date of April 30.

According to the ITIC, the waiver on commercial rates introduced last year was an important measure to allow companies retain cash within their business, but this now needs to be extended for the tourism and hospitality industry for all of  2021. 

With 75% of the Irish tourism economy dependent on international visitation, the tourism group there is a fundamental necessity to restart international inbound access in a "safe and sensible" manner. 

It said the current PCR test requirement along with the quarantine period effectively means there is a closed sign above the country for holiday visitors. 

"ITIC has been of the view for some time now that a multi-lateral cost-effective, rapid and scaleable testing regime should replace the PCR tests and these should be deployed so that flights and ferries can resume and domestic events and functions can take place safely," it said.

The ITIC said the reduction in VAT to 9% for tourism services was important as it puts Ireland back on a competitive footing with our European peers. 

But it said the planned ending of the measure in December 2021 was "nonsensical", adding that the tax policy needs to be continued until 2025 to allow the industry to recover over this period of time.

Finally, the ITIC said a moratorium on bank loans needs to be re-introduced to support business cash-flow, adding that vulnerable but viable businesses need to be supported in

"It is becoming increasingly apparent that employees of tourism and hospitality businesses are being viewed by financial institutions as high risk in relation to loans and mortgages, which is causing further unnecessary stress to our most valuable asset in tourism, 'our people', and will cause an even greater exodus of vitally important skills," the ITIC said. 

"Banks should therefore also be asked to provide moratoriums to individuals employed in the tourism sector, assuming good credit ratings prior to Covid," it added.