The tourism industry here has warned that in a worst-case scenario the sector may not recover to 2019 levels of activity until 2029.

However, the chairperson of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC), Ruth Andrews, has said that is not a prospect that the industry is focusing on and it is hoping for recovery to take place much sooner. 

"The most optimistic that we need to look towards is when we can get back to those 2019 levels of business, when we can get back to creating those numbers of jobs again and we do envisage that is possible by 2025 to 2026," Ms Andrews told the ITIC virtual conference. 

"But it is going to be contingent on the Government continuing to commit to tourism and continuing to invest," she added. 

ITIC today launched its recovery plan for the sector here which includes three scenarios ranging from Optimistic, through to Base Case and Downside. 

The scenarios depend on variables such as the speed of rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, the implementation of safe travel protocols and the availability of connectivity, as well as the strength of the global economy and the restarting of demand. 

In the Downside scenario, vaccine rollout would be delayed, impacted by low take-up or fall victim to proven ineffectiveness.  

In such a situation, overseas tourist volumes would rise from an estimated 1.8 million this year to 7.56 million in 2025, compared to 9.69 million in 2019. 

However, in the Base Line scenario, visitor numbers would rise to 9.2 million by 2025, or to 10.5 million in the Optimistic scenario. 

In order to help the sector survive and recover again, ITIC is recommending the urgent roll out of the vaccination programme, a doubling of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) and its extension to all tourism businesses with a removal of the current cap. 

It is also seeking a doubling of tourism business continuity grants and the relaunch and redesign of the Stay and Spend Scheme as a consumer-friendly voucher to stimulate home holidays this year. 

The 9% VAT rate for tourism services also needs to be continued with no review until 2025, it claims. 

Ms Andrews said it is little or no value if it only remains in place for this year. 

ITIC also wants the waiver of local authority rates to be extended to the end of this year and the PCR testing regime to be replaced with a cost-effective, rapid and scalable testing system for all international arrivals. 

The industry also says a six-month moratorium on bank loans for businesses and mortgages for tourism employees is needed.

Ruth Andrews said when the recovery comes she expects it will be V-shaped in terms of demand. 

She said the CRSS and the wage supports are going to be vital for the industry and both need to be extended way out beyond the end of this year to provide security. 

Ms Andrews said supports need to be sectoral specific because while other parts of the economy have had to close down also, they have not taken the same hit as the tourism sector.

No cliff-edge for tourism sector, Martin promises

The Minister for Tourism has said there will be no "cliff-edge" for the tourism sector, as the recovery from the pandemic takes hold. 

Catherine Martin also told the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) Virtual Conference that the Government is committed to ensuring there is core connectivity in and out of Ireland when the Covid-19 crisis subsides. 

"The Government remains absolutely committed to ensuring that the aviation sector can maintain the necessary core capability to retain that strategic connectivity and is ready to quickly rebound when the time is right to do so," she said. 

Tourism Minister Catherine Martin

Ms Martin said she understands the call from the tourism and hospitality sector for the reduced 9% rate of VAT to be maintained beyond this year. 

"The reduction from the 13.5% to 9% rate that we achieved in the last budget, it is the most targeted, the most focused and of most benefit to the sector," she said.

"What I can say is that I am very aware of that and my focus is on that," she added.

The Minister added that she is working on delivering other supports to tourism businesses, including the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), two thirds of the payments of which have gone to the tourism firms, as well as the €55m of supports being delivered through Failte Ireland. 

"The key is there will be no cliff-edge and I have worked with Minister Donohoe and the Tanaiste on this and there will be no cliff-edge for this industry," she stated.

"It is about putting the right supports in place to survive." 

Asked whether she was disappointed at reports that Irish people were continuing to travel abroad on holiday, despite pleas for them not to do so, Ms Martin said: "Well of course, because you would hope for solidarity when a nation and so many businesses are suffering and people are going through that financial and personal hardship."

She said the primary objective of Government has to be to minimise the introduction of the virus from other locations to the state and in relation to inbound tourism that is quite difficult right now.

Stronger measures are being put in place, Ms Martin said, adding, "I think that is the way the Government is moving right now."

The minister said the Government would be ready to go out and promote Ireland abroad as soon as the time is right. 

She said she is reasonably optimistic about a recovery in the domestic tourism economy, but is also acutely aware that 75% of that is made up of international visitors.

"Our focus now is on suppressing the virus and making sure that domestic tourism is at best as it can be in the summer," she said.