The Inbound Tour Operators Association of Ireland has called on the Government to set out a clear roadmap for the return of international travel as part of its expected announcement on the easing of Covid-19 restrictions tomorrow.
Yesterday Joe Walsh Tours announced its closure after 60 years of operation, citing the fact that it had not traded for more than a year and the lack of clarity around the travel industry for the rest of 2021.
ITOA chief executive Ruth Andrews said the industry was deeply saddened by the closure, and said it highlighted the challenges facing tour operators in the country.
"One of the greatest difficulties for them and the inbound tour operators I represents - being solely dependent on international, inbound tourism that accounts for 75% of Irish tourism's earnings - is the lack of a plan from Government as to when international travel can recommence," she said.
"We would strongly urge the Government in its opening plan announcements tomorrow to include a time-frame for the return of international travel, using the balanced plan provided by the aviation sector ten days ago."
She said such a roadmap would give certainty to the industry, which would allow them to begin to trade their way out of their current challenges.
While tour bookings tend to be made well in advance of departure dates, Ms Andrews said it was not too late for businesses to secure customers for 2021, but they needed to be given a clear target for when people would be able to travel to Ireland, quarantine-free, once again.
"What we do need to know now is that, if we can tell people that they can book Ireland by quarter three, with specific time-frames and dates in place, then we can actually secure business for later this year and get recovery started," she said.
There is a significant amount of pent-up demand from countries that are well advanced in their vaccine roll-out, including the UK and US, and current targets here mean that a sizable portion of the population will have protection by late summer and into autumn.
Ms Andrews said it was important now to get a positive message out about Ireland, to show would-be visitors that the country is controlling the coronavirus here.
As well as the sudden halting of trade, JWT also cited issues with its insurance as part of its reason for closing yesterday.
It said that, while it had business interruption insurance, it had failed to reach an agreement on a pay-out from its insurer.
Ms Andrews said that she was aware of other ITOA members facing the same challenge, and she called on insurers to work with businesses to ensure they could continue to operate.
She also called on the Government to continue supports for the sector, and to ensure there was no 'cliff edge' withdrawal as the economy began to reopen.