A coordinated plan is needed
Public decision-makers are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they are facing a decrease in taxes generated or supported by tourist spending. On the other hand, the cost to supporting affected businesses continues to grow if those businesses are to survive. Finally, they have to prioritise health spending during the worst pandemic the country has seen for a century.
A similar situation is faced by businesses which still have bills to pay, while having no revenues. Looking ahead, they know the investments required to manage new sanitary or health requirements could be substantial and will impact their profitability. In this context, many are wondering if it will be worth reopening this summer or if they should wait until the end of COVID-19. But can they?
Ultimately, the ability of the industry to retain its accommodation capacity and skilled workers will depend on an ambitious and coordinated plan from public and private stakeholders. Strategic and evidence-based decisions will need to be made before the summer season to give clarity to tourism businesses and these actions could need to be maintained for at least two years.
Short term success factors - To stop the house from burning down:
1. A considerable, rapid and sustainable financial support package, tailored to the needs of each tourism sub-sector (e.g. accommodation, attractions, live events, business tourism, pubs and restaurants)
2. Responsive operational support to tourism businesses (e.g. strategy, liquidity, HR, insurance, debt)
Long term success factors - To build more resilient foundations:
3. A forward-looking plan to address the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities of this crisis for the Irish tourism offering
4. A coherent ‘Team Ireland’ approach to keep building on the attractiveness of a destination that has consistently been punching above its weight for the last decade
A resilient and sustainable tourism model could be the answer to a globalisation crisis
To a certain extent, this public health crisis is also a globalisation crisis. It should allow us to think about a more resilient model of economic development. On one hand, tourism is an integral counterbalance and armour against protectionist attitudes which inevitably result from global crises. We must continue the longstanding Irish tradition of welcoming visitors with open arms and our famous hospitality in order to fight this.
An alternative aspect is that, as citizens, and also as tourists, we tend to believe in the elusive idea that the grass is greener elsewhere. This crisis is beginning to challenge that for many of us. As we see small businesses and the hospitality industry suffer, many are turning their thoughts to how we can better capitalise on our national heritage and natural beauty, whilst at the same time supporting local businesses.