• Cyril McAree

Irish Travel Agents concerned by the impact of COVID-19 on the Irish travel industry

The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) have voiced their concerns regarding the impact that the COVID-19 crisis is having on travel agents throughout the country, and are calling for assistance from Government to help repair some of the damage to the Irish travel industry in the form of measures such as wage subsidies and grants to support travel businesses that are struggling in the wake of the pandemic.

The ITAA have participated in ongoing meetings with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport since the beginning of the crisis in March, and met with Minister Hildegarde Naughton TD in July where the Association put forward a business support submission outlining the current situation of the Irish travel sector.

The travel industry is a nationwide SME sector largely comprised of family run businesses. Irish travel agents employ roughly 3,500 people in towns and cities across the country, including employees in rural Ireland, the majority of whom are at risk of long term unemployment unless immediate action is taken.

Although the Irish travel industry has remained active since March, this is no longer sustainable without additional support from Government. Travel agents have had to remain open to service customers with cancellations, refunds and rebooking holidays. These companies could not close down even though they were effectively blocked from trading and they have had to continue to carry a proportion of salary and all overhead costs. If additional supports are not made available, there will be widespread collapse in the industry, with many companies closing resulting in job losses and subsequent impacts on consumers.

ITAA CEO Pat Dawson stated, “Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the travel industry has been forced into lockdown for an indefinite period of time. We want to work with Government to save lives and keep our families, our staff, our clients and our communities safe, but we also need to preserve our businesses so that we can resume operations when it is safe to do so. Our industry is in an exceptional position; we are facing long a term recovery and we urgently require the support and assistance of Government. If our staff are laid off, it will be extremely difficult to restart our businesses when the pandemic has subsided.”

He continued, “Consumer protection is our top priority. Currently there are thousands of clients who have booked to travel for the rest of 2020 whose bookings need to be rescheduled or refunded, plus the thousands who are still waiting for refunds from earlier in the year, which we are chasing and monitoring constantly. Travel agents provide an essential service to our consumers; if we are not there this responsibility will fall to the Commission for Aviation Regulation.”

The Irish travel sector is a strong and dynamic industry which employs over 3,500 people across Ireland. Last year CAR reported a €1.2bn turnover for Irish travel agents in 2018 as part of its Annual Report for that year. Travel agents are engaged in all aspects of overseas travel including leisure, corporate and those visiting family abroad. There is interdependency between outgoing and incoming air and sea transport volumes. The sector has been drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; since March 2020 the industry is down by 98%, and there are currently 250,000 jobs at risk in the tourism sector, which is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry.

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