Irish Examiner View: A two-way path towards recovery

Irish Examiner View: A two-way path towards recovery

As C19 restrictions ease businesses and, metaphorically at least, roll out the red carpet hoping customers will return to the High Street melee so they can, for the first time in months, generate turnover. The courage needed to be a successful retail or tourism business will be tested to the full. Some businesses may have prepared marketing plans to encourage customers to embrace this longed-for moment. They will find out soon enough it those plans might be realised.

Some tourism businesses underline changes to encourage the acceptance of a new normal. Dubai's  Jumeirah-Al-Naseem Five-star resort is an example. That resort trumpets new certified hygiene standards to reassure and attract. This recognises that all has changed utterly in the tourism sector and that the new normal will be very different from the old normal. In a country - this one - where tourism normally employs almost 200,00 people and generates something just under €10bn a year this shift demands attention. 

In 2018, around 2m visitors came here from America or Canada delivering revenue of €1.85bn. It may be overly optimistic, for many reasons, to imagine those figures might be replicated much less grown in the immediate future. That represented, in 2018, some 20% of Irish tourism business. Mainland Europe accounted for 36.5% of overseas tourists while Britain remained our largest individual market at 36.2%.

This, as the CSO tells us, is a two-way street. Total tourism and travel expenditure by Irish residents overseas increased by 20.3% to €1,260m in Q1 2019. When all fares are included, expenditure rose 14.9% to €1,492m. Yesterday's declaration from Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary that the Irish are "booking holidays to Spain, Portugal and Italy" despite quarantine rules and advice to stay at home suggests this trend may have modified but that it continues.

The challenge for our tourism sector seems to be to encourage more and more of us to holiday at home despite the undeniable disadvanges that predate C19 - uncertain weather and high costs. No matter how it is explained away, no matter how logical it might seem, the difference in cost between, say, a week in West Kerry or Costa del Sunshine is significant. A €30 bottle of house wine in,  say, Dingle pales quickly when compared to last year's €8 Albarino in Spain. Accommodation costs, especially in hotels,  also compare badly.

That challenge was unavoidably made all the greater yesterday when post-lockdown rules for the sector were published. Wedding revellers must stay two metres apart even on the dancefloor; golf tee times will be at 15-minute intervals; restaurateurs will have to tell their diners what is on the menu, there will be no hard copy; anyone who wants to swim in a hotel pool will have to book a slot in advance. None of this is helpful but it is, for the moment, necessary.

These restrictions exacerbate a situation already made fraught by the probability that the cruise liner business that brought hundreds of thousands of short-term visitors each yeat, will take years to recover. The changing nature of emigration and ever-weaker links with the children of emigrants    

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