Coronavirus ‑ To Staycate or Vacate: Irish Tourism during the pandemic

By Peter Moane

As we come up to the three-month anniversary of the beginning of restrictions in Ireland due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Friday marked a significant step in the country’s recovery and reopening after a long period of self-imposed hibernation, with the acceleration of the government’s roadmap to recovery. Indeed, across Europe, we are beginning to see countries tentatively open up after months of restrictions put in place to combat Covid-19. As the continent, for the most part, begins to move from crawling to walking in the recovery from Covid-19, which still is a consistent threat, we can begin to return to some semblance of normality.

However, from the perspective of tourism, there are many challenges which still remain. Across the globe, the tourism industry will be one of the most hard-hit sectors because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Ireland, tourism numbers for 2020 may drop by about 80%, according to Tourism Ireland Chief Executive Niall Gibbons. The tourism sector in Ireland employs up to 260,000 people directly or indirectly, and brings in over €6 billion to the Irish economy. The government recently set up the Tourism Recovery Taskforce to develop a roadmap for recovery for the tourism industry in Ireland, who submitted an 8-point list of considerations to the government. On Tuesday, restaurants, hotels and adventure tourism and other hospitality business received guidelines on how to safely reopen on June 29th, which has been well received by those in the industry who are itching to open their doors again having been closed since March. Couple this with the acceleration of the Irish reopening, and there may be cause for optimism for the tourism sector. But, as recent times remain a challenge for the industry, how Ireland can rebuild and redefine its reputation in the tourism sector in the current and future climate will be crucial for its eventual recovery.

A holiday destination on your doorstep

Ireland is a truly breath-taking country – and this is something which we as a nation may seldom realise. Having lived abroad for a few years, my eyes were opened to what Ireland has to offer, but I had to leave the bubble to truly see it. The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation said that 75% of Irish tourism comes from international travellers, with only a fraction of that number to come back during the remainder of the year. However, there is an opportunity for domestic tourism, and the ‘staycation’, to take some of the weight off of lost international tourism, as Irish holiday makers turn their signs from trips abroad to staying in Ireland. iReach Insights last month found that 48% of Irish adults had cancelled overseas trips, and 23% of those now planning a staycation. There is an increase in interest in domestic holidays as both the appeal and ability to travel abroad continues to dwindle. Irish hotels have seen a surge in demand which has translated to bookings and reservations since the government announcement last week, mainly from Irish-based customers. While this may not completely compensate for the overall losses of the sector, there is a chance for Ireland to enhance its reputation as a destination of choice among those living here, and at the same time bring some much needed positivity to businesses and locales which would usually rely so heavily on the tourism industry.

Reintroduction of international tourism

International tourism to Ireland has all but evaporated since Covid-19 came to these shores. As the EU’s internal borders shut, any flight travel deemed non-essential came to a halt as airlines grounded their fleet. The troubles of Aer Lingus and Ryanair have been well documented, and Dublin airport alone has lost approximately €160 million in revenue due to the decrease in air traffic. In the case of Ireland, the mandatory two-week isolation period for all passengers into Ireland has ensured minimal footfall through Irish ports and airports, which may be extended beyond the current June 18th date.

However, as we progress through the summer, there may be limited capacity for foreign travel into Ireland. Ryanair will begin running up to 1,000 flights per day from July 1st as countries open up, and the government have mentioned the possibility of ‘air bridges’, where travellers from specific countries can enter Ireland and vice versa without needing to self-isolate, before the end of the summer. Although there may be a flow of travellers who will leave Ireland to go abroad, there will also be an influx of foreign travellers who will take the opportunity to come to Ireland as they will no longer need to self-isolate upon arrival. This is a great time for business and tourist operators to put their best foot forward to push Ireland as a destination of choice for when foreign tourism can resume in the near future, albeit in its limited capacity.

MORE: We encourage you sign up and to listen to ReputationInc CEO John Mahony in conversation with The Firm and iNua Collection, discussing the human side of the hospitality sector as it comes out of lockdown into this new way of working, from Thursday June 11th here.

As Ireland continues to move through the roadmap to recovery we, like countries across the continent, can think positively. We can both look back on the tough few months which we have lived through, but importantly can truly look forward to better days ahead. For Ireland the tourism industry, although hit hard, can work its way back to prominence. As we all now dream of getting out of the house and getting ‘away’, Ireland has a unique opportunity to redefine its reputation as a tourist destination of choice, both for those foreign travellers who want to see this beautiful piece of the world, or for those who call it home.

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