Irish tourism is getting its mojo back but Covid could be here ‘forever’

“We’ve come around the corner now,” said Lynne Embleton, CEO of Aer Lingus, at the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC) Annual Conference in Croke Park today.

Despite “two-year losses of one million a day,” she said the airline has “an amazing brand” and will return to 90 percent of its pre-pandemic capacity this summer.

“Our whole focus now is getting our mojo back,” she said.

“From almost nothing, standing still, to this scale of operation, work is fun here. It’s exciting to get things moving again.”

The Aer Lingus chief was among several industry leaders speaking at an event where ITIC forecast inbound tourism could rebound this year to 67 per cent of 2019 levels – up from 60 per cent just a few months ago had appreciated.

This is due to increased air capacity, pent-up demand and growing consumer confidence that the Covid-19 pandemic is being “suppressed,” it said.

Other speakers included economist David McWilliams, IATA (International Air Transport Association) Director General Willie Walsh and Professor Luke O’Neill, who spoke with moderator Dearbhail McDonald about the state of the pandemic in Ireland and its impact on tourism.

“Thank god we didn’t go zero-covid here; that was a stupid idea,” he said, noting the difficulties China is currently facing in containing outbreaks.

Such an approach is “not feasible” for Ireland, he said.


ITIC Chair Ruth Andrews with CEO Eoghan O’Mara Walsh, Minister for Tourism Catherine Martin TD and AIB’s Cathy Bryce

However, Prof O’Neill noted that Covid “didn’t go away, you know”.

He predicted that “it will be here in the fall … it will be here forever” but that people could be “less anxious” thanks to vaccines and the efforts of science.

The Trinity College professor also expressed his hope that the US would end its pre-departure travel test requirements “very soon”.

“There is no scientific basis for this,” he said.

IATA’s Mr Walsh, the former chief executive of airline group IAG, has criticized governments’ approach to travel restrictions during the pandemic.

While early measures were understandable “when we didn’t know what we were dealing with,” later restrictions “did very little or nothing to combat the actual pandemic,” he said.

85 airlines have failed in the last two years, he added, but the industry has been resilient: “What surprised people was that 285 didn’t fail.”


Irish Tourism Recreational Scenarios. Source: ITIC

ITIC is an umbrella organization representing tourism stakeholders including DAA, Aer Lingus, Irish Hotels Federation, Irish Ferries and the Restaurants Association of Ireland.

Despite the improved tourism outlook for this year, a full recovery to 2019 levels, when visitors spent €9.2 billion in Ireland, will not be achieved before 2026.

“In previous crises, the problem was demand,” said its CEO, Eoghan O’Mara Walsh. “But a lot of the issues now revolve around supply.”

Labor shortages, inflation and the war in Ukraine “could slow down the sector’s recovery,” he said, adding that the government should maintain its support for tourism and postpone the planned increase in the VAT rate in hospitality.

The special rate of 9 percent was extended last year but is expected to return to 13.5 percent this September – something the industry believes will put further pressure on prices.

Tourism Minister Catherine Martin, who also attended the conference, said she could not give any guarantees of a further extension “but behind the scenes I am pushing for it”.

On inflation, Minister Martin said the government had responded “with €2 billion of measures” and would keep an eye on everything, “in a state of flux and a moving situation”.


Lynne Embleton, CEO of Aer Lingus

“I think the industry needs to consider whether it’s better value for money and what else can be offered to tourists,” she said on the sidelines of the event.

“Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about making tourists happy this summer, it’s about bringing them back again and again.”

The conference also posthumously presented the 2022 Eileen O’Mara Walsh Tourism Industry Special Recognition Award to Eamonn McKeon, the well-known former CEO of ITIC.

ITIC also announced a strategic partnership with AIB which included a tourism sustainability report with recommendations on setting baseline and emissions targets for the industry, developing a “big offset project” in Ireland and introducing carbon calculators for businesses.

The full Delivering a Sustainable Tourism Industry report is available at Irish tourism is getting its mojo back but Covid could be here ‘forever’

Fry Electronics Team

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