Reopening country to overseas visitors won’t happen overnight, says Fáilte Ireland chief exec

Paul Kelly Chief Executive Failte Ireland told the special Committee meeting on Covid-19 that reopening Ireland to overseas visitors could not happen overnight. Picture:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Reopening Ireland to international travel cannot happen overnight and will require a “roadmap” to enable airlines and overseas visitors to plan ahead, the chief executive of Fáilte Ireland has said.

While the sector was keen to reopen to international visitors, it could only do so when safe, Fáilte Ireland chief executive Paul Kelly told the Covid-19 Dáil Committee on Thursday.

The blanket 14-day self-isolation requirement, Mr Kelly said, "effectively writes off" 70% of the sector's revenue from overseas, which accounts for €5bn of the market and the sector was facing significant challenges given the absence of overseas visitors, accumulated debts in the order of €1bn since closing, and increased costs post-Covid.

“We are saying that as fast as public considerations can allow, we need to find a way to a safe reopening. I know there are meetings ongoing on this issue at various levels. 

"It comes back to the point that 70% of tourism revenue comes from overseas visitors and 180,000 of the jobs throughout the country that are provided by tourism are provided by the money overseas visitors bring in,” Mr Kelly said.

Reopening the country cannot happen overnight and a “roadmap” is needed to allow airlines and overseas visitors to plan ahead, he added.

“This is not something one can just say today that we will do and it will happen tomorrow. Airlines have to do their scheduling and people have to be able to plan,” he said.

“There is a need for us to communicate some form of roadmap to the airline industry, to overseas visitors and so on that is in line with public health considerations,” Mr Kelly said.

The pandemic, he said, was “catastrophic” for the tourism sector, which took in less than €1bn in overseas revenues in January and February before the Covid-19 crisis took hold, compared to €5bn last year.

Mr Kelly said a 0% Vat rate was “not legally possible” under EU regulations and the sector was seeking a 5% Vat rate as part of a recovery plan.

His comments come as the National Public Health Emergency Team is expected to make a recommendation on the 14-day quarantine requirement for overseas visitors.

The Cabinet is also set to consider the issue next Monday and a 'green list' of safe countries or air bridges will also be drawn up by July 9.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar acknowledged on Thursday that Ireland could not close itself off "forever". 

“We can't stop people from visiting their friends and families. We can't stop business executives coming into Ireland to create jobs so we need to get that balance right," Mr Varadkar said.

The 'green list', he added, will be subject to change and updated every two weeks and the 14-day quarantine will not apply to countries on the list.

Earlier in the day, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said caution was needed given the risk of a second Covid-19 wave if there was a big increase in international travel.

“We have to decide what is best for Ireland. We need to get this right. Caution is a good thing in our approach,” Minister Donnelly told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Meanwhile, Fáilte Ireland has launched a domestic campaign, ‘Ireland, Make a Break for It’, encouraging holidaymakers to take a staycation.