Irish Travel Agents Association respond to Government advice on travel restrictions amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) has again called for clarity from the Government on the current COVID-19 travel restrictions, stating that Ireland is now standing alone in Europe in terms of travel restrictions. The current guidelines have caused confusion for both travel agents and their customers, as the Government has not cancelled flights, but are advising passengers against travelling.

The Association is dissatisfied with the mixed messaging from the Government, and believes that a clear decision must be made between cancelling all flights and offering compensation to affected customers, or implementing ‘air bridges’ between countries in Europe with a similar rate of recovery to Ireland.

The ITAA has previously discussed the option of ‘air bridges’ with a number of Tourist Boards from other EU countries that are deemed to have the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

The Irish travel sector has been drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; since March 2020 the industry is down by 98%. In spite of this, it is one of the few remaining industries in the country which is still subject to restrictions. Domestic tourism accounts for 30% of the overall tourism spend in Ireland, meaning that the industry relies on overseas tourism for 70% of its revenue. There are currently 250,000 jobs at risk in the tourism sector, which is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry.

ITAA CEO Pat Dawson stated, “We have been receiving mixed messages from the Government regarding travel restrictions and air bridges over the past few weeks, which is causing huge confusion for customers and travel agents alike. If the Department of Health, the Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Foreign Affairs wish to uphold these restrictions, they will have to support inbound and outbound tourism and compensate affected consumers – a decision must be made on this. No one in the Irish travel industry is advocating unsafe travel, the response of the Irish people to the pandemic has been astounding, they are not going to start going on holidays and taking risks.”

He continued, “The EU Commission wanted a co-ordinated re-opening of borders within the EU, issued on 11 June. We are now significantly behind other EU member states in lifting travel restrictions, despite positive metrics from the NPHET. The travel sector has been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are concerned that we will be the last industry to get a restart date. In addition to not being able to travel, we are also closed for inbound tourism, which will affect the symbiotic relationship between inbound and outbound travel. This delay in lifting travel restrictions will drastically slow the recovery of the Irish travel sector and other related sectors such as hospitality and tourism.”