ITIC Leading the Tourism Recovery conference 2021.
The 10th of February 2021. The weather is baltic with a constant threat of snow, we have just come out of the longest January in history, the annual Irish Tourism Industry Confederation conference was broadcasted today virtually over Vimeo and we are still in lockdown. Lockdown 3 to be exact.
Holding an annual conference can be a feat in itself at the best of times, but holding it virtually is another matter entirely. The ITIC did a fantastic job of this years event with a stellar line up of speakers and the launch of the second draft of the ITIC Tourism Survival and Revival report.
Dearbhail McDonald was the moderator for the conference and she started the morning by introducing a reeling in the years style video of 2020. A fantastic piece of footage that put into perspective just how quickly our industry changed over the space of a few months.
The speakers over the day included Ruth Andrews (Chairperson of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce), Willie Walsh (Director General of IATA), Minister Catherine Martin, Professor Luke O’Neill and the panel discussion featured Niamh O’Shea (Killarney Park Hotel), Paul Kelly (Fáilte Ireland), Niall Gibbons (Tourism Ireland), Cathy Bryce (AIB Managing Director; Corporate, Institutional & Business Banking) and Marc Crothall (Chief Executive, Scottish Tourism Alliance). A very impressive line up.
Ruth Andrews spoke of the latest edition of the tourism survival and revival report which brings 27 recommendations to the government. Among the recommendations Ruth highlighted the following to ensure survival of our tourism industry
- CRSS and the wage subsidy scheme needs to stay in place for as long as possible. The industry needs certainty on the EWSS until the end of 2021.
- A recommendation to keep the 9% VAT rate until at least 2025 to ensure recovery in the sector. It worked when it was introduced in 2011 to help hospitality and tourism during the financial crisis.
- Supports for upskilling and reskilling. A cohesive plan for learning is also needed. The sector is at risk of losing a lot of talent.
The worse case scenario for this industry is that we won’t see full recovery until 2029. However Ruth did mention that she thinks it will be a V shaped recovery and that demand will come back thick and fast.
A pre recorded interview between Dearbahil McDonald and Willie Walsh was then played. The full recording is below.
Mr Walsh was hopeful and optimistic about the state of the Aviation industry in Ireland. The demand is there. He did explain how difficult it was for Ireland to close its borders and the comparisons between here and New Zealand were just not realistic. He stressed an all-Ireland solution for quarantining and easing of restrictions.
Minister for Tourism, Catherine Martin was our next speaker. Dearbhail put some direct questions to the minister, but alas, she did not get concrete answers. When asked about the retention of the VAT rate, Minister Martin was not able to give us a solid answer. Interestingly one of the recommendations for the report is to give tourism its own stand alone ministry. Minister Martin has a fairly large portfolio of sectors under her wing- this would no doubt give more reassurance to the industry.
Just to mix things up Professor Luke O’Neill, Professor of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin joined Dearbhail in UCD to chat about vaccinations. Professor O’Neill assured us that our rollout wasn’t too bad. Not good enough though. After what was a fairly positive chat with the Professor he did mention that we still don’t know enough about this virus to know when we will be back in the pubs.
The conference finished with a Panel discussion between Niamh O’Shea (Killarney Park Hotel), Paul Kelly (Fáilte Ireland), Niall Gibbons (Tourism Ireland), Cathy Bryce (AIB Managing Director; Corporate, Institutional & Business Banking) and Marc Crothall (Chief Executive, Scottish Tourism Alliance). While Paul Kelly and Niall Gibbons were quick to remind everyone that we have come through many a crisis in the past, they did acknowledge that this one has had a much deeper and faster impact on businesses.
Niamh O’Shea from the Killarney Park hotel told us about the impact that the pandemic has had on the people of Kerry. 1 in 2 people in County Kerry are now receiving some form of income support. A scary but not surprising fact. She told us of how the management of the Killarney Park and Ross hotels have kept interacting with their staff to include Yoga sessions, cooking challenges and training. This is how you look after your staff through this pandemic, and this is how you will keep them when you need them the most.
An interesting chat with Marc Crothall explained how on the same day that Scotland launched their future vision for the tourism industry in March 2020, the first hospitalised case of Covid 19 was also announced. I think we all wished that Minister Martin was on the panel when Marc commented on the fact that the VAT rate is still at 5% in the UK following the British Government reducing it to help with their recovery.
All in all the conference brought hope and a bit more optimism to the 2500 delegates that joined. We can only hope that the government will take on board all of the recommendations in the revised report and help speed up recovery in the tourism and hospitality sectors of Ireland.