Top Irish tour operators on the brink of survival and “support is too slow in coming”

COVID-19 restrictions hit heavy on tour operators who fear for their business’ survival.

The COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe as we rang in 2020. One year on, and its omnipresence remains a force to be reckoned with leaving tour operators on the brink of survival.

Almost every industry has felt the harsh sting of the pandemic, but none more than the tourism industry, which relies heavily on the freedom of movement – a defining restriction of coronavirus lockdowns.

Speaking with some of Ireland’s leading tour operators, we gain insight into an industry under threat, as we reconcile with the reality of extended lockdowns.

Level 5 lives on – lockdown extensions

Level 5 lockdown restrictions remain in place.

In recent news, the Irish government has extended Level 5 lockdowns. Due to be revised on 5 March, restrictions are now likely to remain in place until 12 April, following on from the Easter holidays.

For many, this is a devastating blow, particularly to the hospitality and tourism industries subject to the harshest of Ireland’s restrictions, with blanket closures and business loss for nearly an entire year.

In an exclusive interview, Ireland Before You Die caught up with Rob Rankin, founder of Vagabond Tours, and Keith McDonnell, owner of the EI Travel Group that includes Irish Day Tours, Irish Whiskey Museum, Extreme Ireland, and City Sightseeing Dublin to gain insight on how the pandemic has effected tour groups in Ireland.

‘Support is too slow in coming’ – struggling to survive

Support is slow in coming for tour operators on the brink of survival.
Credit: Facebook / @irishdaytours

One of the burning questions we find ourselves asking is not when businesses will begin to resume operations, but with tour operators on the brink of survival, when will the ease of normality and free travel return to its pre-pandemic state?

“My business has been completely closed since 13 March 2020. At the time, I employed 170 people in Dublin. All those jobs are gone now with a skeleton crew remaining who are all getting the COVID-19 payment.

“It has been devastating for us. It has decimated the tourism industry all over Ireland and support is too slow in coming,” says McDonnell of the EI Travel Group.

The same sentiments are echoed by Rankin who founded Vagabond – Ireland’s leading small group tour operator.

“We did not run a single tour in 2020. This is the case throughout much of the inbound sector in Ireland. It has been terrible, especially when you consider that 75% of Ireland’s tourism is inbound.”

Looking to the future – hoping for a return to normality

City Sightseeing Dublin is one of the tour operators on the brink of survival.
Credit: Facebook / @csdublin

On discussing the tour group industries expectations for a return to normal, Rankin tells us “We sincerely hope that we see a return to some kind of normal this year for the summer season.

“We know there is pent up demand out there; people want to travel again once they know that they can commit to it. I think 2022 should be pretty positive, but probably it will be 2023 before we see a return to anything like 2019 figures.”

In contrast, McDonnell says, “I believe it will be 2024 before the effects of the impact of COVID-19 will be reversed”.

On a final note, Rob Rankin adds, “We will get through this, but it has been unbelievably challenging.”

As it stands, there is talk of the hospitality sector opening in late April, May, or even June, with a focus on outdoor dining and operations.

With tour operators on the brink of survival, the concept of free travel is still uncertain for summer 2020.

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