“We don’t really have a strong voice in our sector, and yet it is one of the most important sectors of the entire country” - that is the message of a concerned business owner as the outlook for the tourism sector looks continually bleak.
The popular Titanic Trail walking tours in Cobh which usually attracts up to 45 people on numerous tours each day in high season have suffered the biggest loss of cancellations in its 22 years of operating due to the loss of the American market.
The tours cover the heritage of Cobh and the history of its streets and buildings which have not changed since the Titanic’s port of call in 1912, attracting the interest of thousands of US tourists each year.
Although the general commentary surrounding the domestic market is that staycations can replace the loss of the overseas market, Michael Martin who has been running the walking tours since 1998 said that “even if you had the entire domestic market come into Cobh, it still wouldn’t replace what has been lost” and has called for more support and consideration for the sector.
“The domestic market that’s there is very small compared to the American market, you’re talking 4.5 million people against 250 million. There’s nothing in Ireland that would ever be able to replace that, even if every single person in Ireland was to holiday, and they don’t, there’s only a very small percentage in Ireland now compared to the 10 million overseas visitors who came into Ireland last year. ”
He said that he does not understand what the Government is missing as visitors to Ireland last year generated between €6 billion and €8 billion and in doing so, secured a quarter of a million jobs in the tourism sector alone.
He said that he doesn’t know of any other sector that has been hit as badly and that although pubs have been dealt a bad hand, that once they do reopen that they will have their clientele and the tourism industry does not.
He highlighted that other sectors have a very strong presence arguing their case on radio and television whereas the tourism sector has few to represent their views.
“The media turn to Fáilte Ireland for its views and while they’re very well-meaning and they work very hard in promoting Ireland, they’re not in business and they're not in a position to oppose Government initiatives that may be falling short,” he said.
Dr Martin’s business comprises of 6% domestic market and 94% of the American and overseas market and said that prospects are “bleak” as a recent briefing from Tourism Ireland showed that there wouldn't be “any meaningful movement until next year, probably even autumn of next year”.
He said that it appears to him that there is aid from the Government “going out left, right and centre” but that the biggest economic impact was in the tourism sector which is getting little support.
“Some businesses such as restaurants and hotels have suffered and are now only operating at 30 or 40%, however, I’d love to see 30 or 40% of business coming in,” he said.
Dr Martin who has welcomed just 15 people on his tours since March 12, said that although qualifications to get grants are laid out “you don’t need any qualification to have paid your corporation tax, PRSI and VAT” and that his company was a “NEST contributor to the State”.
“We don’t take any money off the State, we collect VAT for them, we collect suppliers’ PRSI, we pay our corporation tax, we don’t get anything in return and we get this business off our own back and we end up being NEST contributors to the State.” He also fears that the Wage Subsidy Scheme will not be continued and only has two out of his 11 staff still on the books.
He suggested that Revenue should look at what every company paid into the State in tax, VAT and PRSI last year and that the figure maybe should be given back to businesses to help them through next year.
“We’d probably be okay by autumn next year but just this year give us back the money that we already paid into the State, we don’t want new money, but it would be helpful to get back what we paid in last year,” he said.
Dr Martin is on the verge of producing a virtual product which he said will be like starting all over again but he hopes it will give people who could not make it to Ireland from overseas an insight into the history of Cobh from the comfort of their homes thousands of miles.