'A light at the end of the tunnel': Broad welcome for plans to resume international travel to and from Cork

'A light at the end of the tunnel': Broad welcome for plans to resume international travel to and from Cork

The return of international travel has been broadly welcomed in Cork. Pic: Larry Cummins

News that international travel with the European Union will return from July 19 has been welcomed. 

Last night, Taoiseach Micheal Martin said that at his most recent meeting with European leaders last week,  support for EU digital Covid certificates for travel within the EU was confirmed. 

"Today at Government we agreed to fully operate that scheme from 19th July," he said. 

The Taoiseach said that international connectivity is critical to the country's success. 

“I understand the importance of our aviation and tourism sectors – international connectivity is critical to this country’s success and place in the world, and many jobs and livelihoods across the country depend on it.

“I understand the pent-up desire of very many people to have a break overseas or to welcome friends and family from abroad.

“But I also understand very clearly the need to get this right and to make sure that we restore international travel in a safe and sustainable way," he said. 

Importance of international travel to Cork

The founder of the popular Titanic Trail walking tour in Cobh welcomed the announcement of the return of international travel from July.

Michael Martin, who has been operating walking tours of Cobh since 1998, said that he discovered when Covid-19 hit that 94% of his business came from overseas international visitors.
Michael Martin, who has been operating walking tours of Cobh since 1998, said that he discovered when Covid-19 hit that 94% of his business came from overseas international visitors.

Michael Martin, who has been operating walking tours of Cobh since 1998, said that he discovered when Covid-19 hit that 94% of his business came from overseas international visitors.

He said that while staycations are great, that even if the entire population took a staycation, “it would not replace the 10 million people that come in every year and employ 320,000 and leave nine billion euro after them”.

Mr Martin said that while he is “delighted” about the announcement, that there will still be a lead-in time before people see “a return to normality”.

“Just because it is announced doesn’t mean they’ll arrive on that day. What international operators are looking at and what I’m conscious of is that England and Scotland are ahead of us in their vaccination programme so whether that will have an impact on people choosing to come here or not, I don’t know,” he said.

He said that he probably won’t see a return to the sort of numbers he had previously until March of next year.

“At the moment, all international visitors that I have and bookings that I have up to the end of August are cancelled and there’s very little for the remainder of the year,” he said.

He said that there is light at the end of the tunnel but that it will take “a bit of time to recover the losses”.

“I’m ecstatic about the announcement and opening up after such a long, dark, and challenging period without the international visitors so it’ll be fabulous to have them back but we need to be cautious and not just assume because of an announcement that everything will be okay and that they’ll all appear,” he said.

Cork airport 'ready' for travel 

The news was also welcomed by Cork Airport. 

Kevin Cullinane, Head of Communications at Cork Airport said that the daa, which is the operator of Dublin and Cork airports, has been advocating for a clear roadmap for the re-opening of travel for some time.

"Cork Airport will continue to work with our airline customers, Government agencies and other stakeholders in relation to the plans for a more widespread re-opening of air travel. We will also be working to restore the vital connectivity that the South of Ireland has lost over the past 14 months. The Irish economy, which is one of the most open in the world, is hugely dependent on trade, tourism and foreign direct investment (FDI).

"In line with Government guidelines, Cork Airport has remained open throughout the pandemic facilitating the import and export of essential medical supplies and cargo, search and rescue missions, medical evacuations and transplant flights.

"Throughout the pandemic, the health and welfare of our passengers and our employees has been our key focus and that continues to be the case.

"All the crew at Cork Airport looks forward to welcoming back our customers shortly. When they are ready, we are ready," he said. 

Supports for travel agents needed

The return of international travel has also been welcomed by travel agents, though the sector has warned that added supports will be required from Government.

The Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) said that it has been a difficult six months for travel agents who were effectively prevented from trading as a result of Covid-19, though continued to assist customers with refunds and rescheduling.

Pat Dawson, ITAA CEO said they are asking Government to provide the necessary business supports to avoid “another blow” to the industry.

Mr Dawson said that there is a six to nine month delay between booking and travel which means that the sector must work for six to nine months before they “actually count the income generated from advance bookings”.

The Association has also encouraged consumers to book with Irish-based ITAA member travel agents, as this will ensure that they are protected should any issues arise.

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