Tá áthas orm labhairt leis na Teachtaí, maraon leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Naughton, faoi théarnamh ár n-éarnálacha turasóireachta agus eitlíóchta, dhá earnáil a bhfuil dlúthnasc eatarthu. I am pleased to have the opportunity, along with the Minister of State to address the House on the recovery and reopening of our tourism and aviation sectors, two sectors with close links. The past 18 months have been incredibly difficult for everyone working in the tourism industry. However, as our economy and society have reopened over the last few months and as pandemic restrictions are eased further, we can begin to look forward to a sustainable recovery for this vital indigenous economic sector. The importance of tourism in Ireland cannot be understated. It is a sector that has made a huge economic and social contribution in recent years across the country. I am confident that, with our support, it will fully recover from the crisis and thrive again in a manner that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.
In 2019, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism was worth €9.5 billion in total to our economy from overseas tourists and the fares they generated, together with domestic tourism. Fáilte Ireland has previously estimated that 23 cent in every euro generated in tourism expenditure went back to the Exchequer in tax revenues. This equates to €1.8 billion in Exchequer revenue. Tourism supported 260,000 jobs across the country, both in remote rural areas and in our towns and cities. It sustains communities and drives regional development in a manner that most other industries struggle to emulate.
The tourism landscape changed drastically in early 2020 with the outbreak and spread of Covid-19. It has had a devastating impact on the tourism industry in Ireland and across the world. The pandemic struck Irish tourism towards the end of the first quarter of 2020, by which stage only 10% to 15% of annual overseas spending would have accrued. After the first quarter there was a collapse in overseas travel, and the OECD estimates that international tourism worldwide fell by 80% in 2020. Since the advent of Covid-19 and the consequential and necessary public health measures, many of the jobs supported by tourism have been lost or are surviving with State support, and income from the sector is a fraction of what it was in 2019. Last year, the tourism recovery task force estimated that of the 260,000 jobs in the sector prior to the onset of the pandemic, 180,000 are either lost or vulnerable.
The successful domestic summer seasons last year and this year have been very welcome and helpful to the sector. However, the sector cannot begin to fully recover until inbound overseas tourism resumes in a meaningful way.
Last year, a tourism recovery task force was put in place to prepare a tourism recovery plan with recommendations on how best the Irish tourism sector can adapt and recover in a changed tourism environment as a result of the crisis. The task force presented the plan to me in September of 2020 and it has been more than useful for both my Cabinet colleagues and me in considering measures that can assist the sector.
I appointed a recovery oversight group to oversee the implementation of the tourism recovery plan and it reports to me on a regular basis with updates on implementation and the recovery of the sector. The group has just submitted its third report to me. I will use the report as an important policy consideration as I continue my work, alongside my colleagues, to support the tourism sector in this most challenging period. It is clear that substantial progress has been made in helping tourism to survive and recover from the Covid crisis.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in Ireland, it has been clear that the tourism sector would be severely impacted. My Department, together with Fáilte Ireland and the Government, has responded to this challenge by providing the supports that would enable strategic tourism businesses survive the pandemic and re-emerge in a safe and sustainable manner. In the final months of 2020, I allocated funding to Fáilte Ireland to administer a Covid-19 adaptation fund, an Ireland-based inbound agents business continuity scheme and a coach tourism operators business continuity scheme. Fáilte Ireland also administered the restart grant plus for bed and breakfasts, on behalf of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
In budget 2021, I secured a record level of funding of just under €221 million for tourism, including €55 million for Fáilte Ireland's tourism business continuity scheme. The purpose of this scheme is to support strategic tourism businesses to survive through the pandemic and help drive the recovery of tourism. In total, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I understand that in excess of €75 million has been paid out in dedicated tourism supports. The VAT reduction to 9% until September 2022, has also given the tourism and hospitality sector some additional breathing space, and is helping with its viability and price competitiveness.
In addition to these direct tourism-specific supports, tourism businesses have benefited from horizontal supports such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, as well as the commercial rates waiver, tax debt warehousing and other initiatives such as pathways to work and the business resumption support scheme. One striking statistic is that employees in the accommodation and food services sector alone have been supported to the tune of over €1.5 billion from the EWSS and its predecessor the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS. This is a remarkable figure which shows the Government's commitment to those whose livelihoods have been so negatively impacted by the crisis. In the economic recovery plan, we acknowledge that continuing support for the tourism sector will be important for the coming adjustment period, as public health restrictions are lifted and international travel is restored.
I am currently engaged with my Government colleagues in preparing for next week's budget. We will consider both the importance of economy-wide support measures for tourism jobs and businesses and any additional sector-specific measures which may be required. Any further measures must be directed at those businesses and jobs with ongoing difficulties and the restoration of international tourism.
While our domestic tourism market has helped sustain the industry, it now needs international visitors to return in significant numbers in order to facilitate a meaningful recovery. In 2019, overseas tourists spent more than €5.1 billion in our economy. Since the easing of restrictions on 19 July, overseas visitors have started to return to our shores but at a much lower level than prior to the pandemic.
The competition globally to attract tourists will be more challenging than ever. To this end, Tourism Ireland has started to roll out the green carpet and welcome back our international visitors, as it works to encourage as many overseas holidaymakers as possible to book Ireland for their next holiday destination. The concept centres on creating a commitment to travel by encouraging people to Press the Green Button - green being the universal colour of go and instinctively connected with the island of Ireland. I was happy to help Tourism Ireland launch this new campaign in both the UK and the United States recently when I travelled to both markets to engage with our industry partners in order to reassure them that Ireland was open and waiting to welcome back visitors.
Connectivity is a major part of the picture here. Air access for tourism is a virtuous circle. Increased access drives tourism and increased demand for tourism helps to increase air capacity. I am aware, of course, that aviation poses challenges for the environment and I look forward to what the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, has to say on that.
At the start of this week, the Government launched the new National Development Plan 2021-2030. With provision for €165 billion worth of investment, this is the largest national development plan in the history of the State. The capital investment priorities for my Department will support economic recovery and resilience in the tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sport and media sectors, while also enhancing individual and community well-being and advancing social, economic and environmental sustainability to protect our unique cultural, linguistic and sporting heritage for generations to come.
The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on tourism. As we rebuild this vital sector, we must do so in a way that ensures the contribution of the tourism sector to our economic recovery, providing sustainable employment across Ireland in a way that protects our unique environment. With specific regard to tourism capital investment, I look forward to seeing the delivery of projects that will support a sustainable tourism sector - sustainable from an environmental, social, and economic perspective. The new national development plan provides for the delivery of enhanced amenity through investment in tourism product development, including through Platforms for Growth, Fáilte Ireland's capital investment strategy to target projects that have the greatest potential to grow and foster sustainable tourism.
I am also excited about the investments we are making in redeveloping and enhancing the sustainability of our national and regional cultural infrastructure, including significant capital projects at our national cultural institutions. For example, the ambitious redevelopment plans for the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork will open up our national collections to even more people, enhancing the visitor experience of the gallery while also protecting and enhancing the sustainability of this historic building at the heart of the city.
While many challenges lie ahead, the Government is committed to continuing support for tourism and to working towards its full reopening and recovery. From a tourism perspective, a real recovery will only be possible when inbound international tourism returns. Compared with most other EU member states, Ireland's tourism sector is highly dependent on overseas travel. Such travel accounts for some 75% of spending in Ireland by tourists. Since the pandemic there has been a complete collapse in overseas travel to Ireland. That does not mean that we should not maximise the domestic opportunity over the next few years. While the level of demand from the home market cannot compensate for the loss of overseas tourism, it plays a vital bridging role in getting the industry through the current survival phase.
Recruitment continues to be a significant challenge for the tourism sector, with up to two-thirds of businesses reporting reduced capacity due to staff shortages. My Department and Fáilte Ireland have been collaborating with industry and other Departments to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach to addressing the labour and skills shortages,
A collaborative approach by stakeholders, including industry bodies, education providers, Departments and State agencies will be required to address the skills shortages in the tourism sector. As tourism and hospitality provide significant employment in all parts of the country, this will be vital for the recovery of the sector.
Prior to the pandemic it was becoming clear that the traditional model of tourism was changing. As a Green Party Minister, I am concerned about the tourism impacts on our natural environment and local communities. In this regard, officials within my Department have initiated the development of a new national tourism policy which seeks to mainstream the concept of sustainability. The development of this new policy gives us an opportunity to set out what type of tourism sector we want up to 2030 and beyond.
The tourism sector has proven itself resilient before. I am optimistic that, as our economy and society begin to open up, it will recover from this crisis and thrive again.