I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to address the committee today. As chair of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce, I am pleased to provide a brief overview of the tourism recovery plan and to discuss the wider impact that Covid is having on the tourism industry.
Tourism is the most important indigenous labour-intensive sector in Ireland and generates very substantial export earnings and tax revenues. It is woven into the fabric of Irish culture and social life and is of critical importance to regional economies in particular. As tourism is so integrated into the economy and so diverse and overwhelmingly made up of SMEs, it has suffered from a lack of visibility and recognition as an internationally traded service.
In addition, tourism plays an important role in promoting Ireland's image abroad, generating a positive impression of Irish people, landscape and culture on visitors which can influence other aspects of our relationship with the world such as investment decisions or educational choices.
Covid-19 has created a perfect storm for tourism. A trading environment requiring social distancing and limited gatherings, together with travel restrictions that have meant overseas tourism has virtually disappeared, is threatening the survival of a large part of the tourism ecosystem in Ireland. Tourism provided €9 billion to the Irish economy in 2019 and supported 260,000 jobs. This year's figure is likely to be less than €3 billion and 180,000 of those jobs are either already lost or very vulnerable. As in all countries, tourism faces an existential crisis and the impact of Covid-19 on our industry is likely to continue well into 2021. The situation in Ireland is exacerbated by the fact that we depend on overseas tourism for 75% of our revenue.
As a consequence of the initial lockdown from mid-March the tourism industry requested the establishment of the tourism recovery taskforce, TRT. A tripartite structure was recommended, including industry, tourism agencies and departmental participation, to ensure the TRT would have a collaborative approach to mitigating the impact on the sector and developing a three-year recovery plan for the tourism industry. In late May the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, and the then Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, established the TRT as a private-public body comprising 14 members, including industry and external business expertise, tourism agencies and representatives of the Department.
The tourism recovery plan was submitted to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, on 30 September. It makes 33 recommendations for the survival and recovery phases. Prior to submitting the recovery plan, the task force provided several other inputs to keep the Minister apprised of its deliberations. These included an initial statement made just in advance of businesses reopening in mid-June; an initial report in advance of the Government's July jobs stimulus which highlighted the key recommendations for business survival at that time; and a chairperson's note to the Minister on 21 September, in advance of the full report to her, which outlined pre-budget recommendations for the survival of the industry.
The TRT consulted widely with industry as part of a consultation phase in its first month. That resulted in 813 submissions. Further consultation was also undertaken with wider Government and external expertise. This led to the establishment of eight work streams, led primarily by TRT members and including external participants and industry experts. Each work stream considered a specific area of importance to the survival and recovery of the sector with a view to informing the final plan.
The plan makes recommendations to help to ensure the survival of tourism businesses and jobs and to help the sector to stabilise and recover in the years to come. It focuses on providing business supports, enhancing sustainable employment, re-establishing international access, strengthening marketing investment, promoting competitiveness, increasing investment in the tourism product, building a sustainable recovery and implementation by a recovery oversight group. Immediate and long-term measures in each of these critical areas will support the retention and recovery of businesses, jobs and livelihoods. The TRT strongly believes that with the right investment and support, particularly in the survival phase, tourism can retain capacity, skills and strategic assets that will strengthen the pace of recovery when restrictions are eased to enable international tourism.
Some 12 survival recommendations were made, including business continuity grant aids and additional operational supports for enterprises; adjustment of the employee wage subsidy scheme; professional development supports for workers in the sector; liquidity measures to support vulnerable but very viable businesses; facilitating the resumption of inbound international tourism; increasing competitiveness through a VAT reduction and actions to lower the cost and increase the supply of insurance; and increased domestic and overseas marketing expenditure.
As an industry practitioner and chair of the TRT, I welcome the measures announced in budget 2021 for the survival of the tourism industry. They will support the industry in the short term. It is important that the industry is recognised as being hardest hit by Covid-19 and that investment in the sector now and through the stabilisation phase ensures the pace of recovery will be strengthened when restrictions can be eased. The implementation of a tourism recovery plan oversight group will be an important next step. The recent establishment of the tourism and hospitality forum by the Tánaiste and the Minister is another very welcome initiative.
I fully understand that recent developments mean the time is not yet right to reopen Ireland for international tourism. Nevertheless, I cannot stress enough how important it will be for the recovery of the sector to find a way to get overseas tourists back into Ireland. We must do so in a safe manner of course, and the EU's recent adoption of the traffic light system is an important first step in this regard. It is now vital that we fully explore the appropriate testing regime for implementation so that the current period of quarantine may be concluded.
Tourism has a proven track record in supporting economic recovery, as evidenced by the more than 65,000 jobs created post the 2010 economic crash. The industry stands ready to play its part again and secure a sustainable recovery for its long-term future. Even in these incredibly difficult times, I and my colleagues on the TRT and in the wider tourism industry remain confident that the Irish tourism industry can recover and develop as a world leader in sustainable tourism practices. The prize is huge. The industry can return to providing more than 250,000 jobs, particularly in Ireland's regions, and generating more than €9 billion for the economy.