I propose to take Questions Nos. 242 and 243 together.
Last year, a Tourism Recovery Taskforce was appointed 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 COVID-19 crisis. The Taskforce presented its Tourism Recovery Plan 2020-2023 to me on 30th September last. I met with the Taskforce members at their final meeting on October 7th to thank them for the huge amount of work they had put into creating the Tourism Recovery Plan. The Plan produced by the Taskforce was a very useful and important consideration for myself and my colleagues in Government in our deliberations for Budget 2021 and this continues to be the case as we evaluate the evolving situation.
One of the recommendations in the Recovery Plan was to establish an independently chaired Recovery Oversight Group, to oversee the implementation of the recommendations in the Taskforce report and monitor the sector’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. I appointed the Recovery Oversight Group in December 2020 and the group comprises tourism industry practitioners, a transport policy expert, along with the CEO’s of the tourism agencies and a Departmental representative. The Group will keep me apprised of progress on the implementation of the Recovery Plan and the recovery of the sector. The Recovery Oversight Group has met twice to date and I attended the Group's first meeting on the 7th December. The Recovery Plan makes a number of recommendations with the priority recommendations relating to the survival of the sector. Good progress has been made in introducing the following tourism-specific measures:
- There was a record level of funding for Tourism overall, an increase of €59 million over 2020 allocation, to just under €221 million.
- A €55 million business continuity scheme was introduced to help strategic tourism business survive the pandemic and drive recovery.
- The VAT rate for the Sector was reduced to 9% to help improve competitiveness and viability of businesses.
- A €10million Ireland Based Inbound Agents Business Continuity Scheme opened for applications in November.
- Funding of €5 million has also been provided for upskilling training and to improve digital presence.
In addition, there have also been very positive developments with regard to horizontal measures introduced or amended by Government which relate to the recommendations in the Recovery Plan:
- The EWSS will continue in some form for all of 2021 and the EWSS rates will be aligned with the rates of payment under PUP, up to €350 per week, until 31 March 2021.
- The Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) was introduced, providing for turnover-based payments of up to €5,000 per week where businesses are significantly impacted or closed due to public health restrictions. As at 28 January 2021, Revenue Commissioners’ data shows that €244m was paid out under CRSS, of which approximately 64% (€155m) related to Tourism and Hospitality.
- The Commercial Rates Waiver was extended to the end of Q1 2021.
The measures introduced have been critical in assisting tourism businesses to survive the hugely challenging situation brought about by the pandemic which is ongoing.
Unfortunately, the evolution of the pandemic in Ireland and elsewhere has meant that our tourism sector has remained in survival mode. Many of the remaining recommendations of the Recovery Plan are aimed at the stabilisation and recovery phase. I, along with my colleagues in Government, will keep these under review as we emerge from the survival phase and move towards recovery and look forward to the input of the Recovery Oversight Group to inform my deliberations in this regard.