I am fully aware that the travel trade sector has not been able to reclaim any meaningful level of lost trade over the past year. It is largely an SME sector, and as such travels agents and tour operators have access to the various business supports made available in the July stimulus package and in Budget 2021, which contains historic levels of State support in the form of wage supplements, financial grants and waived commercial rates. I know this does not come close to replacing lost business, but it is significant nonetheless.
It has been brought to my attention that some travel agents and tour operators have been experiencing difficulties accessing the COVID-19 Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), whereby some in the sector have qualified for CRSS because they have physical shop fronts, whilst others have not, typically because they operate wholly through online channels. Other small firms have been similarly locked out of the CRSS - for various reasons - and that is why the Government responded yesterday with further supports to target such businesses. The new €60 million Covid-19 Business Aid Scheme will provide grants to help cover some fixed costs such as rent and utilities for those firms not already in receipt of CRSS support.
The State is also providing a special financial guarantee under a Refund Credit Note scheme for the sector, which makes the credit notes that licensed travel agent and tour operators issue to their customers a very secure proposition. Credits notes to the value of €19 million have already been issued to consumers under the scheme – under which their value is guaranteed by the State - and this is money that the industry would otherwise have had to pay back in cash refunds.
It is a terribly difficult time for this sector, who I know just want a chance to trade their way out of the current situation. I am ensuring that my Department is maintaining an open and continued dialogue with the industry, and I will be joining Minister of State Naughton in a virtual meeting with the Irish Travel Agents Association next week.