I thank the committee for the invitation to attend. I am joined by Ms Jenny De Saulles, our director of sector development, and Caeman Wall, our head of economic research. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, on her appointment.
I will talk briefly about the impact of Covid on tourism, the industry supports that have already been put in place by Fáilte Ireland and the challenges that lie ahead. First, it is worth reminding ourselves of the vital importance of tourism to Ireland. Tourism accounts for 260,000, or one in nine, jobs here and was previously worth almost €8 billion to the economy. In some counties along the Wild Atlantic Way, tourism accounts for more than one in five jobs. Tourism is not just about jobs and money, however, i t sustains infrastructure and businesses that are vital to the well-being of local communities, culture and environment.
Covid has been catastrophic for tourism. It dwarfs any previous crisis. Economically, tourism was hit first, hit hardest and will take longest to recover. The sector has had no revenue for four months. While revenue stopped, the costs did not. Despite the supports the Government has already put in place, our initial ballpark estimate is that tourism businesses have incurred more than €1 billion in unavoidable costs while closed.
Before we look at the future challenges it is important to look at some of the supports we have already put in place to help the industry navigate the huge challenges of the past four months. Fáilte Ireland’s response was immediate, constructive and comprehensive. In February, we established a Covid advisory group consisting of industry associations, members, agencies and Department officials. This group has met 15 times. We refunded €3 million to businesses in fees that had been paid and set up a Covid task force which has created 14 separate suites of new online business supports and training tools. These have helped businesses to manage their people, their operations and their finances when closing down, to survive while closed and to assist them during the reopening phase. These supports have been highly valued and have been accessed more than 300,000 times by the industry via our online hub. We developed eight new sets of safe reopening guidelines for specific tourism sectors. These have been viewed and downloaded more than 40,000 times.
Our response has been informed by extensive research. We have had more than 5,000 direct industry engagements and spoken to 21,000 domestic holidaymakers.
We developed and submitted two separate grant proposal schemes, one to help cover the costs incurred while closed and another to help businesses meet the costs of adapting their premises to operate safely. We also developed and submitted a proposal on tourism specific working capital loans to help get much-needed liquidity into the sector and are delighted that those proposals have been endorsed by the tourism recovery task force.
Last weekend, we launched a new heavyweight domestic marketing campaign called "Ireland, make a break for it". We also briefed industry on the Fáilte Ireland Covid-19 safety charter, designed to instil public confidence in the safety of tourism businesses. More than 700 businesses have already signed up to the charter, which we will launch to consumers this weekend. We have established 23 local destination recovery teams around the country and created a new discoverireland.ie website. I acknowledge all involved for their incredible work over recent months.
Looking to the future, while we are delighted that tourism is beginning to reopen, the path ahead will be extremely challenging due to a number of factors. First, businesses are now carrying a high level of unplanned debt accumulated over the past four months which will make survival extremely challenging if not addressed.
Second, revenue will be much lower due to a number of factors. There has been a complete absence of revenue from overseas visitors and this revenue will be slowly rebuilt. The blanket 14-day self-isolation requirement effectively writes off 70% of the sector's revenue. We simply must find a way to facilitate the reopening of access for overseas tourism as quickly as public health considerations can allow. In addition to the lack of overseas revenue, the capacity restrictions imposed by social distancing measures and the challenges to domestic demand created by health and economic concerns will depress revenue levels.
Thirdly, business operating costs will be higher in the Covid-19 world with increased cleaning, screens, signage, personal protective equipment, etc.
The range of intervention supports and actions urgently required are captured in the interim report of the tourism recovery task force and we believe these need to be implemented in full immediately. It will be a long hard road to recovery for tourism but we must not shy away from providing the support the industry will require to recover. To do so would be to abandon balanced regional development and self-sustaining rural communities. Following the financial crisis, the tourism industry got people back to work faster than any other sector. Tourism will recover again but to do so, it needs significant Government support now and for the next few years.