OPERATORS – Support Our Campaign to Save Ireland’s Bus and Coach Sector
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The letter reads as follows:
Coach Tourism Operators Urgently Need Your Support
As a bus and coach operator in your constituency, I am writing to request your urgent support for our sector which has been completely devastated by COVID-19.
Since the beginning of March, the tourism industry has ground to a complete halt. This is in stark contrast to 2019 when 11.2 million overseas visitors came to Ireland. The private bus and coach operators transported 2 million of those visitors from one location to another, benefitting hospitality outlets, retailers, festivals, and many visitor attractions around the country. Last year our annual contribution to the Irish and regional economies amounted to €400 million. This will not be the case for 2020 or for some time yet, without direct support.
It is clear the business environment for bus and coach operators will be extremely challenging over the next 18 months. This is due to a number of factors, including operators having to deal with social distancing requirements which reduce capacity by 50%, consumer confidence badly damaged, and quarantine requirements limiting international travel.
Since COVID-19 struck over 9,000 privately-owned coaches have been parked up and all incoming tours have been cancelled. It hit the Irish tourist industry at the worst possible time, with the commencement of lockdown coinciding with the traditional start of the tourist season and when many operators had upgraded their fleet and invested heavily in their operations for the year ahead.
As you can understand, the impact on the finances of operators has been disastrous. Coach tour operators traditionally plan their finances on the basis that they need to cover their operating costs throughout the winter period until the season commences again in the following March. The timing of COVID-19 means many of us have no reserves left to enable us to survive the crisis until revenue starts to flow again in the 2021 tourist season.
Given the dramatic fall in our business and the uncertain future we face we urgently need your assistance in representing our interests to Government so that the direct supports we require are delivered on in the Stimulus Plan. In particular, we are calling for:
|Financial support mechanism||Turnover from coach tourism and private hire is €250 million. Fixed costs amount to 17 per cent of this figure which indicates the need for a yearly subsidy requirement of €42.5 million.|
It is proposed that the subsidy payment would be made for a nine-month period, which would equate to a subsidy of €32 million.
|Retention of the Wage Subsidy Scheme||The wage subsidy scheme needs to be retained until March 2021 or until turnover returns to at least 75 percent of its pre-COVID-19 levels.|
|Extension of loan moratorium from 6-12 months||The forbearance/moratorium by financial institutions needs to be extended from 6 months to 12 months, with no adverse impact on the credit rating of the business. This is particularly important for bus and coach operators, as the capital investment required is very significant, and consequently, debt levels in the sector are significant.|
|Recalibrate the Credit Guarantee Scheme||The Government’s credit guarantee scheme cannot be used for refinancing of loans, and the interest rates on the facility are too high. This scheme needs to be altered to address the needs of small businesses that are currently in serious financial trouble and need liquidity support to survive.|
We are heartened to learn that speaking in the Dáil on July 9th, the Minister for Transport, Éamon Ryan, recognised the impact of the halt of coach tourism this summer and the difficulties coach operators will face this winter. We welcome the awareness but stress the acute need for immediate steps on the part of the Government to sustain the sector. We are, therefore, asking you to raise the plight of our sector immediately with the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation, the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Tourism and outline the devastating impact of the pandemic on our sector and urge them to implement the measures we are seeking.
Without Ireland’s coach tourism sector being to the forefront of Ministers’ minds, we may very well sink to a place from where we cannot return, representing one of the biggest missed opportunities on Ireland’s road to recovery and prosperity. We, therefore, urge you not to allow Ireland’s coach tourism sector disappear. Acting now will help secure our future and all the hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on us while we retain our place as a tourism destination on the global stage.