Coach Tourism Group calls for crisis intervention to save industry

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All sectors of the Bus and Coach industry have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, although some sectors are starting to move again, Government help is required.  The Coach Tourism & Transport Council (CTTC) is calling for immediate Government intervention ahead of Budget 2021 to save the industry from complete devastation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, associated restrictions and national policy determining that people should avoid public transport.

The CTTC has said that since the beginning of March, coach operators in the tourism industry have ground to a complete halt and members’ livelihoods have been decimated.

The Council is asking for direct Government invention in the form of a financial subsidy amounting to €42.5m for coach tour operators to help deal with the dramatic stoppage to their operations. Coach owners are engaged in a capital intensive business with many having upgraded their fleet at the start of the year in the anticipation of a bumper year.

The CTTC is also asking for Government to:

  1. Provide an enhanced financial subsidy amounting to €42.5m in order for the coach tourism sector to survive.
  2. Restore the fuel rebate scheme to cover excise duty and carbon taxes. The CTTC’s members have no objection to increased carbon taxes once a rebate is received on same.
  3. Enhance capital allowances for vehicles in order to reflect their current market value as a result of the market collapse. This measure will be cost-neutral for the Exchequer in the long term.
  4. Introduce a zero VAT rate or an equivalent arrangement for coach and bus operators to allow the industry compete on an equal footing with Northern Ireland counterparts. With Brexit looming, this will exacerbate present inequalities whereby operators will continue to be placed at a major competitive disadvantage to their counterparts in Northern Ireland.

John Halpenny, Chairman of the CTTC, commenting on the situation said: “Last year, private bus and coach operators transported seventy million visitors right around Ireland with two million international tourists being brought from one location to another, benefitting hospitality outlets, retailers, festivals, and many visitor attractions around the country. This has generated €400 million for the national and regional economy. However, regretfully, this will not be the case for 2020 or for some time yet, without meaningful support.”

“It is clear the business environment for bus and coach operators will be extremely challenging over the next eighteen months. This is due to a number of factors, including operators having to deal with social distancing requirements which reduces capacity by 50%, and consumer confidence being badly damaged. However, it is Government policy on aviation, one of the most conservative in Europe, that is directly responsible for leaving coach tourism operators particularly vulnerable with quarantining requirements severely limiting international travel.”

“The lockdown coincided with the traditional start of the tourist season when many operators had upgraded their fleet and invested heavily in their operations for the year ahead. Consequently, thousands of privately-owned tour coaches have been parked up with all incoming tours cancelled and zero bookings for 2021.”

“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 have no reserves left to enable us to survive the crisis until revenue starts to flow again in the 2021 tourist season. Even at that, the numbers will be nowhere near where they were in 2019. It will be at least 2025 before we see normality resuming. While some funding was earmarked for coach tour operators in the recent Stimulus Plan this was simply inadequate for what is required by our members.”

“Therefore, we are calling on Government to intervene immediately to save the industry by implementing the measures we are seeking as part of Budget 2021. Acting now will help secure our future, our fleet – which is among the newest in Europe – and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on us. It is crucial for our members, tourism focused businesses, passengers and the economy that we are in a position to move forward when our travel revers to normal levels.