Coach tourism is an integral part of Ireland’s tourism industry. It carries coach passengers across the land, giving employment not just to coach tour operators, but also to hotels, visitor centres, restaurants, bars and other small enterprises. In 2018 coach tourism helped to contribute €400 million to the Irish economy.
The Current Situation
COVID-19 struck the Irish tourist industry at the worst possible time, with the commencement of Lockdown coinciding with the traditional start of the tourist season. The effect was immediate: international pre-booked tours were universally cancelled, and there is little prospect of any trips now happening in the current tourist season. The industry is unlikely to see any tours happening until March 2021 at the earliest.
The impact on the finances of operators has been disastrous. Operators traditionally plan their finances on the basis that they need to cover their coach tour operating costs throughout the winter period until the season commences again in the following Spring. In effect, they hibernate during the winter months and store up funds during the tourist season to enable them to survive the annual downtime until the new season starts again. The timing of COVID-19 means that operators have no reserves left to enable them to survive the crisis until revenue starts to flow again in the 2021 tourist season.
The Cost Incurred by Operators to enable them to remain in business
Coach operators have reduced their costs where possible. Programmes such as the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme have helped to defray some financial outlay, but many operators continue to augment staff wages. Other costs have reduced, for instance, fuel prices have fallen to zero, insurance costs have been deferred and some fixed costs (such as loan repayments) have been parked. However, there are underlying costs which are still being incurred by the operators and the impact of these is pushing operators closer and closer to insolvency. In addition, the effective life of coaches has been reduced by one year because of the crisis, and while some loan repayments have been delayed, the vehicles are still depreciating.