Shortages and price gouging affecting Ireland’s tourism sector made worse by our own choices – The Irish Times

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster wrote this week to the Oireachtas Tourism Committee to request a meeting on the “spiraling cost” of hotels. The Louth representative correctly noted that it is extremely difficult for people with ordinary incomes to find affordable hotel accommodations.

One of the reasons prices are skyrocketing is because there is a huge shortage of hotel accommodation, particularly in Dublin, but also in many tourist hotspots across the country. This shortage is compounded by the fact that thousands of hotel rooms are occupied by Ukrainian refugees and also, separately, by asylum seekers housed in the direct state provision system. But the enthusiastic return of tourism and business travel would have been enough on its own to show the scarcity.

Yet just two and a half years ago, Dublin City Council councillors, which includes eight Sinn Féin members, voted to limit hotel development in the city because they felt too many were being built, even as industry insiders tourism told them otherwise. . The political left at the time was intoxicated by the simplistic No More Hotels campaign that came to life after Bernard Shaw, a Dublin city pub and bastion of urban culture, closed to make way for a hotel development scheme.

Now here we are a short time later and there is, in fact, No More Hotels, just not in the way the leaders of that misguided campaign meant by their slogan. There are no more hotels for the people who need them, and there won’t be enough until many more are built. Shortages will have a direct cost to the economy and communities in terms of lost businesses, jobs and investment.

Campaigners told us at the time that Dublin in particular was creaking under the weight of new hotels which, it was implied, were not needed. A spurious anti-hotel culture took hold in the media, political and public discourse. It was cynically encouraged by certain politicians who should have known better, but who saw an opportunity for themselves by clinging to a populist campaign.

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It is simply a fact to say that it was politicians almost entirely on the left of the political spectrum who fueled that campaign of anti-hotel thinking. They combined the commercial rush to build hotels with completely unrelated problems, such as a shortage of affordable housing. Don’t hold your breath waiting for one of those politicians to admit that he was wrong. Now everyone has shut up about hotels.

The counterproductive campaign to limit much-needed hotel development is a good example of the short-term thinking that dominates tourism planning in this country. That criticism is not directed at the state tourism agencies, Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland, which are among the most effective business-friendly state agencies. Rather, it is aimed at the wider Irish political attitude towards the tourism industry leading to poor policy making, making the job of tourist agencies even more difficult.

Here is another example of this short-term thinking pandemic that has damaged the tourism and travel industries. Over the last week, there has been a huge political and media outcry over the cost of car rental. It could easily cost a visitor over €2,000 to rent a standard family car for a week in Ireland this summer. A prospective American visitor, Oisin Hayes, was widely quoted in the media this week after being asked by a car rental company to pay nearly €10,000 for a three-week rental in July.

That’s ridiculous, people said. And they have all the reason. But how did such ridiculousness arise? It is because there is a huge shortage of car rental stock. That happened, in large part, because car rental companies were forced to sell their fleets in Ireland in 2020 and 2021, because they had almost no customers for them. They had no clients because the government, on the advice of public health authorities, decided to scupper nearly all international travel for two years to combat the coronavirus. Other European countries have limited travel, but not to the extent that we have.

When it effectively closes the borders, as Ireland did for long periods, what do you think will happen to all the businesses, like car rental companies, that depend on people crossing those borders? Wage subsidies keep staff on the books. But it doesn’t help capitalize balance sheets. The car companies couldn’t afford to keep their cars and now that they are needed again, they can’t buy any.

Ireland’s car-to-hire shortage is a perfect example of the economic scars that lawmakers were repeatedly warned would come from our unusually strict approach to limiting travel in recent years. The severe shortage of chefs, waiters and other tourism and hospitality workers was also exacerbated by this approach, as many foreign workers felt they had no choice but to return home and have yet to return. Much of this damage we did to ourselves.

Ireland gained almost no benefit, in terms of virus outcomes, from adopting such an archaic attitude towards the travel industry during the pandemic. We endured the same virus spikes as almost every other European country, except ours sometimes turned out worse. Variants of the virus were still flowing across borders because, as New Zealand eventually discovered and China is now discovering, they cannot be kept out.

Ireland also spent €25m on a disastrous and illiberal system of mandatory hotel quarantine for visitors, which also had little perceptible effect on the trajectory of the virus here. Don’t listen to the cadre of activist-scientists who shouted the loudest for it and who, like the anti-hotel activists, will never admit they were wrong. Just as they were wrong about the opening of schools earlier this year and about the necessary protective measures to return society to some form of normalcy.

The decision to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine, like the decisions to vote for no more hotels or to erect stupid roadblocks at our borders, stemmed from the uniquely Irish system of muddled thinking towards the strategic development of the travel industry. That fuzzy thinking was always going to come back to bite us in the financial butt. And now you have it. All of this was so predictable.

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