The Irish travel industry will soon become "unsustainable" without additional support from the government, the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA) has warned.
The ITAA said that despite engaging with ministers for several months, there was now a very real risk of "widespread collapse" across the industry.
According to the ITAA, around 3,500 people are employed in travel agencies across the country, "the majority of whom are at risk of long-term unemployment unless immediate action is taken" the association said late on Thursday (27 August).
Chief executive Pat Dawson said it was vital the government supported the sector to preserve jobs and ensure a viable industry remains when the eventual upturn comes.
The ITAA has called for additional wage subsidies and grants to support travel businesses struggling in the bleak Covid trading environment, with travel having all but come to a standstill.
It has participated in ongoing meetings with the country’s department for transport, tourism and sport since March, and met with minister Hildegarde Naughton in July to put forward a business support submission outlining the situation the Irish travel sector faces.
"The travel industry is a nationwide SME sector largely comprised of family run businesses," said the ITAA. "Irish travel agents employ roughly 3,500 people in towns and cities across the country, including employees in rural Ireland, the majority of whom are at risk of long term unemployment unless immediate action is taken.
"Although the Irish travel industry has remained active since March, this is no longer sustainable without additional support from government. Travel agents have had to remain open to service customers with cancellations, refunds and rebooking holidays.
"These companies could not close down even though they were effectively blocked from trading and they have had to continue to carry a proportion of salary and all overhead costs.
"If additional supports are not made available, there will be widespread collapse in the industry, with many companies closing resulting in job losses and subsequent impacts on consumers."
Dawson added: “Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the travel industry has been forced into lockdown for an indefinite period of time. We want to work with government to save lives and keep our families, our staff, our clients and our communities safe, but we also need to preserve our businesses so that we can resume operations when it is safe to do so.
"Our industry is in an exceptional position; we are facing long a term recovery and we urgently require the support and assistance of government. If our staff are laid off, it will be extremely difficult to restart our businesses when the pandemic has subsided.”
Dawson added that despite its troubles, the sector’s first priority was consumer protection, stressing the impact a lack of support for the sector would have on consumers still due to travel this year, as well as those still awaiting refunds.
The ITAA estimates business across the sector is down 98% since March, posing a knock-on threat to 250,000 roles in the tourism sector.