Sinn Féin has proposed giving every adult and child a government funded gift voucher to spend in pubs, restaurants and hotels to kick-start the tourism industry.
Under the €1bn scheme every adult would be given a €200 voucher and every child would get €100 to spend in local businesses that sign up to the scheme.
Some of the voucher would have to be spent this year and they would expire at the end of 2021.
Similar schemes have been introduced in Italy, Australia, Iceland and Hong Kong.
There are two ways to look at this proposal: From the perspective of your traditional right winger, like me, it is an abominable waste of taxpayer’s money and a shameless bribe to get votes for Sinn Fein. Sure didn’t Mary Lou pay for our weekend away in Tramore? Never saw that Leo Varadkar buying me a holiday….
And at the cost of nearly a billion euros, to boot.
But the other way to look at it is that it is highly likely, in the coming months, or years, that the hospitality sector will need some sort of Government bailout to cope with the enduring consequences of Covid-19. Even though pubs can open, in some form or other, from Monday, they may not see a return to normal, pre virus operations, until some time next year. And even if Irish people returned to the pubs en masse, the massive drop in inward travel and tourism will still cripple a lot of establishments that depend primarily on the tourist market for their annual revenues.
Indeed, with the virus apparently resurgent in the US already, there’s every prospect that next year’s tourism season will be a wash-out already, for the simple reason that people don’t book their holidays on a Tuesday and travel on a Wednesday. If the virus is still circulating, as most experts expect, this winter, then the rash of cancelled holidays in 2020 will become a rash of holidays that just don’t get booked in 2021. The scale of the potential Armageddon in the hospitality sector is still under-appreciated.
And so, Sinn Fein probably thinks, if we end up having to give a billion euro or so to publicans and hotelliers, why not give it in the form of subsidised breaks for Irish people? Looked at that way, it’s actually an imaginative policy, for which they should be commended. For one thing, money only gets spent if people want to use the vouchers, and cash them in, so it’s not just a cash handout. For another thing, it’s the rare example of the average joe getting something from the Government while helping those in need.
On the other hand though, it still has its problems. For one thing, if your goal is to help every hotelier and publican equally, this is an inefficient way to do it, because people won’t spread their vouchers around equally. It will probably see a bonanza of business for hotels in Dublin and West Cork and the Ring of Kerry, but how many Irish people are going to spend their €200 on a wet weekend in Moate?
Also, there’s no guarantee that it will work, even if the money is evenly distributed. Should we even bother to try to save the hospitality sector? That might sound callous, but it’s a reasonable question, especially given the financial crisis the incoming Government is going to face in short order. Borrowing a billion quid (and it would all be borrowed) to give everyone a holiday is exactly the kind of fiscal carelessness that will cause heart attacks in Berlin and might well undermine the country’s inexplicable reputation as a well-managed sort of place that can be trusted with an investment.
And besides, hotels and pubs going out of business today, horrible as that may be for those who own and operate them, does not mean that the country will never have hotels and pubs again. If and when things do return to normal, whether that be in six months or six years, there’ll be money to be made, once more, in opening pubs and hotels, and plenty of empty venues that can be refurbished and put to good use.
But still, it’s an interesting and imaginative policy from Sinn Fein. You don’t have to agree with it (and on balance, yours truly does not) to welcome some outside the box thinking.