HomeNewsReboot & Restart: The ITAA Conference Begins

Reboot & Restart: The ITAA Conference Begins

In his speech to mark the opening of the ITAA Conference in Evora, Portugal, President of the ITAA Paul Hackett paid tribute to the courage and ingenuity of the Irish travel industry while acknowledging that the fight for survival was far from over.

In his opening remarks, Paul Hackett painted a defiant picture about the industry’s ability to “overcome short term difficulties and take the long term view in the midst of the worst crisis our industry and our society has ever known.”

ITAA President Paul Hackett

He said this was down to “the support of our partners and suppliers, many of them in this room, who saw that collaboration was a way out of the crisis and were willing to show patience and forbearance as they faced difficulties themselves.”

In praising the defiant efforts of the industry to mitigate the ravages of the pandemic, he also paid tribute to the efforts of Susana Cardoso and the Portuguese Tourist Board, “who were willing to wait and help us see things through when the situation was changing weekly, daily and even hourly.”

The 80 or so attendees included Rita Marques, Secretary of State for Tourism, Portugal; Carlos Pinto de Sá, Mayor of the Évora Municipality; and Vitor Silva, President of Alentejo Tourism Office.

The Gravity of the Situation

Mr Hackett described in vivid terms how bad the situation had gotten for many in the travel industry. After remarking on the picturesque ruins of ancient Évora, he said “for a while it looked like we would be bringing the bones of the travel industry to this conference, to add to the pile, as a reminder that industries, too, live and die.”

Crude Policies and Public Opinion

While Mr Hackett was at pains to recognise that certain parts of government were instrumental in providing supports to business and payments to employees, he also expressed frustration with the general view that travel was somehow the enemy in the fight against the pandemic.

“It is NOT down to the crude policies and public opinion which, in the face of an unseen adversary, identified travel as a threat and did everything in their power to try to destroy the industry and those who made their living from it,” he said.

An Active Threat

Although Ireland is clearly through the worst of the pandemic, Mr Hackett struck a note of sombre realism when he said that “those threats have not gone away.”

“But thankfully, the supports have not gone away either,” he added.

Looking Forward

Mr Hackett wasted no time in setting out the agenda for the remainder of the conference and the months ahead: preventing future collapses.

He reminded the attendees that the collapse of any business impacts the sector as a whole, and that it was in all of their interests to see a strong recovery.

“When we are allowed, we are bloody good at what we do,” he said pointedly.

“In the year before the pandemic, our sector was licensed to the value of €1.4 billion.”

Not Just Camaraderie and Conversation

Mr Hackett also said that the ITAA was needed now more than ever and paid tribute to the organisation’s efforts over the last 20 months.

“We have risen to the challenge,” he said, and “showed that we are not just about camaraderie and conversations, but are prepared to mobilise our resources to provide a structured response to an existential crisis.”

He added that the benefit of the ITAA’s response “needs some elaboration and will be discussed this morning.

“It has helped some of us keep our businesses together. It has certainly provided many of us with the personal support to get through what has possibly been the toughest period of our careers.

“We have learned that we can punch way above our weight given the number of members, number of travel agents and number of staff.”

“The ITAA are clearly seen as the voice of travel in Ireland. When it was most needed, we have spoken as one voice and made every effort to include the consortia and other groups to ensure good communication across the sector.

“Amongst trade bodies we are up there with the Licensed Vintners Association and the Restaurants Association of Ireland, both of whom are considerably better resourced than we are.”

Stronger United

He then urged members that the way forward was to “replicate the way we worked together, collaborated and acted in partnership to overcome the other challenges that have not gone away, around insurance, merchant services, supplier challenges and the rest.”

He added: “We are an association of competitors but we are also an association of allies, supporting each other, sharing best practice.

“We have learned that, facing a powerful adversary, the twin threat of Covid and some mistaken ideas of how Covid can be countered, the sharing of information has made us stronger.”

His final words sounded a note of positivity and defiance: “Ireland’s travel industry has a future.  

“It is time to prepare for the new business environment facing us in the world after Covid. 

“It is time to reboot and to restart.”

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