Denis Naughten TD is calling on Government to restructure the Stay & Spend scheme to ensure gift vouchers issued in the run up to Christmas can either be redeemed or refunded in 2021.
“When we see iconic attractions such as Dublin Zoo under threat of closure, this will make many people wary of purchasing gift vouchers for hotels, restaurants or tourist attractions as they will fear they may not reopen,” stated Denis Naughten.
“The purchase of such gift vouchers will not only provide vital cashflow to these businesses to ensure they remain open into next year – a key objective of the Stay & Spend Scheme – but it will also encourage people to holiday at home in 2021.
“We need to provide reassurance to people who buy vouchers that if they cannot redeem them, they can get a refund and the €140m set aside and unused this year under the Stay & Spend scheme should be used for this purpose.
“Guaranteeing these vouchers is potentially a win-win for our economy, particularly in many rural communities and smaller towns across Ireland, while ensuring that the money set aside by Government to support this sector in 2020 actually does just that,” concluded Denis Naughten.
Editor’s Note: See Denis’ Dáil contribution on the topic here:
Wednesday, 18 Nov 2020
Rural and Community Development: Statements
Denis Naughten: We read in today’s newspapers that there is a huge question mark over the future viability of Dublin Zoo. The Minister of State might be a bit surprised that I am talking about Dublin Zoo when we are talking about community and rural development, but it is hard to believe that something as iconic as Dublin Zoo is under threat. It has a phenomenal number of visitors every year. I bring my family there every year or maybe twice a year and a lot of us would bring our families there on the run-in to Christmas for the lighting display it would have.
This is typical of many tourism operations throughout this country and of many businesses in the hospitality sector, which are on their knees. There is an opportunity for us to give a real injection to those sectors. I know the VAT rate has been altered and we had the stay and spend scheme that was announced during the summer. These measures are all welcome but the difficulty is that because of the lockdown, the stay and spend scheme is pointless. Some €140 million has been set aside for that for next year, with another €130 million being set aside for it for the year after. While the money for the year after might be drawn down, it will not be drawn down next year because we will not see the spend from October until Christmas.
I want to propose to the Minister of State that we would use that €140 million that will not be spent this year and that will not be drawn down next year in tax refunds to establish a gift voucher guarantee scheme for the tourism and hospitality sectors in particular. This would allow people, between now and Christmas, to purchase a gift card for Dublin Zoo. No one is going to buy a gift voucher for Dublin Zoo now if we do not know if it will be open in six months. The same goes for many tourism and recreation facilities which have a question mark hanging over them. The Government should use that €140 million as seed capital to guarantee that the Government will refund any voucher for a business that happens to close in the next 12 months. That would bring a huge injection of funds into the tourism and hospitality sectors this side of Christmas. It would help to maintain those businesses until they have the opportunity to reopen, we hope in the new year.
It would also ensure that Irish people would holiday at home next year. The key thing we must do to ensure we can recover from the impact of Covid-19 is to actively encourage people to holiday at home next year. In my constituency and my county, we are in the process of developing the Hidden Heartlands tourism brand. We will have the Shannon master plan, which will be published in the next couple of weeks and the Beara-Breifne Way master plan, looking to be Ireland’s answer to the Camino, and running from west Cork, right up through the middle of the country, through east Galway and Roscommon, to Blacklion in County Cavan, and hopefully continuing on to the Glens of Antrim. We also have a master plan for Rathcroghan, the home of the festival of Hallowe’en.
If we do not have a comprehensive tourism offering and local facilities, however, such as Strokestown Park House, King House and the Arigna Mining Experience, people will not come and stay in our region. It is vitally important that we give people the opportunity to support those businesses between now and Christmas by being able to purchase a gift voucher, and be sure that gift voucher can be redeemed or refunded should there be a threat to a business. I hope the Minister of State will be able to look at this proposal seriously. If an iconic facility such as Dublin Zoo is under threat, then many businesses around the country are in a similar situation.