Even direr than all manners of plague and pestilence, the ash cloud from the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano is literally overshadowing the entire Irish economy, particularly the tourism industry.

Given the continued uncertainty, all of the Sundays give the cloud prominent coverage.  The Sunday Times reports tourism executives will meet the Government tomorrow amid fears the chaos could create a crisis for the €5 billion industry.

Inward tour operators are already reporting thousands of cancellations and the continuing unpredictability of flights is doing nobody any favour. Abbey Travel, Ireland’s biggest inward operator, said it had already received 1,000 call-offs – mostly from France and Germany.

“This is probably the greatest threat that has faced our sector – it’s more threatening than foot and mouth or swine flu,” said Jane Magnier, Abbey Tour’s managing director, who called for a co-ordinated response to the crisis.

The Sunday Business Post reports the disruption is costing tourist firms €20m a day – €11m for Ryanair and Aer Lingus and €9m in lost revenues elsewhere in the sector.

Outbound tourism operators are hoping for a silver lining amid the gloom, arguing that people will travel regardless. Tanya Airey of Sunway believes more people will opt for a bonded package experience rather than the DIY approach.

“After the first episode, we got a huge number of emails and thank-you cards from holidaymakers for putting them up – an extra week in some cases. People who booked their own accommodation and flights had no comeback,” she said.

For those determined to travel abroad Blue Insurances – an Irish firm that provides about 70% of the cover in the Irish market – is in talks with its underwriter about providing volcano cover.

“We are expecting a big rise in people looking for insurance and ash cover,” the company said.

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