While the Northern Ireland travel and tourism industry has had some great news over the past month we still have a long way to go – that’s the message from both The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance and The Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents.
The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA) says that the Executive must do more to support the domestic and home markets by “aligning our guidelines with the Republic of Ireland” to “stem the reputational damage of Northern Ireland as a welcoming and accessible destination”, while the Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents (ANITA) say that the Executive now seem to be completely “brushing off” the stricken sector after being told by the Economy Department that “your industry does not come under our remit”.
Joanne Stuart, CEO of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance said: “It has been great to see the considerable support from the domestic and home markets since reopening this season, but to sustain and start the process of rebuilding tourism businesses and the travel industry, visitors from our international markets are critical. “Northern Ireland is promoted overseas as part of the island of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is one of the main gateways for international visitors to Northern Ireland, with 60% of visitors spending time in both jurisdictions during their stay. The disparity in travel regulations between the two jurisdictions is having a significant impact on the number of visitors to Northern Ireland, and following the opening up of International Travel in the Republic of Ireland on 19th July, we have seen widespread cancellations by tour operators and independent travellers for planned visits to NI. This is affecting attractions/accommodation/tour guides and as a result the additional spend in hospitality and retail is being lost.”
Joanne continued: “The decision by the NI Executive not to align our regulations with the Republic of Ireland not only affects the business for the rest of this year. The concerns of the tourism industry are for the potential impact on future business due to the reputational damage of Northern Ireland as a welcoming and accessible destination. Tour operators, who are already planning schedules for 2022 and beyond, are considering replacing experiences in NI with alternatives in the RoI and there is no guarantee that attractions and experiences in NI will automatically be added back onto itineraries in 2022.
“NITA are continuing to make the case for alignment to secure bookings for the remainder of 2021 and to give confidence to tour operators and independent travellers for 2022 bookings.
“One of the other challenges we were facing was the removal of EU ID cards as a valid form of identity from 1st October. This again would lead to a difference in requirements for those visitors from the EU who travel to Northern Ireland via the Republic of Ireland. Based on 2019 figures, 338,000 visitors from EU countries came to NI with over half of them travelling via the RoI. The good news is that the Home Office has confirmed that there will be no border control checks on the land border meaning that EU visitors travelling with their EU ID card will not require a passport to travel and stay in Northern Ireland if they have arrived via the Republic of Ireland.
“It has been a devastating 18 months for tourism and travel and following a good summer season, we now need to ensure that there are no barriers for international visitors coming to Northern Ireland. The industry has worked hard to reschedule and retain bookings that were cancelled last year and we urge the Minister for Health and his Executive colleagues to urgently address the remaining piece of the jigsaw and find a practical workable approach to travel across the island of Ireland to save business for this year and future years,” Joanne added.
And NITA are not the only local association struggling to get anyone at ministerial level to talk to them.
The Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents (ANITA) say the Executive have now forgotten about the travel industry completely.
Damian Murphy, Chairman of ANITA said: “At a time when most businesses are already, or at worst just starting to operate to full levels, our industry is still some way away from that. The issue of inbound testing continues to be a major stumbling block to a proper re-start of foreign travel – and remember the UK is the only country in Europe with this requirement.
“We know there is a major review of testing on 1st October and we are calling on our Executive and the government at Westminster to drop this requirement for vaccinated travellers. On the subject of financial support our Executive now seem to be brushing us off. “We asked the Economy Department for an urgent meeting and were simply told – your industry does not come under our remit,” he continued.
“If we don’t fall under the Economy Department then where do we go? No department seems to want to deal with us and it looks like we are once again to be brushed to the side. I would appeal to our Executive to please consider our sector and acknowledge the valuable role we have played in the NI economy and that with help we can continue to do so.
“Furlough is about to end, jobs and businesses are now at risk-please act now and give us the help we deserve.”