Bed & Brexit: Hoteliers raise concerns about British EU referendum result

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  • IHF seeks €24m increase in funding for tourism marketing
  • over next three years with €10m in 2017
  • Visitors numbers from NI and GB markets  falling
  •  9 out of 10 hoteliers say Brexit a significant concern
  • Seek a special arrangement for six counties to retain soft border
  • Want to retain Common Travel Area 

Irish Hotels Federation president Joe Dolan told 500 delegates at the IHF annual conference in Kilkenny that Ireland “would do well” to maintain current growth levels in the face of Breat-imeacht/ Brexit.

The Conference heard that a recent industry survey shows that  95 pc of hoteliers and guest house owners were  concerned about the impact of Brexit on their business.

Over 40pc of overseas visitors come from the sterling zone, making the country heavily reliant on this market. The IHF survey reveals some worrying signs that Britain’s decision to leave the EU is already affecting tourism here. Almost three in ten (29 pc) hoteliers say that business levels from Britain are down compared to this time last year, while a quarter (25 pc) are reporting a similar decrease from Northern Ireland. This fall looks set to worsen. Four in ten are seeing a drop in advance bookings from Britain while just over a quarter (27 pc) say bookings from the six counties for the remainder of the year are down compared to 2016.

Joe  Dolan President to the IHF said any restriction on the free movement of people would be a further major implication of Brexit. This would include the loss of the Common Travel Area exemption, which permits visitors from developing markets including Asia travelling on British visas to come to Ireland. We must maintain our Common Travel Area and open airspace with the UK. We must also do everything possible to retain the British-Irish Visa scheme for short-stay visitors traveling to Britain and Ireland on a single visa. This has been instrumental in opening up new markets such as India and China where we have seen strong growt.

Brexit is casting a large shadow over a strong performance by tourism in 2016 and is dampening hoteliers’ optimism for 2017. “There is a need for targeted assistance for regional tourism businesses vulnerable to Brexit especially for those regions which have high dependency on the UK market.  A substantial increase in marketing support of €24 million over three years, with €10 million in 2017, is critical to stave off the impact of Brexit. This would bring the spend back in line with 2008 levels by 2020. We must reduce our over-reliance on the UK and safeguard future growth in tourism, particularly in the key European and North American markets.  There are aspects of the economic consequences of Brexit which are largely outside our control so is imperative that we plan and mitigate the risks and potential damage where we do have some control over our destiny.”

It is essential that we avoid a ‘hard border’ with Northern Ireland. The reality is that we could have an international border post-Brexit with serious consequences for Irish tourism. We must seek to limit any damage by persuading our European partners to agree to a special arrangement with Northern Ireland to achieve a soft border that is as seamless and frictionless as possible. To date we have heard a lot of welcome reassurances. We need more concrete commitments from the EU on the special status of Northern Ireland. 

The IHF stresses that the border counties, which receive  57 pc of all visitors coming from Great Britain and Northern Ireland, along with the East and Midlands are significantly exposed to Brexit. At 69 pc, the number of UK visitors to the North-West is even more pronounced. This region, in particular, is very reliant on tourism from Northern Ireland with 46pc of tourists directly across the border. This poses an enormous risk both in terms of jobs and employment. 

“Brexit poses a particular challenge given Ireland’s heavy reliance on holidaymakers and business travellers from the UK and Northern Ireland. The significant weakening in the value of Sterling is acting as a double whammy as it reduces the spending power of these visitors,” says Joe Dolan.  “The international tourism industry in which Ireland operates is exceptionally competitive and Ireland fights hard for every visitor and tourism euro earned. Tourism demand is constantly evolving and, as conditions change, we must be ready to respond as an industry. This requires continuous investment in tourism marketing and product development to ensure that our tourism offering keeps pace with global competition. Every euro spent in destination marketing by the State results in a €34 visitor spend in the country however; substantial reductions in the funding allocation for tourism marketing and product development remain in place and tourism bodies continue to operate under very constrained budgets.  We must do more in positioning of Ireland as a destination – especially our regional offering.  We must strengthen our links between tourism and our natural assets such as agriculture, landscape, food and exploit our green credentials.  It would not only provide new interesting experiences for our visitors but would give substantial opportunities for farmers, producers and artisans to develop their market produce and facilitate brands to connect with visitors. Examples could include the further development of food trails and tours, food festivals, farmer’s markets and cookery schools.

 

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