Northern Ireland tourism facing ‘a race for survival’ without immediate intervention

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The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA) calls on the Executive to move quickly to remove UK-wide travel restrictions before it’s too late, reports Shauna McCrudden

NITA Chief Executive Joanne Stuart

The tourism industry all across Ireland, which has been effectively shut down for a year due to Covid-19 restrictions, has become increasingly worried about what the future will bring. And last week, Northern Ireland’s largest tourism industry body called on the Northern Ireland Executive to urgently engage and act to ensure the industry’s short and long-term survival. 

The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA), which includes air, sea and road operators, accommodation providers, visitor attractions, museums, and tour guides among its members, laid bare the full scale of the crisis affecting the tourism sector in its report The Scale of Crisis Facing Tourism. They warned the Executive that Northern Ireland risked setting one of its largest economic sectors back by up to 15 years. NITA said that in the absence of any clear reopening plan, businesses have been left with little hope for the future of a sector that supports the jobs of more than 70,000 people and last year contributed over £1 billion to the economy.

Specifically, NITA said that because Northern Ireland’s tourism industry relies heavily on visitors from Great Britain, the Executive must look to urgently remove the current travel restrictions in place with the rest of the UK, now that the vaccine rollout was advancing to pave the way for safe travel in the coming weeks and months. 

NITA chief executive Joanne Stuart said, “An industry recognised as pivotal to our economic and societal wellbeing has been flattened by Covid-19 and is in a race for survival. Unless urgent action is taken to ensure its future financial viability, where thousands of livelihoods stand in the balance, tourism’s potential to drive economic recovery in the years ahead, will be severely impacted.”

Although a Tourism Action Plan has been agreed as part of Northern Ireland’s Economic Recovery Strategy, Stuart said the £290 million earmarked to fund its delivery has still yet to be formally agreed.

“Without engagement, adequate notice and a clear commitment of support, there’s every reason that operators right across the industry will go out of business, retract or shut their doors for good. As restrictions ease and consumer confidence continues to build as the vaccination rollout continues apace, the time to prepare to remove barriers to travel across the UK is now.”

In the report, NITA outlines how it wants the Executive and the UK government to respond to the difficulties facing the sector. Its demands include a commitment to tourism recovery action plans, more marketing investment and improved regional access.

Stuart adds, “Tourism businesses need a re-opening plan with an appropriate notice period for the restrictions to be lifted to enable them to prepare to reopen. Central to this is an agreed, phased re-opening based on risk assessment of activities and the impact of other restrictions on financial viability such as local and national travel restrictions.”

Tourism generated over £1bn in visitor spend in 2019, 70% of which was from inbound visitors (exports). This spend supports multiple sectors of the economy, such as hospitality and retail. With its dominance of SMEs, strong regional presence, importance to wellbeing and ability to generate jobs, tourism has been recognised as critical to the recovery of the NI economy as a balanced and regional economy.

For more information, and to read the NITA report: The Scale of Crisis Facing Tourism, visit nitourismalliance.com

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Shauna McCrudden

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