Tourism group warns of Brexit hit if Border returns

Lobby says any perception of a border could discourage tourists from travelling to North

Derry’s walls. The North’s tourism sector is worried about Brexit and implications for the Border. Photograph: Chris Hill

Derry’s walls. The North’s tourism sector is worried about Brexit and implications for the Border. Photograph: Chris Hill

 

Any return to a border, hard or soft between Northern Ireland and the Republic could hurt the North’s economy, a hospitality lobby group has warned.

Industry lobby group Hospitality Ulster said any perception of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic post-Brexit could make thousands of tourists think twice about visiting the North and potentially cost the economy millions of pounds.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said it is vitally important for the North’s tourism industry to make it as “easy as possible” to visit Northern Ireland.

Mr Neill said this is one of the reasons why it is imperative that the current Common Travel Area arrangement is protected in the future as it facilitates the unhindered movement of people on the island.

“At the moment 57 per cent of all external visitors come to Northern Ireland via Dublin but if they were to decide to turn right and go further south rather than left then that would have severe and immediate consequences for us. We share a land border with an EU state.

Immigration controls

“Tourists coming on holidays don’t want to have a queue at a border to go through immigration controls and there is always the worry that if they had, for example, to start organising visas to go to Northern Ireland then maybe they would just decide not to bother at all. For Northern Ireland the perception of a border could be just as damaging as the reality of one,” Mr Neill warned.

He said latest tourism figures – which show the North welcomed more than two million holiday visitors last year, 200,000 more than 2015 – highlight that Northern Ireland’s tourism sector is “on the cusp of something big”.

But Mr Neill said the big fear is that an unfavourable Brexit negotiations might not just thwart Northern Ireland’s ambitions to attract more tourists but also prevent the local hospitality sector from being able to employ migrant workers – currently one in every five people employed in the hospitality sector are migrant workers.

Significant staff shortages

“The hospitality sector is already facing significant staff shortages. We are a £1 billion industry but if we want to continue growing in the future and creating jobs we need to be able to recruit migrant workers to support that growth,” he added.

Although the North’s hospitality sector has enjoyed a welcome windfall from the weak pound, particularly thanks to an increase of visitors from the Republic, Mr Neill said it is still disadvantaged compared to its competitors in the South because of the North’s much higher tourism VAT rates.

“Our tourism VAT rate is 20 per cent, in the South it is 9 per cent – we can’t compete with that – what we need is our own regional tourism VAT rate,” Mr Neill urged.