No-deal Brexit would upset North’s 2019 tourism plans
Tourism Ireland had hoped 148th Open in Portrush would help drive record visitor numbers
Rory McIlroy plays at Royal Portrush, a key plank in Tourism Ireland’s 2019 plan for the North. Photograph: Getty
A no-deal Brexit would force Tourism Ireland to rethink plans to use the final series of Game of Thrones and the 148th Open golf tournament at Royal Portrush to attract record numbers of tourists to Northern Ireland next year, its chief executive has said.
Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said the organisation’s current plans to attract 2.33 million overseas visitors to the North next year are “predicated on some sort of a deal” being in place for Brexit. If if the UK were to crash out of Europe, it would “have to adapt and change”, he said.
Mr Gibbons believes the tourist sector in the North is particularly “vulnerable” to the fallout from a no-deal Brexit because nearly 70 per cent of its business comes from the British market.
“British people are still going to take holidays but if, because of economic uncertainty, they decide to stay at home then according to our research it is more likely that Scotland, the Lake District or Devon and Cornwall would be the winners rather than Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands because that involves getting a plane or a boat,” he said.
Mr Gibbons said Tourism Ireland has had a special taskforce in place to plan for various Brexit scenarios since the UK referendum and is continuing to address industry concerns throughout Ireland about what the tourist landscape may look like after Brexit.
He said that the body, which is responsible for marketing the island of Ireland overseas, has been promoting market diversification and is implementing “growth strategies” in the US, Germany and emerging markets such as Japan while also expanding its operations in China.
Mr Gibbons said Tourism Ireland is also planning for what might happen sterling after March 2019, which he said could potentially make Northern Ireland a “more competitive” destination potentially for European visitors.
The latest tourism statistics released on Thursday suggest 2018 is likely to be a record year for overseas tourism in the North.
According to Tourism Ireland by the end of the year 2.23 million people will have visited Northern Ireland and spent an estimated £589 million (€662 million).
The tourism body wants to grow overseas tourism revenue by 8 per cent to £639 million and attract more than 2.33 million overseas visitors to the North next year.