N Ireland tourism will suffer under visa waiver, MPs told

Red tape will make Americans and other visitors avoid crossing Border, official claims

A new visa waiver requirement for crossing the Border could put £160 million in Northern Ireland tourism revenue at risk and impact half a million tourists a year, MPs at Westminster have heard.

Joanne Stewart, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, said most foreign tourists, including more than 75 per cent of Americans, visit the North as part of a broader trip to Ireland.

"People want hassle-free travel. If anything is perceived to be an additional obstacle or barrier, people will stay within the Republic of Ireland where they can travel around and won't need any additional administration or cost," she told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

Fee payment

“We reckon that about £160 million of visitor spend is at risk. About half a million visitors we think this could impact on. What we are suggesting is there is an exemption on those people who arrive to the island of Ireland in the Republic of Ireland and then travel across the land border into Northern Ireland.”

Britain plans to introduce an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for all non-Irish and non-British citizens entering Northern Ireland across the Border. The system, which is similar to that operating in the United States, would require pre-registration online and payment of a fee to allow a visitor to cross the Border.

The Government expressed concerns to the British government over the plan, which is part of a Nationality and Borders Bill, but Conservative MPs voted down a Lords amendment that would have exempted Northern Ireland from the scheme.

‘Degree of incredulity’

Shane Clarke, Tourism Ireland director of corporate services, policy and Northern Ireland, said there had been no consultation with the industry about the scheme, which is due to be introduced in 2025.

“There was a degree of incredulity that this was being proposed – this is an industry that has been on its knees for the last two years because of Covid and they can’t really believe that this kind of regulation is being brought in,” he said.

“By introducing these types of additional requirements, not only was it adding complexity and potentially cost but in terms of the near-to-home potential visitors, there are lots of other places they can choose to visit and this is going to add a barrier in terms of their potential to visit the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times