NI tourism industry risks losing out on overseas visitors in 2022 - industry boss

A bedroom view from the Titanic Hotel in Belfast. The Hotels Federation has warned that the north's tourism industry could miss out on international visitors into 2022.

THE north’s tourism industry risks missing out on a significant number of international visitors next year if both jurisdictions on the island continue to adopt different approaches to travel.

The head of the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF), Janice Gault, said the obstacles in travelling into the north from international destinations along with different positions on Covid-19 restrictions on the island have proved to be “a real turn-off for visitors” this year.

The bulk of international tourists who visit the north typically journey from across the border.

But the hospitality industry boss said confusion over Covid-19 travel restrictions resulted in Northern Ireland being removed from tour itineraries in 2021.

“There are concerns that this position could continue in the 2022 season,” said Ms Gault.

It comes as the Hotels Federation revealed hotel occupancy rates in Northern Ireland fell from 75-80 per cent across July and August to 65 per cent in September.

Hotels in the north enjoyed occupancy rates of 77-79 per cent for September in 2018 and 2019.

While the hospitality industry enjoyed a summer staycation boom in July and August, business events and overseas visitors have yet to return to near normal levels.

Janice Gault said the new figures highlight the importance of international travel, conferences, and meetings to the industry.

The NIHF is now forecasting that occupancy rates will continue to slide through the winter.

“There is uncertainty as we approach the winter trading period. The likelihood is that 2021 trading will taper out over the coming months resulting in an average occupancy level of 45 per cent.”

She said while 2021 has proved to be a better year than some had feared, the industry boss said the sector will still need significant assistance to survive.

“Promotional campaigns in the domestic and GB market, along with the proposed ‘Stay at Home’ voucher scheme, are important initiatives in a winter when all support will be greatly welcomed.

“People are keen to take a break and the benefit of a dedicated accommodation voucher should not be underestimated. There is an uncertain winter ahead and buoying up consumer sentiment will greatly assist tourism.”

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