Tourism Ireland target 6.5% year-on-year growth in overseas visitor revenue in north, despite imminent roll-out of ETA

Post-Brexit scheme will require most overseas visitors to apply for a permit to cross the border from the Republic

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Tourism Ireland chief executive, Alice Mansergh, pictured in Belfast on Thursday, where the tourism body responsible for promoting the island of Ireland overseas, laid out a £61 million marketing programme for 2024.

The new head of Tourism Ireland said the body has set a goal of growing revenue from overseas visitors to Northern Ireland by 6.5% year-on-year through to 2030, despite plans to introduce new permits for tourists crossing the border.

Alice Mansergh, who succeeded Niall Gibbons as chief executive of the all-island body four months ago, said Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) continues to pose major concern for the north’s tourism industry.

She was speaking in Belfast on Thursday, where the tourism body responsible for promoting the island of Ireland overseas, laid out a £61 million marketing programme for 2024.

She said the ETA scheme continues to preoccupy industry leaders.

The post-Brexit permits will be required for non-British and non-Irish citizens, who do not require a visa, to enter the UK.

The scheme is already being trialled for visitors from Qatar, with plans to roll it out for all overseas tourists, despite pleas for an exemption for Northern Ireland.

A significant proportion of overseas visitors to the north travel from across the border.

“It’s a real topic of conversation with industry on the ground,” Ms Mansergh told The Irish News.

“The main concerns we hear about are: If you are an overseas visitor and you travel into Northern Ireland from the south, and you didn’t realise you need an ETA, because there isn’t a hard border and there are no plans to have one, then do you find yourself inadvertently on the wrong side of the law?

“The converse example, is if we make sure everybody does know they need an ETA, does it act as something that provides frictions, or perhaps a disincentive to people travelling.”

The Giant's Causeway has traditionally been the north's most visited tourist destination.
The Giant's Causeway remains one of the most searched visitor attractions on the island for overseas visitors. Tourism Ireland say it will continue to promote the North Coast site alongside the north's 'hidden gems'.

She said Tourism Ireland is working with northern tourism groups and Stormont to ensure the risks are understood.

“There were some suggestions from industry on ways to mitigate, such as a seven or ten-day waiver for a tourist coming in temporarily,” said the chief executive.

“We continue to explore those ideas that come from industry, but it’s about making sure everybody is aware of the risks.

“As and when ETA rolls out, there will be a communications plan, and we’ll work closely with Tourism Northern Ireland, Failte Ireland and the overseas travel trade and tour operators.”

Alice Mansergh said her organisation estimates tourism revenue in Northern Ireland has recovered to 2019 levels, but stressed: “Revenue recovery has somewhat been influenced by inflation, and revenue recovery is ahead of visitor recovery.”

Looking ahead, the Tourism Ireland boss said the organisation plans to ‘double down’ on the main markets, which include the US, Britain and mainland Europe.

“There’s still so much headroom to go in our main markets, that’s where we’re going to be doubling down,” she said.