Republic of Ireland news

£800m of business lost to tourism due to pandemic in Northern Ireland

The tourism industry will be hoping attractions including the Giant's Causeway will help with recovery following the coronavirus lockdown
Rebecca Black, PA

Almost a billion pounds has been lost in tourism in Northern Ireland since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a Stormont committee has heard.

A senior figure in tourism said the industry had not expected the health crisis to have lasted as long but emphasised a position of “real hope” with the rollout of the vaccination programme.

Dr Joanne Stuart, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, said there is now a need to “look beyond Covid”.

She told Stormont’s Economy Committee that it is hoped the tourism industry will have restarted by summer, with a focus on the Great Britain market.

She expressed concerns about the Republic of Ireland market in terms of the Irish vaccination programme.

“It’s disappointing the news this week that they are struggling to get the levels of the vaccination that we require and we would like to see how we can all work together to ensure that across the island of Ireland, we are in a very strong position with regards to the rollout of the vaccination so we can really maximise our home markets for this year,” she told MLAs.

The Executive published a blueprint for exiting lockdown last week, however it did not include specific dates for the reopening of various sectors.

The Department for the Economy has published an economic recovery action plan.

Dr Stuart urged the Executive’s approval and funding of the £290 million plan.

She has also called for marketing campaigns to attract visitors to be launched.

EMPTY PUBS: Tourism and hospitality have been catastrophically impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic

“We have lost the first quarter of 2021, we know we are ultimately going to lose Easter, which can account for almost 15% of annual income to tourism,” she said.

“We are estimating that we’re probably sitting around £800m of lost business to tourism from the start of the pandemic.”

Dr Stuart said there had been a growth in visitor spend of 46% since 2014.

“Although we estimate it is going to take three to four years before we get back to those levels, we are fortunate in Northern Ireland that we have the infrastructure, we have the culture and heritage and we have everything that people are looking for,” she said.

“Once we can get through the challenging 6-12 months, I think we will start to see tourism on a footing that will grow.”

Titanic Belfast, like the whole of the north's tourism sector, has seen visitor numbers plummet in the pandemic

Meanwhile Helen McLachlan, director of the National Trust in Northern Ireland warned the restart of tourism must be done sustainably, balancing economic, social and environmental needs.

“It needs to be managed in a co-ordinated way, not just marketed and focused on growth and numbers, and that was very much the direction we were heading in pre Covid,” she said.

“We were already seeing the negative impacts on the host communities where our larger properties were, the environmental impact on these sites, we particularly saw those at Carrick-a-Rede.

“If tourism is not properly managed it can harm the natural and built environment.

“We now have a once in a generational chance to change how we manage our tourism approach and avoid the pitfalls and negative impacts of over tourism that have been seen in other countries, a direction in which we were headed pre Covid.”

She said the National Trust has commissioned a sustainability study around the management of the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede which is due to report later this year.

Across lockdown Ms McLachlan said there has been a big increase in the number of visitors to the National Trust’s outdoor sites.

She said this had brought more litter and erosion at some sites as well as issues with traffic and parking.

“Parking and managing cars has been one of the biggest challenges, unfortunately police are having to come in and close roads, which is never something you would ever have imagined, closing roads to access sites of beauty,” she said.

Looking up at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge 

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