The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA) addressed the NI Affairs Committee in the House of Commons today (Wednesday) to raise their concerns on the possible introduction of an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). The ETA, which is part of the ‘Nationalities and Borders’ bill, would require a visa for tourists crossing the border from the Republic into Northern Ireland.
Having engaged extensively with its membership, NITA believe that the ETA will have a significant impact on overseas tourism, which accounted for 21% of visitor spend in 2019. International markets, which have seen over 50% growth since 2010, are critical to the recovery of the industry following the impact of the Covid pandemic.
Joanne Stuart OBE, CEO of NITA said, “If passed in its current form this bill will have a significant impact on the NI tourism industry. We have not been consulted at any stage during the drafting of this legislation and are extremely concerned.
“The introduction of this bill will mean that tourists who aren’t British or Irish citizens or UK visa holders would need an ETA each time the cross the border into Northern Ireland. This would also apply to permanent residents of the Republic of Ireland (RoI) who are not nationals.
“Northern Ireland is promoted overseas by Tourism Ireland as part of the island of Ireland proposition. The ETA is simply unworkable and fails to take into account the particular circumstances of the island of Ireland and the need for seamless travel from South to North. Our border has over 300 crossings, it runs through fields and houses. Many tour groups and independent travellers cross the border multiple times, even in the same day, often without realising. To have a charge and administrative process for each crossing would be totally unworkable. Another issue is that of implementation, which would be a logistical nightmare for both tourists and enforcement agencies.
“During the pandemic we saw first-hand how having different regulations north and south of the border affects tourism. We need to do more to encourage tourism, not make it more difficult.
“Another factor to consider is the impact this would have on cross-border workers. I’ll give the example of coach drivers, many of whom cross the border multiple times per day from the RoI into NI. A not-insignificant amount of these are non-Irish EU nationals, and under these proposals they too would need a visa for every crossing. How can we justify this? Given the skills shortage in this sector we need to make it more attractive, not put those already working here at risk. “
“Our feedback from the industry is that the additional cost together with the administrative burden would be extremely off-putting for tourists. Our calculations say that this could result in a loss of upwards of £160 million per year, an estimated 15% of the total tourism spend in 2019. For an industry building back after losing twelve months trading due to the pandemic, we are calling on the UK Government to take on board our concerns and find a solution that fits the unique position that Northern Ireland is in.”