Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) – Update and Implications for Tourism

Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance

We have prepared this article to provide an update on the activities of NITA in regard to the introduction of Electronic Travel Authorisations by the UK Home Office. This proposed introduction would have a significant impact for those international visitors travelling to Northern Ireland via the Republic of Ireland, who amount to over 70% of international visitors to Northern Ireland. Since April 2022 we have been engaging with both the UK and Irish governments to articulate the challenges and negative impact that the introduction of an ETA would have for tourism in Northern Ireland.

The ‘Nationalities and Borders Bill’ , was given Royal Assent in May 2022. On the 21st July 2022, the Home Office published their New Plan for Immigration: Legal Migration and Border Control (publishing.service.gov.uk). Within the document are details of the Permission to Travel policy which includes the introduction of Electronic Travel Authorisations and eVisas.

The secondary legislation has not yet been published, therefore concrete details on the ETA, such as how it will be applied or certainty on the length of validity or cost, are still unknown. In spite of this, NITA have continued their work in asking for an exemption to be made for those travelling into Northern Ireland over the land boarder, our activities are detailed below;

  • In the past few months we have engaged with elected officials, government representatives and business leaders to present our concerns and look for their support in seeking this exemption.
  • NITA hosted its annual conference on world tourism day on the 27th September, our guest speaker was the then Minister of Economy Gordon Lyons. The ETA exemption was mentioned as one of the strategic priorities for the tourism sector, and before the end of his ministerial term Minister Lyons wrote to the Home Office to highlight this issue and convey the tourism industry’s concerns.  
  • NITA sponsored a fringe event entitled ‘Working Together to Defend the Good Friday Agreement’ at the Labour Party Conference. Here we had the opportunity to raise the ETA issue in front of an audience of MPS, ambassadors and other distinguished delegates. Our contribution was well received.  We will continue to look for opportunities like this, with all political parties, to make our positions and willingness to engage, clear. 
  • We have held private briefings with MPs and MLAs, including the First Minister Designate Michelle O’ Neill,  as well as briefing the then-Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi. 
  • We have reached out to key figures in the business community and garnered significant interest and support, especially from those businesses who may have frequent visitors from non-RoI/ UK staff, notably those with a strong US presence. 
  • We have briefed with the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, the US Ambassador to the UK and Consul General in Belfast on the ETA, as well as other issues and opportunities currently faced by the sector.
  • We engaged with officials on the North South Ministerial Council, discussing the ETA issue and other issues with a cross-border angle. 
  • We have been in contact with the Irish Embassy in London, who have also been doing a significant amount of work on the ETA. 
  • We will continue to build on this momentum and in the coming weeks with more high-level meetings in the pipeline.  
  • In RoI we have continued to engage positively with the Ministry for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and Department of Foreign Affairs, as well as engaging with and updating our partners in Tourism Ireland. 
  • In addition to this, the ETA was on the agenda on the October British- Irish Intergovernmental Conference, see here for more information October – Joint Communiqué of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference – Department of Foreign Affairs (dfa.ie)

Northern Ireland is promoted internationally by Tourism Ireland, as part of the Island of Ireland destination, and most overseas visitors to Northern Ireland arrive via Dublin. It is estimated that over the last twenty years that €1bn has been spent promoting the Island of Ireland overseas.
Typically, non-GB overseas tourists who travel to Northern Ireland (those that spend at least one night in Northern Ireland):

– 60% spend nights in both Northern Ireland and Ireland

– 13% spend nights only in Northern Ireland but access via a port in Ireland

The tourism industry are extremely concerned about the implications of needing an ETA to cross the border in Ireland. There has been no consultation with the industry in Northern Ireland, and we firmly believe this will be unworkable, impossible to implement and be a real deterrent for those wishing to visit Northern Ireland. The consequences to the industry here could be devastating. 

In spite of our concerted efforts and the wide ranging support we have garnered, Home Office officials have not been receptive to our position thus far. We are continuing to engage, to elevate the voices of industry and press them for meaningful engagement and to find a workable solution which reflects the unique situation that is the land border in Ireland. 

We would encourage all of those in our network to join us in this effort. The implications of this proposed legislation are far reaching, aside from the devastating financial impact it would have on the tourism sector, it raises questions about health and motor insurance, non-visa nationals working in tourism and related sectors in the Republic of Ireland who need to cross the border for work (coach drivers for example), language schools and tour operators. The issue of who bears the responsibility to inform visitors and ensure compliance when the rules are enforced is another worrying unknown for those working cross-border. 

We remain willing and open to engage and find a way forward which is practical and workable for Northern Ireland. We will continue in our efforts to find a sensible solution.

Our industry needs certainty and our visitors deserve peace of mind. We must avoid ambiguity- and for tourism a lack of clarity is the worst-case scenario. Our visitors and our industry deserve better. 

We are continuing to engage with industry partners and political representatives to push for change on this issue and will keep you updated on our progress. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you require more information, or a personal briefing on our work so far.