Tourist chiefs urged to market North and Belfast 'gateway'
THE weaker pound has made Northern Ireland a more attractive destination for British tourists and the Republic more expensive and less appealing, the head of Belfast International Airport has said.
In a letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Graham Keddie argued the island's tourism offering needs to be recalibrated and that Belfast should be the "gateway" to not only Northern Ireland, but also the Republic.
And he urged Mr Kenny to "impress upon" Tourism Ireland the need to refocus its work on the North.
"This, of course, requires Tourism Ireland Limited (TIL) to adopt a much more proactive stance in the crucial GB market," Mr Keddie wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the BBC Northern Ireland political programme, The View.
"Just as TIL aggressively marketed and promoted the Republic of Ireland through Dublin, we expect no less an effort now that the situation is reversed. Perhaps that is something you and your colleagues could impress upon TIL in the interests of fairness and equality."
Sterling has slumped almost a fifth since the Brexit vote on June 23, although it has strengthened recently from the 90 pence to the €1 mark, to about 85 pence.
However, the weakened pound has made it more expensive for British tourists to visit the Republic.
"A weaker pound makes Northern Ireland a much more attractive proposition for tourists from Great Britain. The flip side is that a stronger euro makes the Republic of Ireland much more expensive and, therefore, much less attractive," Mr Keddie wrote.
"We view this as an opportunity to recalibrate the tourism 'balance sheet' where the lion's share of advantage flowed in the Republic of Ireland's direction. Now, for the first time, we can say to an important market that they can use Belfast as the 'gateway' to not only Northern Ireland, but the island as a whole."
Figures released yesterday by the Central Statistics Office show that despite the Brexit vote and the slump in sterling, visitors from Britain here jumped 7.9pc between August and October to 1.1 million.
And for the first 10 months of the year, they were up 11.9pc to 3.3 million.
"This is particularly positive following the outcome of the UK referendum, as Great Britain continues to be a very important source market for Ireland," Tourism Minister Shane Ross said.
Overall, the number of trips to Ireland increased in the August to October period by 9.4pc to 2.85 million.
There were 2.3 million overnight trips to Northern Ireland from visitors outside the region last year, up 6pc on 2014, figures released earlier this year from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency showed.
England, the Republic, Scotland, the US and Germany accounted for the top five visitor sources, as travellers flocked to the North to visit popular locations like the Giant's Causeway, the Titanic Centre in Belfast, Derry City and the Dark Hedges in Co Antrim, made famous by the hit TV show, Game of Thrones.
Mr Keddie said Northern Ireland represented tremendous value for money for people from the Republic.
And he also argued that the Brexit vote was not "by any means all doom and gloom for Northern Ireland", as he pointed out that exports to Britain from the North have been unaffected.
"In fact, we anticipate an increase in internal UK freight traffic as price advantage over produce from the EU proves a more feasible proposition," he wrote.
Tourism Ireland said it continues to promote Northern Ireland in 23 markets around the world.
"The most recent NISRA (Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency) figures confirm growth of +9pc in overseas visitors in the first half of 2016 - including growth of 10pc in visitor numbers from Britain and +29pc in holiday visitors from Britain," a spokeswoman said.
She said plans to promote the island in Britain and elsewhere in the world for next year will be launched in Belfast and Dublin next week.