Friday 18 October 2019

Anti-Irish sentiment driving UK tourists away, claims FF

New Brexit fallout fears for tourism as Government refuses to reverse Vat hike, writes Hugh O'Connell

Transport and tourism spokesman Marc MacSharry. Photo: Tom Burke
Transport and tourism spokesman Marc MacSharry. Photo: Tom Burke
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Anti-Irish sentiment over the increasingly fraught Brexit negotiations is driving British holidaymakers away from Ireland, Fianna Fáil has claimed.

Transport and tourism spokesman Marc MacSharry has called on Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland to carry out research into the issue and develop marketing campaigns aimed at ensuring British families continue to pick Ireland as a destination.

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MacSharry said his own research had uncovered a fall in the number of British families holidaying in Ireland, particularly in the Border counties.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD said that while this may be due to the falling value of sterling and the increase in the Vat rate for the tourism and hospitality industry, he has also heard from businesses that nationalistic sentiment among some holidaymakers is causing a decline. CSO figures for the second quarter of this year show that while the number of visitors from overseas grew by 2.4pc, the increase in the number of people visiting for holidays, as opposed to work commitments, was up by only 0.5pc.

"A matter of concern which has emerged is that nationalistic sentiment among British holidaymakers due to Brexit considerations may be a contributing factor with UK families choosing other locations over Ireland," MacSharry said.

"In my own discussions with businesses dependent on tourism, some feel that the ongoing Brexit uncertainty has given rise to anti-Irish sentiment.

"If this is a factor, we must deal with it immediately," he said. "Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland must immediately undertake research to ascertain if this is in fact the case. The autumn months are important as the booking period for next season.

"For this reason it is essential we get our marketing pitch correct to offset any impact of a likely cyclical global recession on the one hand and of course the incalculable threats that a deal or no- deal Brexit presents on the other."

MacSharry said that it is of "critical importance" to the Irish tourism sector that UK citizens in Britain and the North are told that, irrespective of what happens with Brexit, Ireland is "open for business".

He added: "Anecdotal evidence suggests we must be conscious that an unintended consequence of the last three years of uncertainty around Brexit may have impacted Anglo-Irish tourism sentiment in a negative way."

A spokeswoman for Tourism Ireland said it had carried out four waves of research in the UK since the Brexit vote three years ago and is carrying out a further study.

"The most recent wave of research confirmed that, while the British population were feeling increasingly negative towards Brexit, Brexit had not specifically affected their attitudes towards holidaying in Ireland or Northern Ireland," she said.

Meanwhile, the Government is set to reject calls from the tourism sector to reverse last year's increase in Vat.

The 9pc rate was increased to 13.5pc in Budget 2019. But despite the potential impact of a hard Brexit on the sector, Government and Fianna Fáil sources say it is not currently on the table in Budget talks.

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