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Friday 15 December 2017

Ash crisis 'has cost Northern Ireland tourism industry up to €2.1million'

Up to £1.8 million (€2.1m) of direct tourism expenditure may have been lost to the Northern Ireland economy because of the ash crisis, the Enterprise Minister said today.

Hoteliers and restaurant owners were among those suffering because of the five-day stoppage last month. With flights grounded today and more disruption expected in coming months the uncertainty is threatening tours to Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation said.

Minister Arlene Foster said: "The tourism sector is directly affected by the ability of tourists to get to Northern Ireland and recent cancellations equate to a direct loss for the accommodation sector and an indirect loss of associated spend in the local area."

She estimated the cost at between £1.3 million (€1.5m) and £1.8 million (€2.1m) direct tourism expenditure during the initial days of flight restrictions. There have been spells of disruption since then, most recently this weekend.

The no-fly zone, affecting services at Northern Ireland's three airports, was lifted this afternoon after fresh information from the Met Office.

However hotels federation chief executive Janice Gault said the uncertainty was having a severe impact.

"The difficulty is it is so intermittent you don't know when it will hit, how long and when it will end," she said.

"We are an island economy, the tourism product is based on the short break market, our biggest market is mainland Great Britain and if they can't travel by air it is going to have a knock on effect."

She said hopes people would take the ferry to Northern Ireland were unlikely to be fulfilled and added that, if unable to fly, holidaymakers in Great Britain would often choose to stay closer to home.

"Most people would accept that April was a very poor month in terms of the overall figures in the industry. The big concern is there are cancellations but will this affect already weakened consumer confidence in the future?" she added.

The International Air Transport Association said at its height the Icelandic volcano ash affected almost a third of global flights. It is estimated 1.2 million passengers a day were affected.

Planes were grounded because of fear the ash could turn to molten glass and cripple plane engines.

Scientists and engineers have since revised the safe to fly limits but clouds of volcanic ash have continued to drift across Europe causing airport closures, flight delays and cancellations.

Meanwhile, Stormont Education Committee chairman Mervyn Storey warned that pupils stranded by the eruption should be treated fairly.

Some have been delayed in foreign countries and unable to get home in time to sit exams. In some circumstances it will be necessary to give an assessed grade based on coursework and other information.

Mr Storey said: "It is essential that this process is open, fair and can stand up to scrutiny. No young person should suffer as a consequence of circumstances that are beyond their control."

Press Association

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