UK plans to require foreign visitors to Northern Ireland to obtain advance electronic travel authorizations will hurt the UK region’s efforts to attract tourists across the Irish border, industry chiefs have told MPs.
The plans, contained in Britain’s Nationality and Borders Bill, would mean the hundreds of thousands of American tourists who land at Dublin Airport each year would have to complete online forms and pay a fee before they could get through. legally travel to Belfast just 100 miles away. Such trips are currently fluid.
Foreign travelers and tour operators have long avoided Northern Ireland due to its violence and instability. But the 1998 peace accord that capped ‘The Troubles’ committed the Irish government to encouraging visitors to add the north to their itineraries. Dublin and Belfast have jointly established an all-island agency focused on this goal, Tourism Ireland.
Britain’s post-Brexit bill to create a new online system for visitors from the UK will unnecessarily complicate that effort, tourism leaders told the House of Commons Northern Ireland committee.
They said the Tories’ England-centric proposals ignored the reality that most foreign tourists, including more than three-quarters of Americans, only visit Northern Ireland as part of a day trip from the Republic from Ireland. These include impromptu trips by train, bus or rental car to visit Belfast’s Titanic attraction or ‘Game of Thrones’ filming locations.
“People want to travel hassle-free. If something is perceived as an additional obstacle or barrier, people will stay in the Republic of Ireland where they can move around and will not need any additional administration or fees,” said Joanne Stuart, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance.
Tourism Ireland director Shane Clarke, who oversees the agency’s efforts to boost visits to Northern Ireland, said it had just interviewed a dozen tour operators in Ireland, France, Germany and the states United on Britain’s intention to require tourists visiting Ireland to pay for electronic travel authorizations. before heading north.
All expressed “disbelief that it was being offered”, he said, anticipating that tour operators facing further “barriers and uncertainties” would drop Northern Ireland from their tours in favor of Cork, Kerry and Galway.
It would be ‘extremely damaging for Northern Ireland’, he said, ‘as it is a very exciting part of the Island of Ireland route but it is not a standalone destination’ .
He pointed to other practical impossibilities, such as the fact that visiting parts of the Republic of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way coast, particularly Donegal in the northwest, means crossing Northern Ireland to get get there.
Defending the policy, Immigration Minister Kevin Foster told the committee that the UK was simply looking to replicate the kinds of online travel requirements already in place in the US, Australia and Nova Scotia. Zeeland and which will soon go live for visa-free third-country visitors. the European Union.
He said Northern Ireland could not have different travel documentation rules to those that apply in Britain.
“We are the UK government. We are not the UK government,” he said, stressing that London was liaising with Dublin to make the future operation of the electronic travel authorization scheme as simple as possible.
“Our default position is that anyone who is not a UK or Irish national will have to have it.”