A DUP MP has suggested that Northern Irish tourism companies should “aggressively” target tourists in Dublin to tell them “you’re in the wrong part of the island”.
Ian Paisley Jnr, speaking to delegates from Visit Belfast and Visit Derry during a Westminster parliament committee on Wednesday, suggested that Dublin was unfairly marketing in Northern Ireland.
He asked if Northern Ireland should “put it right back in their face”.
“It’s been put to me that 70% of Dublin airport’s marketing budget on the island is spent in Northern Ireland to attract people to go south,” Mr Paisley said.
“I’m just wondering, should we have an aggressive marketing strategy that says whenever you get off a plane in Dublin, ‘Visit Derry, Visit Belfast, Visit the Causeway, why aren’t you going north?’, and put it right back in their face?
“The song most Americans sing is ‘Danny Boy’ – that’s nothing to do with the Republic of Ireland, it’s to do with Northern Ireland.
“Why don’t we have an aggressive strategy that tells every single Irish-American in Dublin, ‘You’re in the wrong part of the island, you need to be up north’.”
The delegates, Gerry Lennon from Visit Belfast, and Odhran Dunne from Visit Derry, both said that more marketing was essential, that resources were tight and that they need more public sector funding.
Lady Sylvia Hermon asked how Brexit will affect tourism in Northern Ireland as the spectre of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains.
Mr Dunne replied: “We’re like every other agency and stakeholder, it’s the unknown and very hard to prepare for.
“As advocates of tourism, and trying to grow that economy, our priority has to be that the consumer journey is easy and seamless.
“The issue of hard border is not conducive to progressive tourism, and that would be a challenge.”
Visit Belfast’s Gerry Lennon said: “Anything that would add layer of complication to people crossing border or flying in is not a good thing.
“We’ve enough problems trying to catch up with other destinations, without adding any layers of complication.”
Visit Belfast have had “one or two” conferences that have rejected Belfast as their preferred location, due to Brexit-related uncertainty.
Both men noted the tourism industry had been negatively impacted without a minister in place since the Stormont collapse, and that the industry had been working off a draft tourism strategy for 10 years.
When pressed on whether he was optimistic about the introduction of power-sharing talks in Northern Ireland to restore the Assembly, Mr Lennon replied: “That’s way above my pay grade.”