Everything possible must be done to protect the Northern Ireland hospitality industry from the threat of Brexit and secure its future for the good of the province.
That’s the claim today from sector body Hospitality Ulster as it calls on the both the UK Government and NI Executive to recognise the unique circumstances faced by the industry in Northern Ireland by Brexit and introduce measures to offset any threats to its long term health and viability.
Worth more than £1.1 billion annually to the NI economy, the sector is also seen as a key area for long-term economic growth.
As such the organisation is calling for a series of actions and assurances including:
:: the maintenance of the Common Travel Area between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and the continued rights of RoI citizens to work in NI.
:: the maintenance of free movement of people, goods and services
:: no additional tariffs or red-tape for imported goods, especially those produced in RoI and ensure mutual recognition of qualifications to facilitate access to labour and
:: greater financial support to promote NI tourism and the introduction of a regional tourism VAT system.
“The hospitality industry is worth more than £1.1 billion annually to the Northern Ireland economy and it is essential that the sector is supported by government so that it continues to create jobs and add to the overall economic health of the region,” said Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill.
“Tourism is working in Northern Ireland. In 2015 we had 4.5 million overnight trips by visitors, a 4% annual increase. In 2016 more than two million hotel nights were sold and currently the hospitality sector employs one in every 20 workers in Northern Ireland.
“These key statistics underline the importance of protecting the hospitality sector.”
Given that Northern Ireland is unique among the UK regions in sharing a land border with an EU state, he said it was essential that any post-Brexit border is kept as frictionless as possible.
“In 2015 alone visitors from the Republic of Ireland spent £61m and the latest figures available from January to September showed a 27% rise.
“Clearly government, both in NI and Westminster, are duty bound not to place any restrictions on such a valuable source of trade.”
It was also important, he added, that the dynamics of the hospitality sector are fully understood.
“Currently one in five people employed in the industry are migrant workers and it is vital that the ability to recruit external labour is maintained.
“It is essential for Northern Ireland as a whole that the hospitality industry can grow and access to foreign labour is fundamental to that growth.
“We need a joined-up approach from government both in Westminster and at the Executive to fully support our industry and protect it from the challenges posed by Brexit.
“Given that the tourism VAT rate is substantially less in the Republic of Ireland, tourists can save money by staying overnight in the Republic and taking just day-trips to Northern Ireland.
“This situation needs addressed and we are calling for the introduction of a regional VAT rate.’’