Mid and East Antrim Council has backed a motion urging the UK Government to review the current levels of Air Passenger Duty and VAT in Northern Ireland.
Elected members supported a motion by Councillor Audrey Wales MBE, who said the province’s tourism sector is at a competitive disadvantage due to the current levies.
The motion welcomed the opening of a consultation on the matter and appealed to the Government to ensure a swift conclusion, in order that proposals can be made in the Autumn Budget.
Cllr Wales said: “The tourism and hospitality industry in Northern Ireland has been a real success story over the past few years. External visitor numbers reached almost 2.5 million in 2016 – eight percent higher than the previous year.
“Although tourism has performed well, there’s still much potential for growth. We have the magnificent Carrickfergus Castle – the gateway to the Causeway Coastal Route, the stunning Gobbins cliff path, a world-class spa resort in Galgorm, the UK Village of the Year in Broughshane, key sites from the iconic Game of Thrones, and, of course, St Patrick’s connections with Slemish.
“The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster published an inquiry report into promoting the tourism industry in 2016. After a full inquiry, their conclusion was clear – Northern Ireland’s tourism industry is at a disadvantage to the Republic because of the effect of lower VAT and no equivalent to Air Passenger Duty.
“The inquiry report recommended that the UK Government implement regional variations in tourism VAT and abolish Air Passenger Duty on all flights. The long-haul Air Passenger Duty was devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2012, and the Assembly chose to immediately remove the Duty.
“The removal of short-haul Air Passenger Duty would encourage airlines to bring new routes to Northern Ireland and would connect Northern Ireland with key business and tourism markets. The short-haul Air Passenger Duty has made it more difficult for our airports to obtain new routes and compete with the increasingly dominant Dublin airport.
“The reduction of VAT and removal of Air Passenger Duty at this time would set a new direction for Northern Ireland.
“As we approach the departure from the European Union, Northern Ireland must maximise the opportunities to promote, encourage and showcase our tourism potential.”
Councillor Robert Logan, who seconded the proposal, said: “We have a duty to our citizens to be proactive and make sure those outside of Northern Ireland hear about what we have to offer. Our role as a council is to go out and make sure we spread the word of how great Northern Ireland, and in particular Mid and East Antrim, really is, and to support businesses investing in our wonderful Borough.”