Confusion and Cancelled Business Due to Disparity of International Travel Regulations on island of Ireland
Commenting on the NI Executive decision not to align travel regulations across the Island of Ireland, CEO NI Tourism Alliance, Joanne Stuart commented:
‘We are hugely disappointed that the NI Executive have not done anything today to address the disparity in the regulations for International travellers to the Island of Ireland which is causing confusion and widespread cancellations of business. We understand that the Executive accepted a recommendation that alignment with the English regulations continue until their next review cycle in early October and at that point the exit path for NI from these restriction would be considered.
Northern Ireland is promoted in the international markets as part of the island of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is a main gateway for international visitors to NI, with 60% of visitors spending time in both jurisdictions during their stay. Due to the disparity of regulations, to include a stay in Northern Ireland visitors are required to complete a UK passenger locator form, pre-departure test and test on day 2 of arrival into NI. This has caused confusion, especially for tour operators and as a result we have seen widespread cancellations.
The disparity in travel regulations between the two jurisdictions is having a significant impact on visitors to Northern Ireland, and we are already seeing the impact, following the opening up of International Travel in RoI on 19th July, with widespread cancellations by tour operators for planned visits to NI. This is affecting attractions/accommodation/tour guides and as a result the additional spend in hospitality and retail is being lost. The decision by the Executive today not to align our regulations with the RoI will have a significant impact on business for the rest of this year.
The concerns of the tourism industry are not just for this season but the potential impact on future business due to the reputational damage of NI as a destination. Tour operators may find alternatives in the RoI and there is no guarantee that attractions and experiences in NI will automatically be added back onto itineraries in 2022. It should be noted that these visitors are fully vaccinated/negative PCR test or have recovered from Covid19 in the last 180 days with minimum risk of infection transmission which needs to be weighed against the significant financial impact on business and the risk to jobs’
The added frustration with the regulations is there is no border check or enforcement of the regulations for visitors travelling from RoI to NI and therefore independent travellers are able to make their way to NI without following the regulations but reputable tour operators are removing NI from their schedules as they will not go against the regulations.’
Joanne Stuart concluded, ‘It has been a devastating 18 months for the tourism and travel industry and although there has been good demand from the holiday at home market, this will not sustain the industry. Visitors to NI account for 70% of visitor spend (over £1bn in 2019) and we urge the Executive to work with the industry to find a practical workable approach to travel across the island of Ireland to save business for this year and future years.’