Confusion and Lost Business due to Non-alignment of Travel Regulations across Island of Ireland

Posted 29 Jul, 2021

NITA are calling on the Executive to address the non-alignment of travel regulations across the Island of Ireland which is causing confusion for visitors and impacting on booked business as far out as September and October this year.

On 19th July the RoI adopted the EU Digital Covid Certificate and opened up international travel from the EU and the safe countries that have been agreed by the EU, meaning that travellers who are fully vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 in the last 180 days or, in the case for travellers from EU, tested negative for Covid-19 do not need to quarantine or test on their arrival to RoI.

The majority of the countries that are now able to travel to RoI are on the NI Amber countries list meaning that in order to travel to NI as part of their stay, visitors will need to complete a UK Passenger Locator Form, take a pre-departure test, test on day 2 and 8 and quarantine for 10 days on their arrival in NI.

The news that the Health Minister has put forward a paper to the NI Executive proposing that NI follows the rest of the UK, removing the requirement to self-isolate for those passengers arriving from amber countries who have been fully vaccinated in Europe and the USA, is a welcome development. However, this will not address all the barriers for those passengers travelling to Northern Ireland via the Republic.

Joanne Stuart, CEO NITA said ‘The disparity in travel regulations between the two jurisdictions is having a significant impact on visitors to Northern Ireland, as Dublin is the main gateway for out of state travel to Northern Ireland with 52% of visitors travelling to NI via RoI. Over 60% of out of state visitors to NI spend time in the RoI during their stay.

We are already starting to see the impact with widespread cancellations by tour operators for planned visits to NI which is affecting attractions/accommodation/tour guides and as a result the additional spend in hospitality and retail will be lost.

Due to the lead in time of around 6 weeks to confirm travel plans, this is impacting September and October business as well as the short term.’

Joanne Stuart continued ‘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 travellers 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 individual 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 16 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. Businesses are struggling to break even due to social distancing restrictions, a lack of significant marketing in GB, and limited reopening of cruise tourism. 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.’