A review has just been launched into the operations of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. It's unfortunate that, at a time when we're trying to increase visitor numbers, the NITB's budget has been reduced and now it is being threatened with having functions merged with Invest NI.
Previously I argued that politics could be transformed by a ‘Team NI’ ethos. One area where there is ample scope to work together better, is in attracting more tourists to our beautiful province. Put simply, we must take every opportunity to sell Northern Ireland and we must make a substantial financial investment to attract visitors.
Politicians can make an immediate difference by looking at the costs involved in getting here. Currently, Air Passenger Duty makes it substantially more expensive for people from elsewhere in the UK or Europe to fly into Belfast rather than Dublin. The government has already devolved powers to cut this tax for flights coming to and from America. If parties push hard enough and show that they’re willing to pay the cost, it is likely that the rates could also be slashed for short-haul air travel too.
Scenes of rioting and disorder on our streets are another deterrent for visitors. It is about time that our ministers in the Executive started sending out a clear message on law and order, rather than fudging and, on occasion, acting as apologists for rioters, when it is politically expedient. Like so many other industries, tourism depends upon politicians delivering a shared and stable future for the people of Northern Ireland.
The responsibility to act like ‘Team Northern Ireland’ doesn’t lie solely at Stormont though. The best salesperson for our beautiful part of the world is any one of us who lives and works here. We should keep that in mind whenever we’re talking to a friend or colleague from elsewhere. Likewise, it is important that every person working in our hospitality industry does their best to provide excellent customer service, for every visitor.
Tourism is absolutely vital to our future prosperity. Not just because of the jobs it can create, but also because it is one of the ways we can strive to trade with the world. If we present a ‘Team NI’ mentality for visitors and potential visitors, the natural beauty of our landscape and the wit and hospitality of our people, gives us an amazing product to sell.