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Tourists from Republic 'on rise' amid weak pound after EU vote

By John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland is witnessing a boost in visitors from the Republic following the Brexit vote and a weakening in the pound, industry bosses have claimed.

Tourism NI chief John McGrillen told the Belfast Telegraph there had been an increase in visitors from across the border.

Suggestions of a resurgence in tourists from the Republic follow an 18% fall in visits in 2015.

However, there are no up-to-date statistics to back up claims that numbers are on the rise.

But Belfast International Airport boss Graham Keddie said air passenger numbers were also up, including travellers from the Republic choosing to fly from the Co Antrim airport.

A weak pound against the euro and dollar means it's now cheaper for tourists to visit Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

But hoteliers in the Republic have warned there has been a "serious" decline in Northern Ireland visitors coming south, where a stronger euro means sterling doesn't go as far.

Paul Diver, chairman of the Irish Hotels Federation branch in Co Donegal, said: "Our Northern Ireland business has evaporated. The weather hasn't helped recently, but the fact is the Brexit vote has hit us hard."

John McGrillen said Northern Ireland was experiencing the opposite effect. "We had a really tough time over the last two years because we have seen the value of sterling strengthen," he added.

"That was a major factor in the reduction of visitor numbers."

But he said one business told him there had been a 'flick of a switch' leading to more business from the Republic of Ireland market, almost overnight.

And, he said, "anecdotally", hotel operators and restaurateurs had enjoyed a boost since June 23.

Meanwhile, Mr Keddie said the airport's car parks have "more Republic of Ireland registered vehicles".

And Mr McGrillen said numbers of visitors from the Republic had been on a par with 2015 during the first half of 2016.

However, he's expecting growth in the last six months of the year, thanks to the post-Brexit effect.

"They (businesses) are seeing a boost. One restaurateur said his busy nights used to be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but now a Monday night is a busy night. That's been in the last four or five weeks," he said.

"They have seen a big uplift in people coming from the south."

And he said that while there had been fears of anti-UK sentiment among Europeans following the vote to leave the EU, travel to UK airports increased by 7% since Brexit.

Katy Best, commercial and marketing director at Belfast City Airport, said "in terms of Brexit, it is too early to be seeing a direct impact on passenger figures".

Caroline McComb, director of McComb's Coach Travel, said the company had witnessed a "big increase in European tourists, particularly from Spain, Italy and France".

"July is always a quiet month for us, which we always put down to the bad publicity that Northern Ireland used to get at this time of year," she said.

"We think that (the increase) is because of the favourable exchange rate for the euro and the fact that Northern Ireland has enjoyed political stability and no negative publicity. Our Giant's Causeway and Game of Thrones tours are attracting lots of overseas visitors. The French, in particular, are very keen on seeing the Game of Thrones filming locations because the show is extremely popular in France."

McComb's is a family-owned company employing 20 people.

Charlie Magennis, who owns The Base cafe, as well as Morelli's and Ben & Jerry's ice cream shops in Newcastle, said it had been a "very busy summer".

"In the past few weeks I've seen a definite increase in visitors from the Republic and we're getting a lot of euros across the counter in all three shops. There are more European tourists around and, since the start of August, a noticeable increase in English visitors."

John McGrillen said the organisation was launching a new campaign in the Republic in September to attract more visitors.

Belfast Telegraph