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Travel chiefs say Brexit would be 'disaster' for Northern Ireland

And Abta warns exit could make foreign trips dearer

By John Mulgrew

A leading travel agent in Northern Ireland has said leaving the EU would have a "disastrous" impact on the industry here.

It comes as a report by travel organisation Abta has said foreign travel is "likely to become more expensive" if the UK exits.

But Doreen McKenzie, owner of Belfast-based travel agent Knock Travel, said leaving would end a period of confidence for the trade. "Confidence in travel is high, but if we leave the EU, there would be a prolonged period of uncertainty during any re-negotiation period and this could take several years," she said.

"The effect of this would most likely be more bureaucracy and increased travel costs, which in turn would impact negatively on consumer confidence.

"Combine this with the fact that many current EU regulations have been put in place to benefit and protect holidaymakers and business travellers - including reciprocal health arrangements, compensation for delayed flights, financial protection for package holidays, freedom of movement among others - and it becomes clear that for UK travellers, the benefits of remaining in the EU far outweigh any perceived negatives."

Those concerns have been reiterated by Delia Aston, managing director of Clubworld Travel, which has seven outlets across Northern Ireland. "The inevitable rise in operating costs and the likely devaluation of sterling would have a very negative effect on the holiday business and foreign travel in general," she said.

Holidaymakers and business travellers may face increased costs if an exit vote leads to a fall in the value of sterling.

Travel firms may also raise prices in order to recoup the cost of new taxes and levies being introduced, the research found.

Abta said another potential factor which could make travel dearer is consumers needing to cover additional health insurance costs if the UK leaves the European Health Insurance Card scheme.

The report follows concerns already raised by others within the travel and tourism industry.

Hotel boss Lord Rana told the Belfast Telegraph last week that a Brexit would have a disastrous impact on the industry here.

He said his plans to build more hotels here could be put on hold if the UK voted for a Brexit.

Indian-born Lord Rana (77) said it "will be the worst thing to happen for the Northern Ireland economy especially".

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary says there is "no upside" to Brexit.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer said its assessment of the report is that "a vote to leave will lead to uncertainties and may lead to increased costs for travel businesses and the travelling public".

"We recognise that people will approach this referendum by considering many factors," he said.

"Abta has considered what a vote to leave the EU might mean purely from a travel perspective. Our view is that the potential risks and downsides are not matched by an equal upside for the traveller."

Belfast Telegraph