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We've suffered £200m hit, reveals Tourism NI chief

 

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Difficult times: John McGrillen

Difficult times: John McGrillen

Difficult times: John McGrillen

Northern Ireland's tourism sector has lost around £200m so far due to the Covid-19 crisis and will not return to pre-virus levels for several years, it has been warned.

John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, says he does not believe international tourism will truly return to these shores until spring next year.

He says the effective four-month shutdown of the industry here has left a £200m dent in the economy.

And Mr McGrillen says an ambitious target to double tourism spending to £2bn a year by 2030 is now out the window, and that regaining our pre-virus spending is a more realistic target to aim for over the next three to four years.

 

But speaking on the Ulster Business Podcast, he said that because around 75% of our sector relies on the rest of the UK and Ireland, we may not feel the long-term hit as strongly as other areas such as the Republic, which relies heavily on visitors from the US and Europe.

And he argues that as Northern Ireland still offers a good tourism product it will encourage people from here to holiday at home - injecting some much-needed spending into the tourism and wider hospitality sector.

"We have seen a freezing of the world's tourism industry and not just Northern Ireland," he said.

"All global connectivity has more or less just stopped. There is no likelihood about people coming in from overseas.

"In effect, the tourism industry in Northern Ireland has been closed since March.

"The only revenue flowing through many doors up until now being the looking after of essential workers. (Some) hotels had stayed open to allow that to happen.

"I would imagine we are looking at a loss in the region of £200m to the NI economy over that period of time."

Mr McGrillen said while the reopening of much of the local hospitality sector is a positive step, it may still take some time for people to begin returning to businesses here.

"It's difficult to predict. People have been told to stay at home for four months. I think people are still reticent (about) going out," he added.

"It's a bit difficult to get a sense of how long it will take to recover.

"What we do know is about 57% of people on the island intend to take a break on the island of Ireland. With a little bit of luck, when we see some of the connectivity return to the UK, we may be able to drive some business out of the UK in August and September."

Mr McGrillen said around 40% of visits from people in Britain happen outside the busier peak season.

"We will see virtually no European business and no American business this side of Easter next year, I'd imagine."

He says there "appears to be demand" for international travel, looking ahead to 2021 and 2022.

You can listen to the interview at www.ulsterbusiness.com

Belfast Telegraph