Belfast Telegraph

Hospitality sector needs protection following Brexit, insists trade body

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's £1bn hospitality industry needs special status after Brexit with protections including the continuing right of Republic of Ireland citizens to work here, a trade body will say today.

Hospitality Ulster's policy paper is set to call on the UK Government and a future Northern Ireland Executive to recognise the "unique status" of the contribution made by the industry's pubs, restaurants and hotels.

And its chief executive Colin Neill called on a future Executive to set up a sub-committee - chaired by the future First Minister and Deputy First Minister - to agree a negotiating position and to ensure focus at the top levels of government.

Mr Neill said: "The hospitality industry is worth more than £1.1bn annually to the Northern Ireland economy and it is essential that the sector is supported by government so that it continue to create jobs and add to the overall economic health of the region."

He said that "tourism is working in Northern Ireland".

"In 2015 we had 4.5 million overnight trips by visitors, a 4% annual increase. In 2016 more than 2m hotel nights were sold and currently the hospitality sector employs one in every 20 workers here. These key statistics underline the importance of protecting the sector," he said.

Hospitality Ulster's policy paper also calls for the continuation of the Common Travel Area between Northern Ireland and the Republic and on free movement of people, goods and services across the border.

Prime Minister Theresa May indicated this year that the UK would leave the Customs Union and Single Market as part of Brexit, putting free movement in doubt.

And Hospitality Ulster also called for no additional tariffs on imported goods, especially those from the Republic, and for mutual recognition of qualifications.

It also said that funding commitments for structural and investment projects signed after the Autumn Statement should be honoured.

And it urged greater financial support to promote NI tourism in the rest of the UK, the Republic and abroad, as well as the introduction of a new regional tourism Vat system. VAT on tourism businesses is 9% in the Republic, but in the UK there is no special rate and tourism firms pay the tax at the general rate of 20%.

Mr Neill said: "Northern Ireland is unique among the UK regions in that we share a land border with an EU state, the Republic. It is essential that post-Brexit any border is kept as frictionless as possible.

"In 2015 alone visitors from the Republic spent £61m and the latest figures available from January to September showed a 27% rise.

"Clearly government, both in Northern Ireland and Westminster, are duty-bound not to place any restrictions on such a valuable source of trade."

And he said the dynamics of the industry should be understood.

"Currently one in five people employed in the industry are migrant workers and it is vital that the ability to recruit external labour is maintained," he added.

"It is essential for Northern Ireland as a whole that the hospitality industry can grow and access to foreign labour is fundamental to that growth.

"We need a joined-up approach from government both in Westminster and at the Executive to fully support our industry and protect it from the challenges posed by Brexit.

"Given that the tourism VAT rate is substantially less in the Republic, tourists can save money by staying overnight in the Republic and taking just day trips to Northern Ireland.

"This situation needs addressed and we are calling for the introduction of a regional VAT rate."

Belfast Telegraph