A leading Northern Ireland hotelier has criticised Stormont for what he claimed is an “embarrassing” lack of funding of cross-border body Tourism Ireland.
Howard Hastings, managing director of the Hastings Hotels Group, blamed “institutional resistance” for the failure to connect Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route with the Republic’s Wild Atlantic Way.
Mr Hastings, whose group runs Northern Ireland hotels including the Culloden, Europa, Grand Central and co-owns Dublin’s Merrion, said tourism has been “pigeon holed” as one part of the island’s economic mix.
My greatest regret is that as yet, our Northern Ireland (tourist) industry is so far ahead of the Northern Ireland government in embracing Tourism IrelandHoward Hastings
And he singled out the Stormont Assembly for not “putting its shoulder to the wheel” to endorse a cohesive, all-island strategy.
He said: “Not only does tourism create employment in every nook and cranny of the island, parts where no other industry can reach, it does so year in, year out.
“In our fairs and our festivals, in its observed seasonal rituals, it is a source of social cohesion, it is a generator of mental health, it is a source of civic pride.
“My greatest regret is that as yet, our Northern Ireland (tourist) industry is so far ahead of the Northern Ireland government in embracing Tourism Ireland and what it does.
“It is a source of embarrassment to me that in a funding model where Northern Ireland is pledged to commit one third of the resources, at present, their contribution is barely 15%.”
Tourism Ireland, established following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, is the body responsible for marketing the island of Ireland overseas.
Mr Hastings said Covid restrictions sparked an influx of tourists from the Republic to Northern Ireland, 55% of them overnighting for the first time.
A spokesman for the Department for the Economy said: “Northern Ireland funding to Tourism Ireland has not decreased – however the Republic of Ireland has increased its funding to Tourism Ireland as the Irish Government allocated more budget to tourism.
“The minister (Gordon Lyons) continues to seek additional funding for Tourism Ireland when possible.
“For example, within the last six months, he has secured an additional £10 million for NI-specific campaigns.
“This was used to fund a £5 million NI-specific campaign in GB in the autumn and a further £5 million spring campaign, predominately in GB but also in the wider European market, is underway.”