The National Trust had to ask police to close roads near its properties because of an upsurge in visitors during lockdown.
Heather McLachlan, the charity’s Northern Ireland director, told the Assembly’s Economy Committee the growing number of people at attractions such as Divis Mountain had also highlighted “behavioural issues” among those who were not regular visitors to the countryside.
These problems include straying away from marked paths, networks and trails.
Traffic is another major issue, especially with social distancing rules meaning that groups are unable to travel in the same car.
“There has been an increase in erosion around a number of sites... (but) parking and managing cars has been one of the biggest problems,” Mrs McLachlan told the committee.
“One thing has been that police have had to close roads. I never thought we’d be having to get police to close roads to access a beauty spot.”
Mrs McLachlan added it was important for the trust and tourism in general to focus on long-term sustainability, including addressing a lack of public transport to and from attractions.
While she said Northern Ireland was “truly blessed” to have a large number of beauty spots people wanted to visit, she asked: “How do we make sure we have the right transport to and from an attraction to make sure the experience isn’t all about sitting in a car in a traffic jam?”
To cope with the flood of visitors, the trust introduced a booking system and one-way schemes.
Last month, the PSNI and trust warned motorists and the public to stay away from Divis Mountain because of “huge amounts of traffic” and “dangerous roadside parking”. The trust additionally appealed for the public to exercise closer to home.
The committee also heard from NI Tourism Alliance chief executive Joanne Stuart, who said she hoped for a strong summer tourism season this year, including a large number of visitors from the Republic.
“Lots of people come for one or two days and are not really helping the tourism economy if there are just having a day visit to the Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast,” she added.
“Rather than it being a day trip from Dublin, we need to (push for) longer visits and more clearly articulate that people
can spend more time in Northern Ireland.”
Mrs Stuart also called for more clarity from the Executive around reopening dates and said attractions that were already open were drawing huge numbers of visitors.
“I’m lucky to live near the beach, but I have to do my walk at 6.30am because it gets so busy during the day,” she added.