'Visitors just look at us as Ireland' - warning hard border could hurt tourism
A leading figure in Northern Ireland tourism has warned that a hard border could have a negative impact on visitors to the region.
Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance Joanne Stuart told BBC Radio Ulster that despite continued growth Brexit posed potential challenges.
Mrs Stuart said that many visitors view Northern Ireland and the Republic as a tourism package.
"I think everyone has concerns about Brexit, because of the uncertainty and we don't know how it is going to look," she said.
"Particularly in tourism, when you look at the number of people, visitors, coming in via Dublin and then travelling up to Northern Ireland.
"We need to make sure that that is as seamless as possible, because visitors don't see the border."
The tourism boss said some visitors were not aware of the border.
"A lot of visitors just look at us as Ireland, and we don't want to cause any difficulties in people coming up to Northern Ireland," Mrs Stuart said.
"What we want to do is get those visitors to spend more time in Northern Ireland."
She also highlighted that many immigrants to Northern Ireland work in the tourism industry.
"Skills is another challenge, which although related to Brexit, is a separate policy around immigration," Mrs Stuart said.
"Certainly in tourism and hospitality, we would have over 20% reliance on people wanting to work in the industry outside of Northern Ireland.
"The tourism industry is so resilient. What we've been through, and having no focus on tourism since the last Executive, and yet tourism has grown 35% in the last five years, and the industry has an ambition to double that in the next 10 years."
Disagreements over how to manage the Irish border have dominated the Brexit process.
Prime Minister hopefuls Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have said that they would favour a technology based approach to the border, while the EU claim the technology necessary does not yet exist.
Outgoing PM Theresa May agreed the controversial 'backstop' plan with the EU in an attempt to address the issue, but this was rejected by hardline Brexiteers and the DUP.
The backstop issue effectively ended Mrs May's hopes of getting her Brexit deal through Parliament and its failure hastened her departure as Prime Minister.
Earlier in Belfast this week Mr Johnson said that it would "lunacy" to impose a hard border in Ireland after Brexit.
Belfast Telegraph Digital