Northern Ireland could enjoy a £140m tourism windfall if it exploits the full potential of visitors from the Republic, a report has found. Research revealed that 54% of consumers in the South knew little or nothing about Northern Ireland and were oblivious to attractions such as the Giant’s Causeway, Titanic Belfast and the Dark Hedges.
Only 3% of overnight trips taken by by people from the Republic last year were on this side of the border, the report said, and of £942m spent in the Republic, less than £300,000 made its way into our economy.
The study added that the Republic market – 456,000 visitors of all kinds, including day trippers and business visitors in 2016 – was already bigger than the total number of visitors from Europe (358,000) or North America (250,000).
But it had the potential to be even bigger as consumers in the Republic were taking more trips than ever as its economy improved, and the market in Northern Ireland alone could be worth £140m by 2025.
However, it said the Republic’s consumers were not motivated to cross the border and viewed Northern Ireland as a place they would visit some time, but not now. And it acknowledged that the legacy of the Troubles played a part.
“Concerns about personal safety, although minimal, remain present and linger in the Republic of Ireland consumer’s mind, acting as a deterrent to consideration and planning,” explained the Republic of Ireland Taskforce report, which was commissioned in 2015 by the then-Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in response to a decline of nearly 30% in the number of visitors from the Republic after 2012.
However, the market rebounded last year, with a 19% jump in the number of visitors from the Republic, and a 6% increase in value on the year before – helped partly by the fall in the value of sterling.
Tourism NI chairman Terence Brannigan said: “While we have experienced growth in recent years, progress has been sporadic in our closest-to-home export market. We also face a strong competitor in the Republic of Ireland as a destination.
“We need the support of the whole industry to join with us and help promote this part of the island as a must-see destination to Republic of Ireland visitors.”
During the first half of 2017, there had been 221,000 overnight trips from the Republic, he said, which had contributed £40m to the economy. That would leave the Republic’s visitor market worth a total of £80m to the economy in 2017 – 42% below the target of £140m by 2025.
Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said there were “key opportunities” for the industry to take, focusing on encouraging visitors from the Republic to take short breaks here.
And he said that as cross-border visitors from the Republic were more likely to travel by car, they could bring their spend to areas less likely to feature on the itinerary of international visitors, such as Downpatrick, Armagh and Fermanagh.
The report highlighted that the Republic’s tourism market was more mature than Northern Ireland’s, with locations more experienced at marketing themselves.