Economy Minister Says ETA Threatens Northern Ireland Tourism

| March 11, 2024
Economy Minister Says ETA Threatens Northern Ireland Tourism

Northern Ireland’s Minister of the Department for the Economy worries about the impact of the UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) on local tourism.

Economy Minister Connor Murphy expressed “strong concerns” that the ETA poses a threat to the tourism industry in Northern Ireland.

“The introduction of new travel restrictions for overseas visitors will result in this part of the island of Ireland being struck off the itinerary of many tour operators and independent travelers,” Murphy said in a news release.

Regarding the success of Northern Ireland tourism, he emphasized that “seamless all-island travel” with the Republic of Ireland is important.

Murphy promised to raise the issue with the UK Home Office to “try to find a solution that protects our tourism industry.”

Growing Northern Ireland Tourism

Tourism is a vital economic sector in Northern Ireland, supporting around 71,000 jobs in the region.

Murphy shared that the Northern Ireland tourism industry continues to experience significant growth.

From 1998 to 2019, the number of foreign visitors who stayed overnight in the region had increased four times.

In 2023, its tourism revenue has recently recovered from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on tourism and travel.

However, while Northern Ireland’s tourism revenue is back to 2019 levels, visitor numbers still need to catch up.

The Economy Minister said the ETA would impact Northern Ireland tourism as more than 70 percent of its foreign visitors arrive via Dublin.

This translates to an estimated 277,000 day trips yearly by international tourists crossing the open land border from Ireland to Northern Ireland.

ETA a “major barrier” to Northern Ireland tourism

The Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council shared the same fears in its tourism sector growth strategy submitted to the Department for the Economy.

Belfast Live reported the Council said the ETA system would create a “major barrier to growth” in Northern Ireland tourism.

“We believe [the ETA requirement for visitors crossing from the Republic of Ireland] may lead to a decline in international visitors into Northern Ireland,” read the Council’s submission.

Traveling to Northern Ireland by air presents challenges due to limited competition in the market. This is why Northern Ireland’s independent and group visitor traffic relies heavily on Dublin’s gateways.

The Council stated, “This is not sustainable and must be addressed as a matter of high priority.”

ETA and Northern Ireland

The ETA is part of a broader initiative to improve the security of the UK border and streamline travel for low-risk visitors.

The new digital permit system requires all non-visa travelers to apply for and receive a valid ETA before traveling to the UK.

This includes all foreign tourists visiting the Republic of Ireland and crossing the border into Northern Ireland, even just for a day trip.

Irish citizens and legal residents of Ireland are exempt from presenting an ETA due to the Common Travel Area (CTA) Agreement.

Under the CTA Agreement, citizens of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man can freely travel within the CTA territories.

How the ETA affects Northern Ireland tourism

This is not the first time an official or group has voiced concerns that the ETA would negatively impact Northern Ireland’s tourism.

In January 2024, Ian Snowden of Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy warned about the ETA’s “real risk” to tourism.

He said Northern Ireland’s separate ETA requirement and fee might discourage tourists from including the country in their itinerary when visiting Ireland.

Another concern among travel industry groups and professionals is tourists unknowingly entering the UK without an ETA.

The land border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is open, and doing so will cause them to breach immigration laws.

Still, there are no plans to establish immigration checks at the border due to the CTA Agreement.

Home Office firm in requiring ETA for Ireland tourists

In 2023, the British government repeatedly rejected calls to exempt tourists visiting Northern Ireland via the Republic from needing an ETA.

Such an exemption “undermines our efforts to strengthen the security of the UK border and keep people safe,” said the Home Office.

The ETA allows authorities to pre-screen travelers and prevent those who may pose a security threat from entering the UK.

Still, the Home Office has committed to working with stakeholders to ensure effective communication of the ETA requirement.

Raising awareness of the new electronic border system can reduce its impact as a barrier to cross-border tourism in Ireland.

The UK Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee is currently investigating new electronic border management systems.

It involves the UK ETA, the EU’s upcoming Entry/Exit System (EES), and the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).