Northern Ireland’s Visit Derry Chief Says ETA is a “Hindrance to Travel”

| April 24, 2024
Northern Ireland's Visit Derry Chief Says ETA is a "Hindrance to Travel"

Derry’s tourism agency stressed that an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) exemption for Northern Ireland tourists is crucial in promoting the country.

Visit Derry Chief Executive Odhran Dunn was asked about the possible implications of the new ETA for the United Kingdom (UK) at a Business and Culture Committee meeting on 16 April.

Derry is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fifth-largest on the island of Ireland.

Dunn said that promoting Northern Ireland as a tourist destination and, at the same time, communicating the new policy to tourists would be challenging.

“A lot of international business comes via Dublin, so people may not be aware that, from 2025, you have to have an ETA,” Dunn said, as reported by the Derry Journal.

He added that “visitors might decide to stop at the border and turn back” when they realize that the ETA is another requirement and an added cost.

The Visit Derry chief stated it is a “huge concern” and “another hindrance to travel.”

Visit Derry joins the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance in calling for ETA exemptions for Northern Ireland tourists from the Republic of Ireland.

The alliance had suggested ETA exemptions for tourists visiting the country for short stays of up to one week.

ETA’s potential impact on Northern Ireland tourism

The ETA is a new digital travel permit system for travelers who can visit the UK without a visa for short stays.

This includes those who visit for tourism, meeting family and friends, allowed business activities, and short-course studies of up to six months.

The ETA is also required for transit and those coming to the country for temporary creative work of up to three months.

It costs £10 per application and is valid for multiple visits over two years or until the passport it is linked to expires.

Many Northern Ireland officials have been very vocal about the potentially devastating impact of the ETA on their tourism economy.

This is because about 70 percent of international tourists who visit Northern Ireland arrive from the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister Connor Murphy expressed “strong concerns” that the ETA would result in Northern Ireland being left out of visitor itineraries and tour groups.

Murphy stressed that “seamless all-island travel” with the Republic of Ireland is crucial to Northern Ireland’s tourism economy.

The Economy Department’s Ian Snowden also warned about the “real risk” that the ETA could discourage tourists from visiting Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland.

He added that ensuring effective communication regarding the new ETA requirement will help minimize its impact.

The Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council also feared that the ETA would create a “major barrier to growth” in Northern Ireland tourism.

It believes the ETA “may lead to a decline in international visitors into Northern Ireland.”

Traveling to Northern Ireland by air presents challenges due to the limited number of carriers.

This is why Northern Ireland’s independent tourists and group visitors rely heavily on Dublin’s gateways.

Enforcing the ETA between the UK-Ireland border

The British government has repeatedly refused ETA exemptions for tourists visiting Northern Ireland via the Republic of Ireland.

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

Tom Pursglove, the UK’s Minister of State for Legal Migration and the Border, said it “blows a hole in the whole concept.”

However, Simon Bond, senior director of Border Transformation at the UK Border Force, said enforcing the ETA at the UK-Ireland border would be challenging.

He admitted this during a meeting with the UK Parliament’s Justice and Home Office Affairs Committee on 26 March.

The UK’s Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share an open land border.

There are no plans to establish routine immigration checks due to the Common Travel Area (CTA) arrangement.

The CTA allows free movement between the UK, Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man.

Tony Smith, former director general of the UK Border Force, raised this potential loophole during a separate meeting with the committee.

He brought up the hypothetical scenario of someone first traveling to the Republic of Ireland and then entering the UK through Northern Ireland.

Bond did not respond when asked if this loophole could be used by someone who aims to threaten the UK’s national security.

Tourism Ireland, the agency that promotes the Republic of Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland as a holiday destination, also raised a similar scenario.

Tourists from the Republic of Ireland could accidentally cross the open land border to Northern Ireland without realizing they need an ETA. This would inadvertently cause them to violate immigration laws.

Pursglove noted the Home Office is constantly reviewing its ETA policies within the framework of its primary purpose.

He suggested that the government should allot all its resources to communicating the new ETA requirement to affected travelers.

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