Ireland fears collapse of tourism

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The Independent Online
A collapse in tourism revenue and consequent job losses is inevitable on both sides of the Irish border if IRA violence continues, tourism chiefs warned last night, writes Alan Murdoch.

The Northern Ireland Tourism Board confirmed it had seen a fall-off in telephone inquiries from would-be visitors in the week since the ceasefire ended. Tourism sources believe visitors may wait a month or two before deciding whether to go ahead or cancel their bookings. But they fear that a continued terror campaign will lead to heavy cancellations, with some predicting a fall-off as high as 40 per cent compared with projected visitor levels.

So far, there have been few cancellations attributable directly to the London bombing but the potential damage is highlighted by the fact that in Northern Ireland total visitor numbers taking advantage of the ceasefire rose by 56 per cent last year to more than 1.5 million. Overall revenues rose by an estimated 20 per cent.

Tourism has seen a dynamic expansion since the August 1994 ceasefire. If the number of visitors returned to pre-ceasefire levels, much of the growth seen in both economies could evaporate instantly. Discounting family visits, this involved a huge leap in the annual number of holiday visitors from 270,000 to 430,000, a rise of 68 per cent. Many from the Republic were making their first visit north of the border.

Gerry O'Connor of the Irish Hotels Federation, said British visitors provided the Republic's largest single tourism revenue source for Irish hotels and guest houses. This market alone was worth an estimated Irpounds 500m (pounds 520m) last year.

The number of British visitors rose 12 per cent in the 12 months following the ceasefire according to official figures. Short-stay weekend breaks, popular with younger visitors from mainland Britain, accounted for the largest increase well ahead of the average.

The end of the ceasefire would jeopardise the employment growth provided by record numbers of visitors last year - up 14 per cent to 4.2 million.

This week, Denis Galway, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, warned: "We must be aware of the potentially serious economic consequences the end of the ceasefire could bring. Over the last 17 months a new-found confidence had been created in all parts of the province. If there is a return to violence, we will all be thrust back into the economic dark ages."

The Irish tourist authority, Bord Failte, said total revenues earned by the sector last year rose 16 per cent. Tourism is the Republic's fourth largest source of foreign earnings.