Commenting after giving evidence to the NI Assembly Economy Committee this morning, NILGA President Cllr Matt Garrett said:
“We welcomed the opportunity to provide evidence to the Assembly’s Economy Committee on the role of local government in tourism strategies. Tourism is one of the region's most important industries, accounting for 5% of our GDP, and with significant potential to become a £1bn industry. However, it has been amongst the worst affected sectors in the face of the pandemic, affecting thousands of jobs and dramatically curtailing the number of both domestic and overseas tourists coming here.
“Councils are vital in the development and implementation of local tourism strategies and have been at the forefront of efforts to support the sector during the pandemic. Task forces have been set up to coordinate efforts on a local basis, councils have often been the first port of call for businesses and workers looking advice, and all 11 councils have assisted the Department for the Economy in rolling out grant schemes. Local and central government have also worked closely together to grow consumer confidence, while councils have delivered targeted and successful marketing campaigns to drive visitors from across the island.
“The outlook for tourism here is somewhat bleak but there are key opportunities to support our local sector which must be grasped by the Executive, in collaboration with local government. Urgent and direct financial support must be granted to tourism businesses to ensure that they survive through to the 2021 holiday season and ensure that we have a local tourism sector to return to next year. With international travel severely curtailed, people here have been discovering the attractions and destinations on their own doorsteps. There is now an opportunity to develop this ‘staycation’ market for the medium to long term and market the region as a leading destination for visitors from across the island.
“We have a tourism sector and offer to be proud of in this part of the world but, with the impact of Covid-19, it is seriously struggling. Tour guides, experience providers, cultural institutions, accommodation providers and workers must be given the tools and support to save their businesses and jobs, ensuring that tourists next year still have the same world-class experiences and destinations to choose from. We call on the Department to bring forward a tourism strategy that provides the resources and direction to grow tourism in a collaborative, innovative and sustainable way".