HC Deb 14 February 1991 vol 185 cc982-3
1. Mr. Paice

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many tourists visited Northern Ireland from the Republic in 1990; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)

An estimated 364,000.

Mr. Paice

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me those figures. Does he agree that there are considerable opportunities for job creation in the tourism industry in Northern Ireland? What efforts is he making to promote Northern Ireland by portraying the proper image of much of it—that of a place with tremendously beautiful scenery and vistas which can attract tourists and make for an enjoyable holiday for all?

Mr. Needham

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments about the beauty of our Province. We intend to increase our expenditure on attracting people from the Republic to the north. About twice as many people from the north go to the south. A recent survey showed that some 73 per cent. of the people of the south had not been to the north, and some 72 per cent. said that they had no intention of visiting it. However, of the 27 per cent. who had been there, some 98 per cent. said that they had thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to come back. Our message to the people of the south is therefore, "Come north and enjoy yourselves."

Mr. John D. Taylor

Now that the Dublin Government have complied with the European Community's request for the removal of restrictions on the movement of visitors from the Republic into Northern Ireland, what positive steps to promote tourism have the Government taken in respect of Dublin and the Republic?

When the Minister next meets Ministers from the Republic, will he request that the Southern Irish tourist board, in its offices abroad, carry tourist literature from Northern Ireland and recommend those who come to the Republic to visit Northern Ireland as well?

Mr. Needham

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We are spending some £800,000 jointly with Bond Failte and we have together arranged a programme of marketing to attract more people from abroad to go north when they visit the island of Ireland. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, some 60,000 visitors to Northern Ireland go to the Republic first.

We have extended and improved our office facilities in the south and we believe that this year particularly, when many people may not be thinking of travelling abroad, there will be opportunities for us to cash in not only on people from the south but on people from Great Britain. We believe that we now have the facilities and the product —and we know that we have the people and the countryside—to make a success of it.

Rev. Ian Paisley

How do the figures that the Minister has given compare with those for the past five years? Is the money that he is spending really producing the goods?

Mr. Needham

We have not yet started to spend the money in any great quantity. The number of visitors to Northern Ireland is increasing, from some 900,000 in 1988–89 to, we hope, some 1.6 million by 1994. The 1990 figures will show an overall increase of some 6 per cent., but a 20 to 25 per cent. increase in the number of people coming purely for holiday purposes. The total number is up to some 1.3 million.

Those are not very substantial figures, but if we improve our ability to attract visitors, we could create some 20,000 or 30,000 new jobs in the north over a period of years. None of that is helped by the image created by violence or, occasionally, by those who report on that image in a way that is not entirely balanced.

Mr. Mallon

In anticipation of an influx of visitors, especially from the Republic of Ireland, can the Minister suggest which roads they should use so that tourists, who are very sensitive to terrorism, will not be immediately faced by lookout posts and checkpoints of an inordinate nature? If tourists come to a checkpoint and find the road closed, does the Minister envisage that they will continue their journey into Northern Ireland by using other roads or that they will return to the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Needham

As the hon. Gentleman knows all too well, the reason for the checkpoints is the continuing level of paramilitary violence. If tourists have to go through hideous-looking checkpoints, I accept that it does nothing for our image or our ability to attract people to Northern Ireland. We are considering what can be done to make checkpoints easier on and more pleasant to the eye. Nevertheless, the security of people travelling from one side of the border to another is paramount.

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