HC Deb 14 November 1991 vol 198 cc1219-20
7. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on tourism in the Province.

Mr. Brooke

Very encouraging progress is being made in promoting Northern Ireland as a serious holiday destination, improving the quality of the overall tourist product and increasing the contribution of tourism to economic development. In 1990, a record year, over 1.1 million visitors spent £153 million in Northern Ireland and there was a 40 per cent. increase over 1989 in the number of pure holiday visitors. Projects to increase and improve tourist accommodation and amenities are being developed with assistance from Government, the International Fund for Ireland and the European Community.

Mr. Bruce

I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent news. Can he comment on the co-operation between the Province and the Republic in marketing the whole island of Ireland to ensure that even more overseas visitors come to that beautiful country?

Mr. Brooke

The number of pure holiday visitors from the Republic increased by over 50 per cent. last year, but the Northern Ireland tourist board is working with Bord Failte on a joint marketing programme designed to increase the number of visitors to the island of Ireland as a whole. With the help of the International Fund for Ireland, the two boards operate a joint Ireland desk in the British Tourist Authority office in London and undertake joint marketing programmes in north America and Europe. Facilities are being developed to exploit the potential in genealogy-based tourism throughout Ireland.

Mr. Beggs

I welcome the Secretary of State's statement and congratulate all those involved in promoting tourism in Northern Ireland. I should like it to be understood that we in Northern Ireland do not expect our tourism promotion to be taken over by Bord Failte. If district councils in Northern Ireland are to have a meaningful role in promoting tourism and job creation within their areas, can the Secretary of State give us an assurance that he will ask the planners to deal more sympathetically with applications that have district council approval for facilities to cater for the tourists who are coming now and the many more that we expect in the future?

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the efforts of those involved and his endorsement of them. It is gratifying that, whereas 10 years ago only one in nine of visitors to Northern Ireland was a pure holiday visitor, the figure is now one in five. I shall draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) when he returns from America the matters concerning district councils and planning.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Further to that supplementary question, will the Minister also have a word with the planners about hotel accommodation, especially in the County Antrim area, and find out why so many obstacles are being put in the way of hoteliers who want to improve their facilities?

Mr. Brooke

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North is concerned to improve hotel accommodation throughout the Province, so I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the Secretary of State have any further plans for undertaking joint initiatives between the Province and the Republic? Does the Secretary of State accept that the tourist industry in the island as a whole was affected adversely by British Airways' decision to stop the London-Dublin link? Will he give an undertaking to the House that he will have discussions with the chair of British Airways to try to reintroduce that important link between London and Dublin?

Mr. Brooke

I was asked specifically about tourism in Northern Ireland. My understanding is that the decision by British Airways was a commercial one based on the traffic, but I shall discuss that, too, with my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North when he returns.