NI Tourism Alliance chief executive Joanne Stuart has said that Northern Ireland's tourism sector might not return to pre-COVID-19-pandemic levels until 2023-24, and Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen has said that it could be 2024 or 2025 before tourism revenues in Northern Ireland return to their 2019 peak.
According to The Irish News, it is estimated that Northern Ireland's tourism sector lost £600 million in visitor spend last year due to the pandemic and related business restrictions, and The Irish News quotes Stuart as saying, "Of course we are still closed now since Christmas so the first quarter has gone, which really will be about another £250 million so tourism businesses are just hanging on at the minute."
Stuart also said that the tourism sector depends on the rollout of vaccines, and that the sector expects predominantly domestic visitors from within Northern Ireland when it reopens, with the potential for visitors from Great Britain.
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Stuart added, "In terms of the Republic of Ireland, we're going to have to see. They are a bit behind where we are but what we're hoping is that they will make good progress and then we will have all of our home markets. We do not expect any international travel."
Speaking to The Irish News, McGrillen also said that he expects domestic tourism to be the main type of tourism in the short-term when the sector reopens.
McGrillen told The Irish News that the "tourism industry of the future will look wholly different to the industry of the past. People are becoming much more environmentally aware, and sustainability will play a bigger role in everything we do."
He continued, "There will be an increasing focus on the benefits tourism can bring to local communities as opposed to just looking at pure people and spending numbers.
"People will want less crowded spaces, and Northern Ireland is well positioned for that. So if we can get ourselves through the next 12 months, a bright future genuinely awaits.
"And looking to the next decade, we need is to develop new product, attractions and activities that will appeal meet the needs of the visitor of the future. They'll be very different that those of the past I imagine."
Rivalry To Attract Visitors From The Island Of Ireland
McGrillen also said that he believes that there will be rivalry between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to attract visitors from across the island of Ireland.
He predicted that "the level of competition between [Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland] will definitely crank up over next two or three years."
McGrillen added, “The Republic will see a huge gap in terms of the lack of visitors from the US and Europe, so they will be battling to secure as much island of Ireland business as possible."
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