Confusion over executive rules regarding travel within the Common Travel Area (CTA) has already resulted in cancellations for the hospitality industry, it has been revealed.
r Joanne Stuart, CEO of NI Tourism Alliance, called on the executive to remove regulations amid uncertainty in the hospitality and travel industry.
Speaking at Stormont’s economics committee yesterday, she said the latest guidelines had created a “completely confusing picture”.
“I am in touch with all my members and with the number of requests received following these travel advice and the number of cancellations that are made,” she said.
“From our perspective, we have not yet run a campaign in Britain, and as soon as possible we will be able to do so between mid-June and the end of June.”
Travel within CTA – UK, Republic, Isle of Man and Channel Islands – has been authorized by the executive since Monday.
The executive has stipulated that anyone planning to come to Northern Ireland from Britain and stay there for more than 24 hours should self-isolate on arrival for 10 days.
The Ministry of Health stressed that the guidelines are necessary because Covid “still presents a very real threat, as do new variants of the virus”.
There are a series of exemptions from counseling, which is not the law, and those who travel to visit friends and family are not required to self-isolate.
However, people who are not required to self-isolate are advised to take a lateral flow Covid test before traveling here, and again after arrival.
Arriving here, or traveling from here to another part of the CTA for a vacation or hotel stay, is not covered by the exemptions, which creates confusion.
Non-essential travel has been given the green light between England, Wales and Scotland (although Glasgow remains under tighter restrictions).
The tourism chief said the issue needed “urgent” clarification from the executive, and she said she hoped the issue would be discussed when ministers meet today.
“It’s not very clear that it’s about personal responsibility, it’s about understanding your own situation and also how people think they should pay for tests,” explained Dr Stuart.
She insisted on the need to further clarify the rationale for the guidelines, adding that UK visitors made up 35% of our tourism market.
“If there are real concerns, from a health point of view, it should be much clearer,” she insisted.
She said some were struggling to understand the rationale for the advice, as many people would find themselves in more intimate environments than if they were tourists.
She added: “We are very clear. The amount of investment made by people who come to visit and go to places and have experiences … it’s in a very safe environment.
“We are doing everything to reduce the transmission (of the virus).
“We would love to see it lifted for anyone traveling in CTA without the need for testing and self-isolation.”
Another problem that hospitality faces, she added, is the need for additional financial support as companies have taken on a “huge debt burden over the past 15 months” and the fact that many owners operate at reduced capacity.
Committee member Stewart Dickson told him that Health Minister Robin Swann was currently exploring the idea of introducing “secure” printed vaccination certificates. She replied that the industry would prefer a digital vaccination certification system.
Dr Stuart said a digital form would be “much easier” for the industry as a whole, especially for international travel.
The health ministry said the rules are being revised and it’s “imperative that travel regulations are followed,” adding that the decisions are based on “current data on the variants of concern.”