Sinn Féin Vice-Chair of the Assembly Enterprise Committee, Phil Flanagan MLA has called for a ‘Team Ireland’ focus on tourism promotion.
Mr Flanagan said:
"This morning, the Enterprise Committee (ETI) heard evidence from both Tourism Ireland and NITB on efforts both are making to promote tourism across the island.
"However, despite efforts to present a unified voice on promotion of the tourism industry it was clear that there is still a disjoint in their approach.The potential benefits envisaged through the establishment of a single body to promote tourism overseas have largely been missed.
"I pressed the officials hard to find out why NITB has not targeted the opportunities presented by the Irish government sponsored event ‘The Gathering 2013’ which is directed at attracting as many of the 70 million people around the world who claim Irish ancestry to return to Ireland next year.
"NITB attempted to deflect from this by claiming that there are already other exciting events planned for the North in 2013. However, the only events they could reference were the World Police & Fire Games in Belfast and the City of Culture celebrations in Derry. There is nothing of any significance planned anywhere else.
"Across the north, there are significant opportunities for events that could take place in conjunction with ‘The Gathering’ but it would seem that NITB is blinded to opportunities that do not have a specifically northern complex. I can only describe the lack of enthusiasm to capitalise on the potential of ‘The Gathering’ as an example of the worst of the border mentality. I am sure that this mentality and missed opportunities are causing great frustration amongst tourism operators in many areas.
"It is clear that the lack of interest displayed to date by the Tourism Minister is contributing to the negative attitude of NITB to ‘The Gathering’.
"The arguments on promoting the island of Ireland as a single destination for tourists are overwhelming and it’s about time that NITB realised that the greater number of tourists coming to the island of Ireland arrive through southern entry points. It’s time NITB dismantled its border mentality and start tapping into this market by participating wholeheartedly in marketing ventures such as ‘The Gathering’.
"This attitude is an example of the need to establish a genuine single tourism development and promotional agency for the entire island of Ireland."