Visa Waiver Could Hit NI Tourism

A tourism leader has expressed concern that a new visa waiver scheme for international travellers could damage Northern Ireland's ability to attract US visitors.

John McGrillen, Chief Executive of Tourism NI, said tourists who arrive in the Republic of Ireland may decide against travelling north to avoid the "extra hassle factor" of having to secure an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). 

The scheme being introduced by the UK government is similar to the visa waiver system used for entry into the US. Short-term non-visa visitors to the UK will need to apply for an ETA and provide biometric data.

Irish citizens will not need an ETA to travel to Northern Ireland as they already have guaranteed free movement under the terms of the Common Travel Area. However, non-Irish EU citizens and other international passport holders, including those who live permanently south of the border, will need to apply.

The ETA is due to be rolled out next year, though several details around the scheme and its operation remain to be confirmed.

Mr McGrillen said the issue had emerged at a time when Northern Ireland was making significant inroads in attracting visitors from the lucrative US market.

Mr McGrillen said travel industry representatives in Northern Ireland were engaged in intensive lobbying at Westminster to try to secure an exemption from the ETA scheme for short-term visitors to the island of Ireland.