Enterprise Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell has said he will continue to lobby the UK Government to address issues around reducing VAT on accommodation and hospitality.
Speaking at the British Hospitality Association (BHA) Summit in London, which was also attended by the city’s Mayor Boris Johnson, the Minister said the current VAT rate on hospitality meant opportunities were being lost in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in terms of visitor numbers and revenue.
Jonathan Bell said: “The theme of this year’s BHA Summit is ‘Together We Are Stronger’ and that I believe that is certainly the case as far as the VAT issue is concerned.
“When passed on to consumers by way of reduced costs, a cut in the VAT rate for the accommodation and hospitality sectors would result in increased demand, which would in turn boost recruitment, investment and expansion right across the UK. We have already seen proof in the Republic of Ireland that reducing VAT in the hospitality sector works, with 30,000 new jobs and over £150million added to the Irish economy.
“We will continue to lobby the government on this issue and would welcome support from the wider industry and other UK administrations.”
The Minister added that while there may be challenges, Northern Ireland’s tourism sector continues to be a key economic driver and is on track to become a £1billion industry by 2020.
Jonathan Bell said: “In 2014 we attracted 4.5million visitors, generating £751million for the local economy. The 389,000 visitors from the Republic of Ireland spent £68million; while £446million came from 1.8 million visitors from GB and overseas.
“Tourism currently supports 43,000 jobs right across Northern Ireland, 5.4% of the total workforce, or one in every 18 jobs – but there is real potential for further growth, particularly given that tourism represents just 5.2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This compares to England where tourism contributes 8.8% of GDP; Scotland, where it's 10.3% of GDP and Wales, where the figure is 13.9%.
“Our immediate aim is to drive our GDP from tourism to be on a par with England, and from there, to reach the Scottish level. Achieving this would make a huge impact on our economy in terms of revenue and employment.”
While in London, the Minister also took the opportunity to outline the major events planned for Northern Ireland including the 2016 Year of Food & Drink, the Open Championship and this week’s arrival of The Tall Ships.