The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union and we in Tourism Ireland have been keeping developments under review for some time. I would like to update you on a number of points relevant to the tourism industry.
Britain is the largest market for tourism to our shores. In 2015, we welcomed almost 4.5million GB visitors to the island of Ireland, a +10% increase. Visitor numbers from Britain are well up again in 2016.
The decision to leave the EU gives rise to two factors which could impact on our business. Firstly, general economic uncertainty can cause consumers to be more cautious with their discretionary spend and this may impact on tourism flows in the short to medium term.
Secondly, movements in currency impact on competitiveness and British visitors to the Eurozone, for the short term, are likely to see holidays being more expensive. Obviously this is not the case in Northern Ireland where we may see some short term gains.
A key priority for tourism is the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland and we note that this is a priority recognised by all to enable the free movement of people across our borders. Tourism Ireland supports the maintenance of the common travel area.
In recent years, we have seen the very welcome developments of the UK/Ireland Visa Waiver Scheme and the British Irish Visa Scheme which have allowed us to market to new audiences in countries such as India and China where we have seen strong growth. These schemes remain in place and we look forward to developing new business from long haul markets in the years ahead.
Finally, Tourism Ireland is the agency set up under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement to market the island of Ireland overseas. The vote has no impact on this matter and we look forward to working with industry partners across the whole island of Ireland to maintain the strong growth we have seen in tourism in the last number of years.
Tourism Ireland, in conjunction with tourism industry partners, has an extensive marketing programme in place for the second half of 2016 and that is rolling out right now in our 23 markets overseas.