The number of overseas visitors to Northern Ireland grew by an estimated 11% in the first half of 2011, compared with just 7% over the first 10 months in the Republic of Ireland. Building on that performance, marketing campaigns by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland are expected to draw 150,000 more visitors to Northern Ireland, create over 600 new jobs, and provide an additional £24 million in revenue for the economy in 2012.
The Minister is right to draw attention to the success that Northern Ireland has enjoyed as a result of the efforts of the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, given that tourism is so price-sensitive, will the Government think again about the potential offered by a VAT reduction? We are currently the only part of the European Union that does not support our tourism industry in that way. Will the Minister reconsider, so that we can try to maximise the potential and grow even more jobs in the sector?
As I have said, Northern Ireland tourism is doing well at present. Were we to pursue a relief along the lines adopted in the Republic of Ireland, it would involve a cost of some £8 billion, £9 billion or perhaps even £10 billion, which would have to be made up for by higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere.