NITA: not just another talking shop
Doreen McKenzie says that the new Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance is a body with “vision and purpose” and she believes that it will have a role to play in finally putting in place a centralised tourism strategy for Northern Ireland…
Co-ordinating the response of the NI tourism industry to the current Treasury consultations on the impact here of our VAT differential with the Republic and the continued imposition of Air Passenger Duty (APD) will be the first task of the new Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA).
Headed up by Doreen McKenzie – one of the Northern Irish travel trade’s most recognisable figures – the new group is set to meet for the first time this month.
NITA is an umbrella body that intends to provide a unified voice for the entire tourism sector in Northern Ireland, everything from camping and caravan providers to hoteliers, restaurateurs and coach operators.
Doreen’s role with NITA will initially be for six months as she oversees the implementation phase of the fledgling organisation, recruits its members and forms the board.
Her first task will be to formulate a response to the ongoing Westminster inquiry into APD and the impact on tourism of VAT rates on the island of Ireland.
Those involved in the tourism trade here in Northern Ireland have long called for government action on both these issues, but the lack of parity on VAT between the north, where it is set at 20 per cent and the south, where operators pay just nine per cent, has been a source of bitter contention over the years.
Speaking to LCN this month, Doreen said that she felt it was important to view issues such as APD from the perspective of the Treasury.
Northern Ireland’s former devolved Assembly removed APD on long haul flights in 2013, but it had no power to vary the tax on short haul journeys and it remains in place.
Doreen said that she believed that the industry needed to ask itself why the Treasury would remove the tax just for Northern Ireland.
“I think there are a number of arguments in our favour,” she continued. “We have a land border with the south, where they have no APD. Here, we have expensive APD and we pay that tax twice if we go to GB and then take a connecting flight to somewhere else.
“As well as that, APD was originally intended as a green tax, but none of the money lifted from it has ever been used specifically for that purpose.
“And, of course, they get significant money out of APD and that would have to be replaced, but we are arguing that if there was no APD in Northern Ireland, traveller numbers would increase and the measure would be revenue neutral within a couple of years.”
Doreen said, too, that she felt there were a number of “half-way measures” that could be considered, such as waiving the tax on connecting flights for travellers arriving from Northern Ireland.
Doreen McKenzie will be well-known to many readers. She has worked in the NI travel industry for more than 45 years, 27 of those as proprietor of her own business, Knock Travel. She ia also a member of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and sat as a board director there for 15 years, taking part in many committees, particularly those relating to aviation, in which she has a special interest.
Around 70 per cent of Doreen’s Knock Travel business involved government contracts:
“My claim to fame is that we organised travel for the G8 Summit in Enniskillen [in 2013]. It was recalled by many of those involved as one of the friendliest and easiest summits ever, although it was a lot of hard work for us. This was a £3m contract over three months and it put us under a lot of pressure.”
Doreen retired from a day-to-day role in the travel trade in June last year after selling her business to Oasis Travel. By that stage, she was no longer arranging travel for the government and was already considering retirement:
“I was 65 and I never intended to continue working forever,” she said. “When we lost that work, it just pushed me in that direction a little faster than I might otherwise have gone.”
However, Doreen still finds time work as a travel consultant and she still travels to London around twice a month in order to sit on ABTA committees.
“I thought that I was going to be retiring last year, but that didn’t happen so I never say never any more,” she told LCN. “I’m enjoying things, there are a lot of synergies [in NITA] coming across from my business life and I am optimistic about it all. I think the time is right for this. NITA isn’t just going to be another talking shop, we are here with a vision and a purpose. We want to get set-up, get this constituted and start looking at a tourism strategy for the future that will fit into the government’s work programme.”