Former taoiseach John Bruton told delegates at Lyrath Estate in Kilkenny that Ireland could end up having a similar border to Turkey and Bulgaria, which would have a “tremendously negative” impact on trade and movement of people.
He said: “The hotel industry very much depends on freedom of movement. What we don’t want is to end up with 4km-long border queues like Turkey-Bulgaria. It would be a nightmare around Dundalk or Enniskillen or wherever and would do tremendous damage.”
Howard Hastings of Hastings Hotels said it was time for the UK to end “vacuous platitudes” about the ways Brexit would not adversely affect the Republic’s relationship with the North and to spell out what was coming.
He called for a “coalition of trades to make the case” for Ireland, while also calling for the Wild Atlantic Way to be extended to include the Giant’s Causeway.
The IHF has called for a €24m war chest to help combat the effects of Brexit.
The funding should be used for international tourism marketing over the next three years which will be critical for tourism to be “Brexit-ready”, IHF president Pat Dolan said.
He told the 500-strong gathering that continued growth was a priority for the industry but that without specific actions now, Ireland would do well to maintain current levels of growth.
A recent industry survey showed almost universal concerns about the impact of Brexit. British visitors account for 40% of international tourists.
Mr Dolan said: “A substantial increase in marketing support of €24m over three years, with €10m in 2017, is critical to stave off the impact of Brexit. This would bring the spend back in line with 2008 levels by 2020. We must reduce our over-reliance on the UK and safeguard future growth in tourism, particularly in the key European and North American markets.”
Tourism Ireland chief Niall Gibbons said there were worrying signs on the horizon for the industry. Lack of competitiveness and not enough hotel rooms posed challenges outside of Brexit, he added.
“We are perceived as expensive as a business destination and that there is a lack of rooms. That won’t cut the mustard,” he said.
Fáilte Ireland chief Paul Kelly said a fourth designated tourism destination was still planned for the midlands to add to the Wild Atlantic Way, the Ancient East, and Dublin.