North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay has said that tourism needs to be taken more seriously by whoever heads up the new Department for the Economy after the elections in May.
He was speaking after asking the Enterprise Trade and Investment Minister what he has done to increase the number of beds for tourists in North Antrim.
He said: “The Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment has put a big focus on attracting Foreign and Direct Investment - and rightly so.
“However they should be doing this in parallel to supporting local business and ensuring the correct policies and regulatory procedures are in place to secure growth in tourism.
“There is huge potential for the creation of tourism and hospitality jobs in North Antrim.
“This requires support for businesses who are struggling due to increasing overheads.
“For example we know that the introduction of the new minimum wage in 2016 will lead to increased pressures on many in hospitality. Sinn Féin are fully in support of this increase to what has been called the ‘living wage’ but it of course is short of what many economists have estimated a ‘living wage’ to be.
“What the Department and indeed the Department of Finance need to consider is what support they can put in place to ensure that businesses can manage the transition to this new minimum wage without having to lay off staff. What I want to see is a situation where both the increase in wage levels and jobs are secured.
“The Executive unfortunately do not have the fiscal levers to tailor a locally appropriate response to this but the current review of non-domestic rates, including rate reliefs, is one opportunity to debate whether anything can be done for the hospitality sector.
“Invest NI needs to also work closer with Tourism Ireland and Tourism NI. We want to see job creation but we want to see sustainable jobs first and foremost and there are none more sustainable than jobs in tourism because the product being developed and sold is not one that can be moved overseas at a whim.
“Policies for simple things such as road signage need to be more business friendly. There are so many tourism products within our locality that simply are not signposted well enough or indeed at all. That needs to change. We really need to see more of a ‘can-do’ attitude when it comes to tourism development.”