As the 2018 tourism season kicks off, Tourism NI is reminding accommodation providers to ensure they are certified to operate legally.

Impartial Reporter Business took the opportunity to speak to some local tourism providers about the benefits of certification and the rise of online booking, particularly through and Air B&B.
“Every tourism accommodation provider must be certified by Tourism NI to operate legally and costs can be as little as £40,” a spokeswoman from Tourism NI stated.
Tourism NI has recorded a 20 per cent increase in certified accommodation from 2016 to 2017, but 13 per cent of those are trading without a certificate.
“Trading without certification could result in legal action against the operator as well as reputational damage to the wider industry,” warned Áine Kearney, Tourism NI’s Director of Business Support and Events.
“Once you are certified, we will carry out one statutory inspection of the property over the four year period. This ensures that all providers are aware of the need to comply with relevant regulations affecting accommodation, can operate on a level playing field, not compromise on quality and give confidence to consumers about our tourism offering,” she said.
According to Tourism NI, the benefits of certification include giving business owners the chance to engage directly with Tourism NI and obtain access to a wide range of services including start-up advice, direction on operational issues, marketing guidance, social media support and free listings on Discover NI’s website.
The certification campaign is backed by Trading Standards and the NI Fire and Rescue Service.
Sharon Muldoon from NI Trading Standards Service said: “Trading Standards Service fully supports Tourism NI in their efforts to raise this important issue in the run up to a busy tourist period and we have a duty to ensure that there is an even playing field so that honest businesses are protected and consumers are not misled. Creating an impression that a product can legally be sold is banned as is falsely claiming to be approved by a public or private body. These are criminal offences. Therefore, businesses providing accommodation in NI must ensure that they are certified,” she said.
Ms. Muldoon also advised consumers to be careful when using third party booking sites, saying: “Ensure that the website you are using is legitimate and not a copy-cat site, only send payment through a secure method via the website and use a credit card where possible. Always remember to do your research and check the reviews.”
Geoff Somerville, Group Commander of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service reminded all accommodation providers that they have a legal responsibility to ensure that their premises fully comply with fire safety legislative requirements by undertaking a fire risk assessment. He warned that failing to meet statutory fire safety legislation may lead to prosecution.
Tourism NI has committed to running accommodation certification information sessions as the tourist season progresses and encourages anyone who is unsure of the process to attend.
Two Fermanagh-based five star providers which have undergone the certification process are Willoughby Place – a Grade II listed Georgian townhouse which has been transformed into a period style self-catered accommodation – owned by Paddy and Josie Gillen, and the Station House in Irvinestown – the former railway station which has been lovingly restored to retain many of the original features from 1866 – owned by Jane Reihill and Floyd Maguire.
Paddy Gillen explains that he and Mrs. Gillen “felt it was important from the outset to get certified with Tourism NI and do things correctly.”
He added: “Being certified has been positive for us and opened up a number of opportunities including workshops to help build your business presence online, which was really informative.”
Commenting on online trends, he noted: “A lot of our bookings come from the online marketplace and operators including Airbnb. We’ve had largely a positive experience with them and Airbnb seems to be a hip and popular choice for some guests at the moment. 
“Our customers range from families to couples wanting to get away somewhere different. We’ve had visitors from USA, Europe and Australia but the majority of our customer base is from the UK and Ireland.”
He said: “I think it’s safe to say that guests don’t come to Fermanagh for the sunny, hot climate but it definitely offers a lot for those who like to explore and sight see our history alongside the natural beauty of the local landscape.”
According to Jane Reihill: “Accommodation is a core part of any trip so quality, safety and comfort is vital to ensure a pleasant holiday experience.” She and her husband “would advise anyone who offers holiday accommodation to ensure they are certified, as it has been a positive experience for us.”
She added: “When we were refurbishing the property at the beginning, we were offered support at the outset from Tourism NI. Advice on how to furnish rooms to the same standard, marketing support and promoting the property online were just some of the areas, which we’ve found very useful.”
Although Airbnb has not played a major role in the couple’s business, she believes “this sector will definitely grow.”
One of Airbnb’s main advantages is that it markets the Station House on the first page of Google. “We would never be able to do that with our own website,” said Ms. Reihill.
“Another pro is that Airbnb look after the admin, so that the confirming of availability, and rates and the payment of deposits, balance and damage deposit are all dealt with by them. The fees they charge are modest in comparison with other agents. As for cons, we have not become aware yet of any,” she added.
Outlining customer trends, she said: “Our customer base is mainly from Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Britain and the USA. All guests are different, but generally people like to go on site-seeing drives to the Marble Arch Geopark and they like to take trips on Lough Erne. They try the great local restaurants and often bring children to Tickety Moo Ice-Cream Farm Shop.”