Here’s to a con­tin­u­a­tion of the healthy growth in our tourism in­dus­try

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News - By Richard Don­nan, Head of Ul­ster Bank in North­ern Ire­land

As our econ­o­mist Richard Ram­sey has noted, North­ern Ire­land has one sec­tor in par­tic­u­lar which has ex­pe­ri­enced re­cent trans­for­ma­tive growth – tourism.

Belfast and North­ern Ire­land have sig­nif­i­cantly climbed the rank­ings in terms of tourism com­pet­i­tive­ness glob­ally. For in­stance, Belfast and the Cause­way coast was ranked the num­ber one re­gion to visit in the world for 2018, and Ti­tanic Belfast was voted the 2016 top in­ter­na­tional at­trac­tion to visit.

The hos­pi­tal­ity and leisure in­dus­try in North­ern Ire­land ex­ports an im­age of North­ern Ire­land that is at­trac­tive to both near-mar­ket visi­tors as well as those from fur­ther afield.

So, in the in­ter­ests of staying com­pet­i­tive in an un­cer­tain en­vi­ron­ment, what can other sec­tors learn?

First and fore­most, there is col­lab­o­ra­tion even in an in­tensely com­pet­i­tive trade — what re­searchers work­ing in game the­ory call ‘co-ope­ti­tion’.

Our hos­pi­tal­ity and leisure sec­tor has clear cor­po­rate be­liefs and aims on the at­trac­tive­ness of North­ern Ire­land as a des­ti­na­tion and cam­paigns for them as­sertively, with the clear view that a ris­ing tide of vis­i­tor num­bers has ben­e­fits for al­most ev­ery­one op­er­at­ing in the mar­ket.

There’s also a will­ing­ness to bor­row ideas, en­hance them and con­tin­u­ally im­prove them, which has gen­er­ated a com­pelling prod­uct.

Se­condly, the in­dus­try is un­afraid about pro­mot­ing its su­per­stars as a means of cut­ting through to the at­ten­tion of buy­ers shop­ping from an in­ter­na­tional menu.

Ably sup­ported by bod­ies like Belfast City Coun­cil, Tourism NI and the var­i­ous busi­ness im­prove­ment districts (BIDS), the in­dus­try is good at putting its best foot for­ward in terms of meet­ing con­sumer need — stat­ing which are the must-see at­trac­tions and top restau­rants.

They have also in­vested in their cap­i­tal as­sets as a real state­ment of in­tent. This is a cul­tural mind­set that should be en­cour­aged across all busi­nesses seek­ing to grow and scale, as we can some­times be hes­i­tant in speak­ing con­fi­dently about the ar­eas in which we ex­cel — or deal­ing frankly with the ar­eas in which we don’t.

But most suc­cess­fully, the in­dus­try has also man­aged the pivot from be­ing a provider of ser­vices to a provider of ex­pe­ri­ences that mod­ern, mil­len­nial and Gen Z con­sumers are de­mand­ing from all brands.

We know in par­tic­u­lar that North­ern Ire­land cus­tomers are price-savvy, but to avoid a sim­ple race to the bot­tom, you’ve got to demon­strate how you can of­fer more than just a price tag to cus­tomers — whether that’s sign­post­ing the place for a per­fect In­sta­gram shot, or de­tail­ing the his­tory, prove­nance and ethical care that’s gone into pro­duc­ing a prod­uct or ser­vice.

And with­out a will­ing­ness to repli­cate th­ese ef­forts, the dan­ger for other sec­tors is clear. We ex­ist and com­pete in a global mar­ket for tastes and trends — our many food and drink pro­duc­ers will at­test to that. Reg­u­la­tions and trad­ing ar­range­ments change.

With­out in­vest­ment and con­tin­u­ing to pitch for rel­e­vance, brands sink lower down the peck­ing or­der, even with es­tab­lished au­di­ences.

So let’s take a break with some of the peo­ple in North­ern Ire­land who are man­ag­ing this best and see what we can learn.

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