Joanne Stuart, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive NI Tourism Al­liance

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Tourism is an ex­cit­ing and dy­namic in­dus­try which is one of the success sto­ries in North­ern Ire­land. Although start­ing from a low base, tourism has con­tin­ued to grow and fol­low­ing a record break­ing 2017, it is es­ti­mated that in 2018, tourism gen­er­ated £1bn in rev­enues and em­ployed al­most 65,000 peo­ple, or 8.7% of to­tal jobs in NI. Over 70% of rev­enue was gen­er­ated from vis­i­tors from out­side of NI, mean­ing that tourism brought in ap­prox­i­mately £700m in ad­di­tional rev­enues to the econ­omy.

What is not so well known is the wider im­pact of tourism across our so­ci­ety. It sup­ports a num­ber of other sec­tors within the econ­omy in­clud­ing trans­port, lo­cal food and drink pro­duc­ers, re­tail, ar­ti­san craft, con­struc­tion, her­itage, cul­tural and arts sec­tors. Lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties ben­e­fit through the de­vel­op­ment of tourism prod­ucts and ser­vices, and it sup­ports en­trepreneur­ship and in­no­va­tion, en­abling lo­cal peo­ple to de­velop their own tourism busi­nesses, build­ing on their pas­sions, cul­ture and tal­ents.

NI Tourism Al­liance (NITA) is the sin­gle rep­re­sen­ta­tive body for the tourism and hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try in North­ern Ire­land.

Es­tab­lished in 2018, our role is to en­sure the voice of in­dus­try is lis­tened to, to shape the fu­ture growth of tourism and lobby at all lev­els of govern­ment and be­yond to raise aware­ness of and con­tribut­ing to the so­lu­tion of ma­jor strate­gic is­sues af­fect­ing the in­dus­try.

In NI we have world class, high qual­ity tourism prod­ucts that in­cor­po­rate our land­scapes, her­itage and cul­ture that en­able

vis­i­tors to have a per­sonal, au­then­tic and qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ence.

Tourism also builds on the success of other sec­tors to cre­ate tourism ex­pe­ri­ences in ar­eas such as food and drink, golf and screen/film.

Through this a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive has been de­vel­oped for North­ern Ire­land and this en­ables us to at­tract global events such as The Open which in turn gen­er­ates more in­ter­est and rea­sons to visit NI.

But tourism is not just about leisure and recre­ation. Busi­ness tourism is a grow­ing sec­tor which brings in busi­ness trav­ellers and plays a role to en­cour­age more in­ward in­vest­ment and the con­sid­er­a­tion of NI as an ex­cel­lent lo­ca­tion for busi­ness as well as del­e­gates re­turn­ing for a hol­i­day.

Tourism NI have set a chal­leng­ing and am­bi­tious tar­get to dou­ble the im­pact of tourism by 2030. An in­dus­try that will gen­er­ate £2bn in rev­enues, with al­most £1.5bn of rev­enues com­ing from out­side of NI, an in­dus­try that will employ 90,000 peo­ple sup­port­ing growth across the wider econ­omy, an in­dus­try that pro­vides opportunit­ies for all in our so­ci­ety across the whole of the re­gion, an in­dus­try that pro­vides opportunit­ies for lo­cal peo­ple to de­velop their own tourism busi­nesses, as well as pro­vid­ing flex­i­ble path­ways for ca­reers.

To drive this growth across NI, in­vest­ment is re­quired to de­velop world class prod­ucts, ser­vices and at­trac­tions. In re­cent years there has been sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment, both from govern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor, in at­trac­tions such as Ti­tanic Belfast and The Gi­ant’s Cause­way Vis­i­tor Centre, both of which have shown the pos­i­tive im­pact world class and au­then­tic prod­ucts can have in at­tract­ing vis­i­tors.

Ti­tanic Belfast has wel­comed al­most 6 mil­lion vis­i­tors since it opened in 2012 and in 2017 vis­i­tors to the Gi­ant’s Cause­way ex­ceeded 1 mil­lion.

Fol­low­ing an in­vest­ment of £22m, Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle and Gar­dens opened

to the pub­lic in April with 200,000 vis­i­tors ex­pected be­fore the end of the year. The success of the HBO se­ries Game of Thrones has and con­tin­ues to at­tract vis­i­tors across the re­gion visit­ing the dif­fer­ent film lo­ca­tions in NI.

The Linen Mill Stu­dios in Ban­bridge will be the lo­ca­tion for the new Game of Thrones stu­dio tour, a world class at­trac­tion that will open in spring 2020 and will bring hun­dreds of thou­sands new vis­i­tors into the area as well as cre­at­ing jobs.

All of these investment­s, in­clud­ing the plans within the Belfast Re­gion City deal, ap­proved in March, cre­ate the hooks that at­tract vis­i­tors and en­cour­age them to travel around NI, and lever­age in­vest­ment by the pri­vate sec­tor in prod­uct and ser­vice de­vel­op­ment.

One ex­am­ple is the sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment by the ho­tel sec­tor, a num­ber of which are in­cluded in the Top 100. With £500m in­vest­ment since 2016, to­day we have 142 reg­is­tered ho­tels and 9,300 rooms. This is es­ti­mated to rise to 151 ho­tels pro­vid­ing over 10,000 rooms by 2020.

But there are ma­jor chal­lenges fac­ing tourism.

There has been no en­com­pass­ing tourism strat­egy in place for over a decade, and with the col­lapse of the NI Ex­ec­u­tive in 2017, there has been a lack of po­lit­i­cal fo­cus. This has meant de­creas­ing bud­gets, out­dated leg­is­la­tion in ar­eas such as liquor li­cens­ing, reg­u­la­tion and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, and no plan to tackle the in­creas­ing chal­lenges around skills.

To max­imise the op­por­tu­nity and ad­dress the chal­lenges, it is vi­tal that govern­ment, in the ab­sence of a NI Ex­ec­u­tive, de­velop a strat­egy for tourism in NI, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with in­dus­try.

This needs to in­clude a prop­erly funded, re­sourced and ac­count­able im­ple­men­ta­tion plan to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment and growth of the in­dus­try.

Tourism is com­pet­i­tive and a rel­a­tively price-sen­si­tive sec­tor. NI is ad­versely im­pacted by the lower rates of VAT and zero Air Pas­sen­ger Duty (APD) in the Repub­lic. Due to APD and lim­ited in­ter­na­tional routes flying di­rect to NI, an in­creas­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors come through Dublin. Our air­ports must be sup­ported to de­velop ad­di­tional di­rect routes, par­tic­u­larly from our growth mar­kets. For those ar­riv­ing in Dublin it is crit­i­cal that they are able to con­tinue to ac­cess NI in a seam­less man­ner across the bor­der.

The in­creas­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors will re­quire con­tin­ued in­vest­ment in our trans­port in­fras­truc­ture. This means a joined up ap­proach to in­fras­truc­ture in­vest­ment and de­vel­op­ment of pub­lic trans­port. NI has a pop­u­la­tion of 1.87 mil­lion and we saw 2.26 mil­lion vis­i­tors come to NI in 2017. If we want to en­cour­age vis­i­tors to travel around NI, then this has to be fac­tored into our in­fras­truc­ture and trans­port plan­ning.

Tourism is an in­dus­try that can be trans­for­ma­tional for North­ern Ire­land both eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially. It helps to change the nar­ra­tive and per­cep­tions of NI, it builds con­fi­dence and pride within our com­mu­ni­ties, sup­ports lo­cal busi­nesses, pro­tects cul­ture and her­itage.

The ben­e­fits of im­proved in­fras­truc­ture touch ev­ery­body, cre­at­ing a bet­ter place to live, work and play.

The Ti­tanic Belfast build­ing is a world class tourist at­trac­tion

The Gi­ant’s Cause­way (above) and Car­rick-a-rede rope bridge (left) are just two of the many pop­u­lar at­trac­tions which bring thou­sands of vis­i­tors to the north coast every year

Si­mon Dougan, Yel­low Door (left) and Barry Smyth (right) show off some of the produce served at Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle Café and Sta­ble Yard Tea Room. They are joined by Gina Ge­orge, His­toric Royal Palaces re­tail direc­tor. The cas­tle has been turned into a tourist at­trac­tion

The Throne Room at Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle

One of six Game of Thrones stained-glass win­dows in­stalled to cel­e­brate its fi­nal sea­son

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