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Belfast tourism scales new heights

Visit Belfast contributed a massive £122 million to the city’s tourism economy last year as part of its marketing and sales drive to push leisure break, conference business, cruise ship arrivals and tourist enquiries to new highs.

The city region’s official Destination Marketing Management Organisation also confirmed at its annual general meeting (AGM) that its sales, marketing and visitor servicing activity had helped to generate £32 to the city economy for every £1 invested.  

Visit Belfast said its efforts to market the city nationally and internationally – supported by its industry partners and funders – delivered over 500,000 hotel bed nights for Belfast in 2016, around one fifth of which were linked to the 77 conference wins secured, a major contributor that attracts international visitors and increases mid-week and off-peak business for the city.  

Visit Belfast, a public/private partnership backed by Belfast City Council and supported by Tourism Northern Ireland and over 500 industry partners, also handled 755,000 tourist enquiries at its three tourist information centres.  

A new high for visitor interest during the period was also evident by a record two million visits made to visitbelfast.com, as well as over 1.4 million engagements across its social media platforms.  

Belfast’s success in competing for cruise visitors to cities across the UK and Ireland has gone from strength to strength, with this year delivering 93 cruise ships and 155,000 visitors as part of its Cruise Belfast partnership with Belfast Harbour.  

With the increased importance of local, national and international sport to tourism - such as the Women’s Rugby World Cup and the UEFA U-19 Women’s Football Championship, which were both hosted in Belfast recently - sport a key theme at the Visit Belfast AGM event, held at the Kingspan Stadium.  

Rory Best, Ireland and Ulster Rugby captain was a guest speaker at the event, together with Shane Logan, Ulster Rugby’s Chief Executive, Adam Keefe of the Belfast Giants and keynote speaker Enda McNulty, former all-star Armagh GAA player and motivational coach.  

Celebrating yet another year of achievement, Howard Hastings, Chairman of Visit Belfast, congratulated all those involved in tourism for the collective efforts made – but he warned against complacency.  

“Tourism is key to developing a sustainable, resilient and buoyant economy and I truly believe that this is Belfast’s time to shine.  

“However, we must be clear that this is only a start and competition for tourists is tough. As Belfast embarks on the most significant private sector expansion of hotel capacity in the city’s history, the challenge for ‘Team Belfast’ will be to generate the extra demand required to meet fill this additional capacity.”

“How tourism is funded in Northern Ireland requires an urgent rethink. Otherwise, we risk not capitalising as well as we might on the opportunity that additional accommodation provides for Belfast and for the region.  

“Without action, we risk delivering growth at a level below which we are not only clearly capable of delivering, but which we want to achieve.  Let’s not look back, or at our current successes but at what we can achieve in the decade ahead.”  

Howard Hastings added:   “Visit Belfast’s mission is clear. We want to bring the world to Belfast. This can be achieved through a targeted and proactive approach which requires a real team effort from all the city’s stakeholders across private and public sectors.  

 “While the tourism industry will continue to make opportunities and meet challenges head on, government must look again at what it can now do to ensure that tourism and the benefits it brings can be realised and maximised.”  

The AGM acknowledged the collective efforts of ‘Team Belfast’ in driving growth and underlined its role in delivering the vision of Belfast City Council’s Belfast Agenda, which aims to double the value of out-of-state tourism by 2021.  

Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive at Visit Belfast, said:   “Belfast’s tourism economy is strong thanks to the industry’s commitment and growing confidence to invest in their own products and services – both existing and new.  

“As we look to deliver new tourism milestones for Belfast and ensure the city maximises its position in all markets through stimulated growth, our commitment to partnerships and team ethos will help to ensure that Visit Belfast achieves its challenging aspirations and ambitions.”   

“I would like to thank our team of committed staff, funders and partners for their hard work and dedication in helping us to achieve our goals. It is because of this that the public/private partnership which defines Visit Belfast continues to be successful.”

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