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Airport chief hits out at tourism think tank

By Lindsay Fergus, Business Editor

A think tank set up to oversee the development of a future strategy for tourism for Northern Ireland has no representatives from key inbound tourism providers.

The 20-strong Tourism Strategy Steering Group, established by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) and the Department of Trade and Investment (DETI), boasts government officials, hoteliers, bankers and tourism officials.

However, key tourism drivers including Belfast International Airport, through which 5.3 million passengers passed in 2008, George Best Belfast City Airport that currently caters for 2.5 million passengers, Port of Belfast, which has 1.2 million passengers a year and Translink that provides over 80 million passenger journeys each year are not represented on the powerful think-tank.

“The aim of the new tourism strategy for Northern Ireland will be to provide a clear and inspiring vision with an action plan for the development of Northern Ireland’s tourism experience through to the year 2020,” according to Tourism Minister Arlene Foster.

A draft strategy is expected to be published for consultation within weeks.

Belfast International Airport’s, business development director, Uel Hoey has voiced his concerns about the make-up of the Tourism Strategy Steering Group.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: “We recently had a meeting with the Tourism Board.

“I raised the fact that this tourism strategy is to cover up to 2020 yet there are no representatives on the steering group from any of the bodies that provide access into Northern Ireland such as the airports, ports or rail and bus operators.

“Of people visiting Northern Ireland 44% are coming through local airports.

“If Northern Ireland as a region is going to exploit tourism growth there needs to be a well considered, targeted and shared strategy for access development which must form an intrinsic cornerstone of the overall Tourism Development Strategy.”

Continental Airways direct route from Belfast International to New York has been a major tourism driver accounting for more than 50% of inbound traffic on peak summer months — with each American tourist spending an average of £700 in the province.

NITB chairman Howard Hastings, a member of the Tourism Strategy Tourism Group, acknowledged the importance of ‘partnership’ and a ‘co-ordinated approach’ earlier this year.

The Tourism Strategy Tourism Group was announced in May and has held a number of meetings.

Kathryn Thomson, chief operating officer at NITB, said: “NITB in partnership with DETI has established a Tourism Strategy Steering Group to oversee and challenge the development of the new vision for tourism in Northern Ireland.

“The process to develop the strategy has included a comprehensive engagement programme across Northern Ireland.

“This has involved a series of workshops and one-to-one meetings to gain input from a broad range of business and government sectors.

“Up to 100 people attended these workshops and 17 inbound carriers including airlines, ferry companies, airports and public transport providers were invited to the workshops.

“Four of those organisations accepted invitations.

“There will be further opportunities for such organisations to provide their input including online questionnaires.”

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