Awards honour NI Year of Food & Drink
Tourists loved it, the public loved it and critics praised it - no-one will forget Northern Ireland's Year of Food and Drink in a hurry.
The initiative was designed to bring food and drink into the heart of our visitor offering and I am pleased to say that the Year of Food and Drink has very much delivered on its aims.
Indeed, 2016 has served up nothing but a major success for Northern Ireland tourism and everyone involved in food and drink.
As each month came and went, I was constantly encouraged at how enthusiastically the initiative was embraced within the industry, and how passionately it was implemented - in virtually every corner of the tourism, hospitality and food and drink sectors, both here at home as well as overseas.
It is now poised to leave the legacy of a transformed appreciation of our local tastes, brands and culinary talent, together with a new understanding of just how significant local food and drink is to our tourism industry.
Clearly, the Year of Food and Drink fed and watered us with the finest of local fare, however, it also inspired industry action and consumer engagement in a great many refreshing, appetising and creative ways.
As the year draws to a close, Tourism NI is delighted to join the Belfast Telegraph to launch the Year of Food and Drink Awards and to celebrate the imagination and creativity among the taste-makers, experience-makers, innovators and marketers who worked so hard to make this year such a success.
The awards will applaud the best of Northern Ireland's food and drink and recognise the excellence, talent and collaborations that helped to put Northern Ireland firmly on the culinary map.
I have no doubt they will help to ensure that this unforgettable year leaves a lasting legacy.
First up is Best Marketing Achievement, and it is safe to say that the whole field of marketing, advertising, communications and social media went into overdrive during the year.
A great deal of momentum was created around the Year of Food and Drink branding and toolkits developed by Tourism NI.
Together with the actions and abilities of those on the ground, and a multitude of partnerships, both well-established names and emerging businesses alike unified around the branding and showed boundless commitment to creativity and innovation in their marketing.
There was a palpable sense over the 12 months that the entire tourism, food and drinks sectors were becoming advocates and marketers for Northern Ireland's wonderful produce.
Many initiatives delivered excellent outputs by working collaboratively to sell local food products, services, experiences and destinations, with increased sampling, excellent consumer engagement, strong sales and a new knowledge of food and drink quality and availability returning as their rewards.
Tourism NI will be delighted to acknowledge and reward this work further with the Best Marketing Achievement, and although judging the winner of this category will be very difficult, it is a great 'problem' to have.
Indeed, it is something that augurs well for the future of our tourism industry.
John McGrillen is chief executive of Tourism NI To enter the awards, visit belfasttelegraph.co.uk/ foodand drinkawards and fill in the entry form for the category that you want