Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Airport chief praises Tourism Ireland after attack by counterpart

By Margaret Canning

Geroge Best Belfast City Airport boss Brian Ambrose has praised the work of Tourism Ireland, weeks after his counterpart at Belfast International criticised the cross-border body.

Mr Ambrose, who is standing down as Tourism Ireland chairman, said the organisation's work had contributed to an increase of just over one-third in international visitors to Northern Ireland since 2011.

Nearly 2.1 million international visitors came to Northern Ireland in 2016, generating revenue reported to be around £527m.

Mr Ambrose said: "Over my five-year tenure as chairman, Tourism Ireland employees across the world have delivered terrific results for Northern Ireland and in doing so greatly benefited the local economy."

He said there had been a 34% increase in overseas visitors over the five-year period, adding: "Those are figures of which any organisation would be justifiably proud and are recognised by the tourism and hospitality sector in Northern Ireland."

And he said the growth had been on a par with the Republic of Ireland, which had additional advantages of lower Vat on tourism businesses and a lack of air passenger duty, which does apply in Northern Ireland.

"This remarkable growth in Northern Ireland has kept pace with the growth in Republic of Ireland, this despite a 9% Vat rate on tourism businesses and zero air passenger duty."

He said Tourism Ireland was working well with Tourism NI, the organisation within the Department for the Economy tasked with attracting visitors to Northern Ireland from the Republic, and with encouraging Northern Ireland people to holiday at home.

"Under the strong leadership of Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen, the two organisations have worked closer than ever, particularly in the delivery and promotion of NI Year of Food and Drink which, judging by industry feedback, has been a resounding success.

"Having met with hospitality and tourism leaders at a dinner this week, they are buoyant after another fantastic year in Northern Ireland."

But Graham Keddie, Mr Ambrose's counterpart at Belfast International Airport, previously said Tourism Ireland had not done enough to attract visitors to Northern Ireland.

Now Mr Keddie is set to be appointed to the board of Tourism Ireland.

And Mr Ambrose is to hand over the reins at Tourism Ireland to Irish businesswoman Joan O'Shaughnessy. She has been vice-chair for a year and also spent 13 years as chief executive of catering and outsourcing services giant Aramark.

Northern Ireland tourism providers have said they have enjoyed a post-referendum boost as the weaker pound attracts more tourists from the Republic to Northern Ireland.

Hastings Group this week said its hotels had enjoyed a two-fold increase in bookings from the Republic over October and November.

But ahead of the referendum vote, Tourism NI launched a campaign to attract more visitors from the Republic to Northern Ireland after a fall of 18% in overnight trips to 320,000 during 2015.

Over the year to June 2016, spending by tourists in Northern Ireland increased by 5% to reach nearly £790m, according to a report from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency last month.

Visitors from outside the UK and Republic of Ireland showed the biggest increase in spending, with a 15% rise to £514m.

However, spending by visitors from the Republic over the year was down 5%, reaching £56.9m.

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