Belfast has enhanced offer for business tourist
Laurie Scott, Visit Belfast's business development director
With hotel occupancy, visitor interest and tourist inquiries all at record levels for the first nine months of 2015, we at Visit Belfast are confident that 2016 will be even more successful - particularly in the business tourism arena.
Conferences, exhibitions, incentive travel and corporate hospitality already account for a growing share of total inbound tourism to Belfast and Northern Ireland and they are key in our mission to drive not only visitor numbers but also generate vital tourism spend over the years ahead.
Belfast has established itself as an award-winning business tourism destination and, at the same time, developed a strategy to secure more high-profile conferences and events for future growth. Belfast may be a small city but it really packs a punch on the international conferences, meetings and events sectors. Sales success and direct experience have shown that the city can and does deliver and I fully expect this to continue.
The Belfast Waterfront, which is due to re-open in May this year following a £29.9m expansion and refurbishment programme by Belfast City Council, will make a significant difference to the future growth of conference and business tourism to the city.
Much work has already been done to secure major events for the exciting and innovative new space. Following a joint bid by Visit Belfast and Belfast Waterfront, the annual International Surgical Congress of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland (ASGBI) will be the first conference to be held in the Waterfront's new 7,000m sq facility. It is anticipated that the event will generate as much as £2.2m for the local economy.
The facilities available at the Belfast Waterfront will help place the city in a new league of opportunity, allowing us to compete for more international business and for events with delegate sizes that were previously out of reach.
In 2015, Visit Belfast unveiled its strategy for the next three years and outlined plans to more than double overnight stays in the city by 2018 as it looked to extend the city's year-round and city break appeal to business and leisure visitors from the UK, Ireland and overseas. Business tourism and conferences will have a significant role to play in delivering that growth.
Conferences such as Routes Europe, due to take place in 2017, will bring key decision-makers from airlines, airports and tourism authorities to Northern Ireland, an event which is the right fit for the city on many levels.
Not only will it bring welcome visitor revenue, it will generate a wider, longer-term economic impact and creates positive advocates.
Most importantly, these conferences allow Belfast and Northern Ireland to showcase our strengths and abilities to an increasingly international audience. The importance of events such as these can't be overstated.
It's great to be heading Visit Belfast's business tourism team at such an exciting time and I look forward to working with the industry partners to ensure that Belfast and Northern Ireland continues to build on its reputation as a quality conference and meetings destination.