Belfast must get the correct mix in business tourism
Belfast and Northern Ireland's business tourism is a fast-developing success story and its importance to the local and wider economy is integral in increasing our reputation as a world class visitor destination. Conferences, exhibitions, incentive travel, corporate hospitality - even outdoor and individual business travel - account for a growing share of total inbound tourism to Belfast and Northern Ireland and key in our mission to drive not only visitor numbers, but vital tourism spend over the years ahead.
Directly and indirectly, the sector supports the development of our hotel, conference and events infrastructure, as well as our hospitality offer and choice.
It facilitates the development of inward investment, intelligence exchange and productive networking, while presenting the opportunity to demonstrate at a national and international level our areas of expertise and success.
As an emerging, competitive business and conference destination, Belfast has many advantages - not least the warmth of our welcome and our passion to exceed expectations - but it faces challenges in a highly-competitive, international marketplace.
To remain ahead of the race, we must remain competitive and continue to provide a good balance and mix of high-quality facilities and services.
Following Belfast and Northern Ireland's success in showcasing our ability to host large-scale global events - such as this year's MoneyConf conference - our local conference and events sector is thriving with optimism, increased investment and an appreciation and confidence that we can succeed in competing against some of the best conference destinations in the world. This ties in with a key component of the city's economic development strategy, to attract business tourism through major events and conferences, and evidenced by the £29.5m investment in conference and exhibition facilities at Belfast Waterfront.
Opening next year, the newly-extended and refurbished Waterfront represents a real game-changer for Belfast and Northern Ireland and allows us to bid for events on a scale not seen here before.
Given the growing recognition and support for the importance around the sector, as well as the ongoing public and private investment, Belfast and Northern Ireland's business tourism industry will continue to lead the way to sustainable tourism growth that tangibly supports wider economic and tourism goals, while providing new and exciting career opportunities.
From supporting 17,000 jobs within the tourism economy, to enabling investment in infrastructure, transport services and leisure and cultural facilities, a growing tourism industry ultimately benefits us all. Visit Belfast will continue to work closely with the industry to achieve the targets set locally and nationally, namely double tourism spend within the next five years, bringing a visitor mix that fills hotel rooms through the week and drives business to our hospitality sector.
Securing high-profile events represents a major opportunity for Belfast.
These conferences will bring global leaders and key influencers to the city.
It's our aim and mission to ensure that we bring the right business events to Belfast that not only benefit the city and generate significant tourism revenue, but can also deliver in the longer term - creating and sustaining jobs, enhancing our international profile and in improving the overall attractiveness of the city as a place to visit and do business in.
National Geographic sums it up best: "You look at where the energy spots are in the world and this is Belfast's time."
Gerry Lennon is chief executive of Visit Belfast