More than 300 tourism industry representatives attended the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards at Belfast’s Grand Opera House.
Leading local acts such as comedians Nuala McKeever and Grimes and McKee, as well as theatrical, street and circus performers all reflecting Northern Ireland’s history, stories and culture were involved in presenting each award from the Opera House stage.
Organised by the NITB in partnership with Diageo Northern Ireland, the awards cover 11 categories that showcase the very best in local tourism provision.
Speaking at the event, Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said: “Northern Ireland is achieving something tremendously positive as we move through 2012 and into 2013 and beyond.
“We’ve seen substantial investment in infrastructure projects and important private sector-led developments including hotels, restaurants and other services. Over 200 publicly funded projects have leveraged new capital investment of some £300 million.
“I fully recognise that those in the industry have worked extremely hard to forge new, dynamic and prosperous businesses that will benefit the visitor, the industry and ultimately the Northern Ireland economy.
“I congratulate tonight’s winners. They have set the bar high in terms of quality, customer service and the visitor experience they are delivering. I encourage others to follow their lead and make the Northern Ireland tourism industry truly world-class.”
Awards were presented in a variety of categories, including Excellent Events, Taste of Northern Ireland and Best Visitor Experience.
In the Northern Ireland Heroes category, which acknowledges an individual’s involvement and impact on local tourism, the award went to Paula McFetridge, artistic director at multi-award-winning theatre company Kabosh.
Paula has created numerous indigenous pieces of theatre celebrating the best of Northern Ireland.
The Lyric Theatre, which has enjoyed a fantastic first year in its new landmark building, received the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism award.
Other award winners included the Causeway Lodge on the north Antrim coast, which scooped best Serviced Accommodation, The Dundrum Inn, which won the Taste of Northern Ireland category and Belfast Zoo, which grabbed the award for Marketing and Sales Excellence.
NITB Chairman Howard Hastings said: “The Northern Ireland tourism industry has travelled far over the last number of years, and has much to celebrate.
“Back in 2004 the industry developed a vision for Northern Ireland Tourism that cast our five signature projects in the starring roles.
“Following government investment in them, NITB, working with the industry, has put in place a supporting infrastructure that animates ‘destination Northern Ireland’ and which has prepared the tourism product on the ground to deliver a quality experience for the expected increase in visitors.
“We now have a set of world-class tourism products, totally unique to us, which is all being brought to life right now by a fantastic programme of events in the ni2012 Our Time, Our Place campaign.
“The Titanic Festival alone included 120 events and we have much, much more to look forward to.”
Diageo sponsored the awards for the fourth year in a row. Michael McCann, Country Director, Diageo Northern Ireland said: “Diageo Northern Ireland is delighted to support the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards for a fourth consecutive year. This partnership is part of our ongoing commitment to support the development of a vibrant tourism and hospitality sector.
“At Diageo, we are extremely proud of our locally produced brands Guinness, Bushmills, Harp and Baileys. They enrich visitor experiences and are helping to build a lasting legacy of first class hospitality.
“As the expectations of our visitors continue to rise, it is important that we make the most of these opportunities and recognise that we all have a role to play in the continued development of our tourism industry as a thriving part of a sustainable Northern Ireland economy.”
Outstanding Contribution to Tourism
Northern Ireland Heroes
Paula McFetridge - Kabosh
Belfast Music Week 2011, Belfast City Council Winner
Out to Lunch Arts Festival Highly Commended
St Patrick's Day Event at Slemish, Ballymena Borough Council Commended
The International Seed Federation (ISF) World Seed Congress 2011, Happening Conferences and Events Commended
Best Visitor Experience
Todds Leap Winner
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum / National Museums NI Highly Commended
Lyric Theatre Commended
The Jungle Commended
The Merchant Hotel Winner
Beech Hill Country House Hotel Highly Commended
Walsh's Hotel Commended
Roe Park Resort Commended
Marketing and Sales Excellence
Belfast Zoological Gardens Winner
Stena Line Highly Commended
Todds Leap Commended
Taste of Northern Ireland
The Dundrum Inn Winner
The Lime Tree Restaurant Highly Commended
Pier 36 Commended
The Brewer's House Commended
Causeway Lodge Winner
Rayanne House Highly Commended
Belmore Court and Motel Commended
Newforge House Commended
Brookhall Historical Farm Winner
Victoria Apartments Highly Commended
Ballydougan Pottery Courtyard Cottages Commended
Rossahilly House Commended
The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Facility, National Trust Winner
Belfast Zoological Gardens Highly Commended
Lyric Theatre Commended
Belmore Court and Motel Winner
Food NI Ltd Highly Commended
Patterns of the City - Belfast City Dressing Plan Campaign, Belfast City Council Commended
The Mourne Public Art Programme, Mourne Heritage Trust Commended
New Tourism Project
The LegenDerry RoadTrain Winner
Belfast City Bike Tours Highly Commended