Northern Ireland's tourism industry is resilient, adaptable and ready for growth, but the sector is still lagging well behind the rest of the UK and the Republic in terms of its contribution to the economy.
Those are some of the key findings in 'The Future of Tourism', a new report by business advisors BDO, which highlighted that despite growth in visitor numbers, tourism contributes only 1.9% to the Northern Ireland economy, compared to the UK average of 3.2% and 3.3% in the Republic.
It also noted that average visitor spend in the province stands at around £36 per person per day, compared with upwards of £64 in UK and â‚¬70 in the Republic of Ireland.
But BDO also said that many of the key players in the tourism and hospitality sector interviewed for the publication were already making progress in putting Northern Ireland on the map internationally.
BDO managing partner Francis Martin said of the report: 'Over the last three months we have spoken to companies and organisations right across the tourism and hospitality sector. What is clear is that the sector is resilient, able to adapt and ready for growth.
"Those we spoke to are now fully aware that competition comes not only from local or national venues, outlets and regions, but that Northern Ireland as a whole now competes internationally to attract visitors and tourism spend. There is a confidence in the market as we expand to attract these visitors and develop new markets, but there is also a continued focus on ensuring the traditional welcome that we are so used to locally remains central to our offering."
He added: "The draft Tourism Strategy aims to increase visitor numbers from 3.2m to 4.5m and earnings from £520m to £1bn all by 2020. These are ambitious targets but I am confident that these plans will ensure that the sector is well positioned to make the most of future growth."
The BDO report features businesses with combined annual turnover of around £110m that employ around 3000 people, including Bill Wolsey's Beannchor, which owns the Merchant Hotel, Galgorm Resort and Spa, Lord Rana's Andras House and Lough Erne Golf Resort.
It notes that many of the businesses are currently expanding despite the economic climate.
In the report Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said that while 2009 had been a "challenging" year for tourism, visitor numbers had increased, particularly those travelling from the Republic.
Of the tourists who come to Northern Ireland 58% are from Britain, 18% from the Republic, 13% are European and 8% from North America.