Tourism 'to play major role in rebuilding Northern Ireland's economy'
Tourism chiefs aiming for at least one major global event every year
Tourism, and in particular this year's Giro d'Italia, will play a major part in helping rebuild the Northern Ireland economy, according to the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
That's the message from Northern Ireland Tourist Board chief executive Alan Clarke, who maintains that tourism has a big role to play in encouraging not just holidaymakers, but inward investment and foreign students to these shores.
After bumper years in 2012 and 2013, which saw the opening of the Titanic and Giant's Causeway visitor centres, the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast, the G8 global summit in Fermanagh and the UK City of Culture events in Londonderry, Mr Clarke said that he aims to see the region host at least one large global event every year.
And he has predicted that "cycling is the new golf" in Northern Ireland.
NITB confirmed this month it had appointed cyclist and former Giro d'Italia winner Stephen Roche to market and promote Northern Ireland tourism in the lead up to the major cycling event.
He will also represent NITB at key events and provide authoritative comments to the world's cycling press.
Roche racked up 58 professional career wins in a 13-year period and in 1987 he became only the second cyclist ever to win the triple crown of victories in the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and World Championship.
The opening stages of the world famous race take place in Northern Ireland in May, featuring 200 riders from over 30 different countries and their technical teams and sponsors.
It is expected to attract 140,000 visitors to Northern Ireland, 42,000 of these from out of state, and generate £10m worth of worldwide media publicity.
"Tourism can play a strong role in helping to rebuild the Northern Ireland economy," said Mr Clarke.
"Providing a shop window to the region helps attract foreign inward investment and encourages young people to come and study here, as well as visitors who will come and spend time and money.
"The Giro d'Italia coverage will showcase our scenery and our people, there will be lots of aerial footage, and we will be encouraging businesses and farmers and the community in the areas where the race will be taking place to play a big role in showcasing their community.
"We'll be encouraging people to adopt the official pink colours of the race, we'll be asking farmers to spray their sheep pink, we'll be asking businesses and towns to decorate their village and town centres pink.
"We hope that there will be a festive village atmosphere at the Titanic Quarter. All of these images will be beamed across the world.
"There will also be a heavy emphasis on local food and produce.
"We're getting local food and drink companies and accommodation providers on board and we want to show all of the visitors and competitors what we have to offer not just as a tourism destination but as a place to live and work.
"We're looking at a legacy, we're looking at the bigger picture. In the past there has been a lack of joined-up thinking on tourism and what it can provide to the economy," explained Mr Clarke.
"However if we can work alongside the government departments in terms of improving public transport, better air and rail connectivity, levelling the playing field in terms of VAT on food between Northern Ireland and the Republic, then we can show that tourism is a strong economic driver which can be integrated into promoting Northern Ireland as a great place to do business."
Global visitor numbers to soar as recovery powering ahead
By David Elliott
Going on holiday is becoming more popular with people from all corners of the globe.
An additional 52m international tourists travelled the world in 2013, according to the latest report from the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) – a figure which has lifted the global tourism statistics to a record 1,087m arrivals for the year.
The UK as a destination saw tourism numbers climb 3% on the year, while Europe saw overseas visitor numbers climb 5%.
International visitor numbers were up 6% in Asia and the Pacific, and 6% to Africa during the year.
"2013 was an excellent year for international tourism," said UNWTO secretary general, Taleb Rifai. "The tourism sector has shown a remarkable capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions, fuelling growth and job creation around the world, despite the lingering economic and geopolitical challenges.
"Indeed, tourism has been among the few sectors generating positive news for many economies"
The strong performance bodes well for the coming year with international arrivals globally expected to climb by 4%-4.5% in 2014.
"The positive results of 2013, and the expected global economic improvement in 2014, set the scene for another positive year," Mr Rifai said. "UNWTO calls upon governments to increasingly set up national strategies that support the sector and to deliver on their commitment to fair and sustainable growth.
Europe and the Americas are both expected to see an uplift in international visitors of between 3% and 4%, Asia and the Pacific by between 5% and 6% and in Africa between 4% and 6%.