Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Full steam ahead for tourism awards ceremony

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board was on the right track when it selected the venue for the annual tourism awards ceremony.

The location for last week’s bash was the railway gallery at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

The giants of the steam era encircled the diners and provided the perfect backdrop for an evening of celebration for the best of the tourist industry.

The only problem was the acoustics were not the best in the high-ceilinged gallery.

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster told guests she had been warned by NITB chairman Howard Hastings that the sound system would make her sound like JFK.

And indeed, there was a hint of the fine oratory of President Kennedy as Minister Foster praised the role played by the tourist industry.

And fair play to her, she managed to get in a couple of plugs for her native Fermanagh, to the cheers of some country cousins down the back.

Hastings then welcomed Alison Offor from sponsors Diageo to address the multitude.

Tongue in cheek, he described the drinks firm’s head of corporate relations as a “shy and retiring individual”.

But he said to put her at her ease, he had thought of three well-chosen words, these being: “Harp, Guinness and Bushmills”.

Hastings invited Alan Clarke, the NITB chief executive, to make a “small but undeclarable” presentation to Paul O’Toole, who is standing down as chief executive of Tourism Ireland to head up FAS, the Irish training agency.

Hastings joked that O’Toole’s decision to quit was no doubt as a result of his own recent appointment as NITB chairman.

But the real showstealer was Simon Dougan, from caterers Yellow Door. Clad in his chef’s outfit, he said it was great to get a break from the heat of the kitchen.

Extolling the virtues of local produce, he then went through the mouth-watering menu which featured delights such as beetroot and Bushmills cured Irish salmon and sirloin of Northern Irish beef.

Dougan, although a native of Armagh, even got in on the Fermanagh act, advising guests that his wife was from that part of the world.

Indeed, he said the recipe for the dessert of individual Loughgall bramley apple crumble tart could well have come from “Arlene’s granny”.

A good night for the lakeland country, there’s no doubt. And a “rail treat” for tourism.

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