Belfast Telegraph

All Ireland tourism bosses are giving greater exposure to Galway Bay and not Giant's Causeway

Outgoing chief warns of tensions in cross-border body

By David Young

The Northern Ireland brand has not been given enough exposure by Tourism Ireland, the retiring head of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has claimed.

And strides to boost tourism in the region will be undermined if the sector is hit hard by forthcoming Stormont funding cuts, Alan Clarke warned.

In his last week in charge, Mr Clarke (63) said his relationship with the cross-border body had been marked by strain.

"I think, to be truthful, there has always been a tension there," said the man at the helm during the MTV Europe Music Awards, the Irish Open golf tournament, the start of the Giro d'Italia cycling race and Londonderry's year as the UK City of Culture.

Mr Clarke added there was a need for more "flexibility" within Tourism Ireland to enable Northern Ireland to sometimes be marketed as distinct from the rest of the island.

Mr Clarke claimed the issue was particularly important with the Great Britain market, where visitors usually come across the Irish Sea for only three or four days and therefore typically only visit one part of the island.

"We (Northern Ireland) are putting a third of the money in (to Tourism Ireland) and we are getting around 10-11% of the holidaymakers coming to the island, so Northern Ireland is paying beyond its share, if you like," he said.

"So, therefore, Northern Ireland needs to get a return on that, and that return needs a more flexible approach by Tourism Ireland in the marketplace." Mr Clarke explained that in certain campaigns, such as those that capitalise on the phenomenal recent success of the region's golfers, Northern Ireland should take the lead in promotional activity.

With Stormont departments absorbing a £78m round of cuts and preparing for more pain in October, the outgoing chief also said he feared the tourism spend would not be considered a major priority when it came to funding.

And he added that while tourism has established itself as a main player in our economy – contributing more than agriculture – that position will be threatened if spending is reduced.

"The big danger in terms of public sector cuts is that there will be, I guess, a desire from some people to say, 'Well tourism, you can just cut that budget for a couple of years'," he said.

"But if you cut it for a couple of years, you can't just turn it on again. You have to invest consistently to get that return on all the capital investment that has gone in over the last number of years."

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