Big drive to attract US tourists days after only direct flight to NI ends
Tourism Ireland will launch a massive TV campaign in the US this week which it hopes will reach more than 250 million people - just days after the final direct flight between Northern Ireland and North America was pulled.
Although Northern Ireland destinations are featured in the publicity campaign, American holidaymakers hoping to see the Giant's Causeway, Titanic Belfast and Game Of Thrones locations will no longer be able to fly here directly.
US people will have to fly to the Republic and then cross the border to visit the sites after United Airlines scrapped its Belfast International to Newark (New York) service earlier this month. The month-long advertising campaign is Tourism Ireland's first in the US in seven years.
Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken criticised the "failed" Stormont Executive for allowing Northern Ireland's only direct flight to the US to end just before such a high-profile tourism drive. He also called on Tourism Ireland to take a more active role in promoting airports on this side of the border.
He said: "The key thing is to encourage new international air routes to North America through Belfast International Airport.
"One of the things that this pathetic and failed Executive should have done is to help secure those. Tourism Ireland should be part of that. We give them 30% of our budget, so they should be promoting Northern Ireland 30% of the time."
Belfast International Airport welcomed the TV campaign and said it remained "hopeful" of introducing new direct flights to the US in the future.
"Anything that encourages people to think more about Northern Ireland as an end destination has got to be welcomed, it's positive. Obviously we would like direct access and we continue to work for direct access, but these things take time and a lot of effort," it said.
In December Belfast International managing director Graham Keddie wrote a critical letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny arguing that Tourism Ireland needed to give far more emphasis to Northern Ireland.