Irish Open: Sell-out success of tournament could tee off tourism drive
This week's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open could enable Northern Ireland to establish itself as a major international golfing destination, according to Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell.
He said 90,000 tickets had been sold for the event at the Royal County Down course, where some of the world's finest golfers are doing battle.
"Just as we did in 2012, when the Irish Open became the first European Tour event in history to sell out, this year's event is putting Northern Ireland's golfing tourism product front and centre on the international stage," he said.
The minister said with three Major-winning golfers - including world No.1 Rory McIlroy - there has never been a better time for Northern Ireland to tap into golf's economic potential.
He said: "That is why my department, through Tourism NI, recently launched a new golf strategy for Northern Ireland, which aims to grow the value of golf tourism to £50m a year by 2020. The importance of golf tourism lies in attracting high-spending visitors.
"Research suggests that for every £1 spent on green fees in Northern Ireland a further £4 is spent elsewhere in the local economy. I want to see tourism here grow to become a £1bn industry by 2020 - and I believe golf has a major part to play.
"Images of the stunning Co Down coastline, with the majestic Mountains of Mourne as a dramatic backdrop, are being beamed right around the world as the international media spotlight focuses on this sell-out tournament.
"Many of the world-class line-up used social media to say how impressed they are with the beautiful scenery, the course and the huge crowds which have flocked to Royal County Down to be part of this wonderful event - and that is the sort of positive publicity money simply cannot buy."
It's estimated that television coverage for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open reaches 440 million households worldwide.
A spokeswoman for Tourism NI said that in 2012 the Irish Open generated £10m for the local economy. She said that it was too early to tell what the economic boost from this year's tournament will be, but it is certain to exceed that 2012 figure.
Antonia Beggs, championship director for the European Open, said the public response to the golfing tournament has been "exceptional". "It's been fantastic being here," she said. "Ticket sales have been great - it's a sell-out event - and public reaction has been exceptional.
"We have brought over 90,000 people here this week to watch the event - and 30% of them are from outside Northern Ireland. That's a great boost for the hotel and hospitality sector. Our target was 20%, so we're very pleased that we've exceeded our target to reach 30%.
"Spectator feedback has been fantastic. It's been a little cold and rainy, but everyone's having a great time," she said.