Northern Ireland 'to improve image'
More must be done to improve Northern Ireland's image within the UK if ambitious tourism targets are to be met, industry chiefs have claimed.
Even though Northern Ireland's global reputation has significantly improved, attacks by dissident republicans and loyalist flag protests make it more difficult to sell the region as a destination for short stay visitors from Great Britain.
Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland said: "Image is very important. It's one of the things that drives interest in a destination and it gives reasons to come.
"We've got to work harder in Great Britain."
Tourism Ireland hopes to attract more than two million visitors a year to Northern Ireland by 2016.
Outlining his organisation's marketing strategy for the next three years, Mr Gibbons said they would be exploiting positive publicity from the popular HBO television series Game Of Thrones and iconic attractions like Titanic Belfast and the Giants Causeway.
Growing the golf tourism market with extensive promotion of Tourism Ireland's 'Home of Champions' campaign will also be a key element in trying to persuade holidaymakers to choose Northern Ireland.
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said: "One of the issues that consistently comes up in relation to Northern Ireland is perceptions of safety and security and we don't shy away from that.
"But, we have been very much putting our best foot forward and saying 'look at the statistics, look at the facts'. Northern Ireland is one of the safest places not only in the UK but nearly in western Europe. It is a good place to come and visit and actually when we get people to come and visit they are always impressed by what we have to offer and the safety of how they feel. I can only quote Jay Row, chief executive officer of HBO and he said filming in Northern Ireland, the Game of Thrones, was one of the safest places he has ever been in."
Latest estimates indicate that, by the end of this year, 1.789 million people will have visited Northern Ireland in 2013, representing a 15% increase from 2012.
Revenue generated by overseas visitors is expected to be about £438 million - a 7.7% rise over the last 12 months.
Among the highlights on the calendar next year is the Giro d'Italia grand start which will travel around Belfast and along the Causeway Coast to Armagh before moving on to Dublin.
The Clipper yacht race is also set to return to Londonderry in 2014.
Mr Gibbons added: "We have much to look forward to next year, with a wonderful programme of tourism highlights lined up, providing further compelling reasons to come here."