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Tourist boss: NI needs its own strategy

By Rebecca Black

Tourism Ireland must allow Northern Ireland to stand on its own feet, the outgoing tourist board chief has said.

Alan Clarke (63) has announced that he intends to retire in September.

He has been at the helm of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for the past 13 years.

Mr Clarke said Tourism Ireland was not flexible enough to allow Northern Ireland to be promoted as much as it should.

“In certain markets like GB there is a different approach required for Northern Ireland than for the South,” he said.

“Most of the business out of GB is short-stay so people are going to choose to go to Belfast or Dublin or somewhere else. You can do that within the Ireland brand but it needs a different, more flexible approach.

“There is more need for Tourism Ireland to be much more flexible to allowing the Northern Ireland brand to stand out.”

Mr Clarke said the massive development within our tourism brand means we are ready to compete, pointing to international attractions such as Titanic Belfast and the visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway.

He said the Giro d’Italia was one of his highlights. “I always knew Giro would be a huge event, but I would have never estimated the public buy-in,” he said.

“The public were so brilliant in how they celebrated Northern Ireland. Everyone wanted to make it work and be proud of where they came from.”

It was a far cry from Mr Clarke’s first job with the NITB in 1973.

“I remember then coming into River House as it was then and the windows were taped up against bomb blasts.”

Mr Clarke, who is originally from Waringstown, Co Down, was appointed chief executive of the NITB in 2001 after working in the tourism industry within the rest of the UK.

He oversaw the number of visitors growing from 1.5 million to two million and the visitor spend rocketing from £271m to £488m.

“Tourism is currently 5.2% GDP of our economy, but if you compare that to Wales where it is currently 13%, the potential to grow tourism over the next decade is immense,” he said.

Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said he had “helped develop Northern Ireland as the home of great events”.

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