Belfast Telegraph

Tourism NI chief John McGrillen: Collaboration and investment key for tourism


The Giant’s Causeway has many tourists flocking to it
The Giant’s Causeway has many tourists flocking to it

By John McGrillen, Chief Executive, Tourism NI

Take a walk through Belfast's Cathedral Quarter or visit the Giant's Causeway and you'll get a feel for just how far the word has spread about Northern Ireland.

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You'll hear languages and accents from across Europe, North America and Asia, a demonstration of how much Northern Ireland tourism has grown over the years. Over the past 12 months many of those accents have come from places closer to home like Dublin, Cork, Monaghan and Galway.

Through adopting some of the recommendations set out in the recently published Republic of Ireland Market Taskforce Report, Tourism NI's Say Hello To More marketing campaign in the spring of 2017 helped deliver 221,000 overnight trips from the Republic of Ireland, contributing £40m to the local economy. These additional visitors are filling hotels and bars and in turn delivering record room rates and occupancy levels for our accommodation providers.

Research undertaken by the Taskforce shows that residents in the Republic are actually holidaying at home more than ever, with domestic holiday trips on the island of Ireland increasing by one fifth between 2012 and 2016. However Northern Ireland's share of this market in 2016 was just over 3%.

The opportunity on our doorstep identified in the report is undeniable. Northern Ireland's tourism industry could generate £140m of revenue from the Republic of Ireland by 2025, creating hundreds of new jobs and making a significant contribution to the Executive's ambitious overall target of securing an annual £1bn of tourism revenue from export markets by that year. So what do we need to do to attract more visitors from the Republic of Ireland?

First and foremost the Northern Ireland tourism industry need to become much more visible in the Republic of Ireland market with offers, promotions, advertising and attendance at key consumer events. Critical to our recent success has been the fact that, for the first time ever, Tourism NI has had over 80 local tourism businesses directly participating in our marketing campaigns through a partnership with the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation. We know that when we, along with our industry, invest in maintaining a consistent profile in the market place we can drive up visitor numbers and spend from our closest to home market.

Secondly, we need sustained investment in the Northern Ireland brand to address the knowledge gap, which exists in the Republic of Ireland about this part of the island. The research undertaken by the Taskforce shows that the typical Republic of Ireland resident has a very limited knowledge of Northern Ireland, many don't understand the basic geography this side of the border. We need to fundamentally address this knowledge gap and help the Republic of Ireland consumer better understand what Northern Ireland has to offer as a short break destination, one that is very welcoming, presents value for money, is within easy reach and a great place to relax and enjoy their free time. Thirdly, we need to continue to develop world class accommodation, restaurants and bars, visitor attractions and experiences that are as least as good as what are available in the Republic of Ireland.

We know visitors from the Republic of Ireland look for value for money and the current favourable exchange rate undoubtedly provides an additional marketing tool to secure more business.

With this in mind we are now planning our Spring Marketing Campaign in the Republic of Ireland.

We will be specifically targeting those segments of the market identified in the Taskforce Report. Let's make the most of the very impressive work undertaken by the Republic of Ireland Market Taskforce. Let's make a collective effort, business collaborating with Tourism NI, Visit Belfast, Visit Derry and other promotional agencies to deliver growth from a large market sitting on our doorstep. Let's grasp the opportunity, not next year but starting now.

  • John McGrillen is chief executive of Tourism NI

Belfast Telegraph