Tourism chiefs have been adopting a “more strategic approach” in the fight to attract business conferences to Belfast — and they are reaping the rewards. Working closely with Queen’s University, Ulster University and Invest NI, tourism body Visit Belfast has confirmed it is “strategically targeting” international conferences and events that not only provide a boost for the hospitality sector but can provide long-term financial spin-offs for the wider economy.
Major international tech summits, aviation industry conferences and scientific symposiums are all slated to take place in Belfast over the next two years as a result of the initiative.
Having been wooed by top-level conference facilities, Visit Belfast hopes conference organisers and delegates will see Belfast as a great place to do business and, in the process, spark foreign investment.
Belfast is now well ahead in its goal to be a Top 100 Global Destination for international association conferences by 2020.
More than £1bn has been invested in the city over the last decade and the city is now one of the fastest growing meetings and conference destinations in the UK. Business conferences bring important mid-week, year-round trade for our hospitality industry and complement the buoyant leisure tourism market. Business visitors are typically high spenders, benefiting airlines, hotels, venues, bars, restaurants, event suppliers and transport operators.
In the last four years, Visit Belfast has delivered huge growth in conference wins, bringing more than 200 conferences, 81,000 delegates, and 251,000 bed-nights, generating £110m for the local economy.
In 2015-16, Visit Belfast is targeting 90,000 ‘business tourism’ overnight stays (bed nights), generating an economic impact of £45m, rising to 122,000 overnight stays and £66m in 2020.
But the strategic benefits for the city extend far beyond just visitor numbers and spend. Conferences attract business, scientific, medical and academic leaders to Belfast who forge links with our universities, research institutions and businesses and promote inward investment.
Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton (left) said: “Business conferences and events provide an opportunity to invite customers, investors, partners and suppliers to Northern Ireland, giving us a fantastic opportunity to showcase first-hand what we have to offer as a place to do business,” said
In a further sign of Belfast’s rapid growth in this sector, the Titanic Quarter is gearing up to host the city’s largest ever business event — and the largest conference in 2015 — with MoneyConf and EnterConf.
Developed by organisers of the Web Summit — Europe’s fastest growing technology event — next week’s tech conferences are set to attract over 5,000 delegates and generate over £7m for the local economy. The Belfast Telegraph is sponsoring the event.
Visit Belfast chief executive Gerry Lennon said: “Securing such high-profile events represents a major opportunity for Belfast.
“It’s our aim and mission to ensure that we bring the right business events to Belfast that not only benefit the city and generate significant tourism revenue but can also deliver in the longer term – creating and sustaining jobs, enhancing our international profile and in improving the overall attractiveness of the city as a place to visit and do business in.”
Central to Belfast’s ambitions is a revamped Waterfront Hall.
Its £30m revamp is a “game changer” as the city tries to meet the growing demands of conference organisers and international delegates, said a Visit Belfast spokesman.
The new facilities will enable the Waterfront to attract an additional 50,000 conference delegates yearly — twice the current rate. It currently caters for 2,200 delegates in its main auditorium and has capacity for 350 more in its smaller studio space.
Ahead of its 2016 re-opening, Waterfront Hall has already scored impressive wins, such as the World Council of Credit Unions with 2,000 delegates from over 100 countries in July 2016, the European Federation of Animal Science’s annual meeting in August in 2016, with 1,200 delegates, the European aviation sector’s main annual event in 2017, attracting another 1,200 delegates; and last week it was confirmed the Royal College of Nursing’s Annual Congress will bring 5,000 delegates in 2018.
Belfast had to fend off stiff competition from the likes of Glasgow, Brighton, Budapest, Hong Kong, Sydney and Vegas.
Belfast’s growing popularity was evidenced recently when it was named the world’s most Business Friendly City of its size by the fDi intelligence division of the FT. It was also named in the world’s top 10 cities for Business Friendliness of any size — beating locations like Dubai and Tokyo.
Clearly, the stage awaits for Belfast to be crowned best conference destination city of 2015.