Belfast Telegraph

'Belfast will bring in some of the biggest names in the airline and tourism sectors'

By Uel Hoey, Belfast International Airport business development director

There's an immediate financial benefit to Belfast hosting a four-day conference in April involving 1,200 people, and it comes in at a little over £1m.

Hotel, restaurants, visitor attractions, bars and transport providers all share in the cash boost. It's tangible - you can see where the money is being spent - and all going to underpin city and Northern Ireland tourism.

There are other benefits, those of the intangible kind. During Routes Europe 2017, we will have representatives of airlines, airports and tourism bodies seeing first-hand what we have to offer.

Small wonder, therefore, that we're going to roll out the red carpet for our guests as soon as they touch down in Northern Ireland. We want them to be wowed by what we offer. We want them to marvel at our beauty spots. And when the time comes to leave, we want them to enthuse and share their positive experiences with others in their airlines and businesses.

It's a cliche, but Routes Europe 2017 will be the most magnificent opportunity we will have to showcase Northern Ireland. Bushmills, Game of Thrones, Giant's Causeway, Titanic Belfast, the Gobbins, unrivalled golf courses, and the Ulster Museum and myriad of other attractions, will be on the agenda for fact-hungry executives.

For our part, we will pitch and promote the solid business case. Ultimately, we'd like to get them to the point where they say 'yes' to launching direct routes to Northern Ireland, to let others see at first-hand what we all know is Europe's best kept secret.

I've been banging this drum since my first Routes event in Cannes 22 years ago. Belfast will follow Krakow, Aberdeen, Marseille, Budapest and Toulouse, to mention but a handful, and then, of course, there's World Routes in centres as far apart as Abu Dhabi, London, Las Vegas and Chengdu.

When I brought forward the initial concept of Belfast hosting Routes Europe a few years ago, I was delighted with the reaction. The hard work then began as we got down to constructing a robust proposal involving key stakeholders such as Invest NI, Tourism NI, Visit Belfast, Belfast City Council, the other local airports, and Tourism Ireland.

Networking and making industry contacts will occupy a lot of our time as we seek to persuade and cajole. Over the years, I've made, and maintained, many invaluable contacts in the competitive world of airlines. Some - Virgin is a case in point - delivered tangible results with scheduled and chartered long-haul services.

There is truly no substitute for such relationship-building exercises, in an industry within which business development often takes years of germination to yield results.

And, of course, there's a social aspect to Routes. Music and craic will feature prominently during the four-day conference. No stone will be left unturned as we collectively work to make their stay with us the best they've ever had.

Uel Hoey is Belfast International Airport business development director

Belfast Telegraph