Belfast Telegraph

Super-agency needed to boost tourist trade

There are few people, if any, in the North West who understand the tourism and hospitality sector better than Garvan O'Doherty.

So when the managing director of the Garvan O'Doherty Group offers an opinion on the current resources targeted at increasing tourism in the North West, you can be sure it's been well thought through and based on sound reasoning.

With his views voiced in public, others will now be singing from the same hymn-sheet — starting here.

Mr O'Doherty wants a super-agency to be created to drive tourism in the region, arguing that resources are spread too thinly.

"At the minute, too many resources are divided between too many agencies and we need one super-agency," he said.

"This body should be created to drive the tourism sector because at the minute efforts are honest but too disparate." Amen to that.

Marketing a region can be difficult enough, but tourism in Derry, in particular, has suffered a rough ride recently, especially after a huge amount of adverse publicity surrounding an arson attack on a tourist bus and talk of a possible boycott by international tour operators. It was certainly a serious incident, and sadly not the first in Derry. Nor was the bus the only target for a gang of troublemakers that haunts the area in which it was parked overnight.

Obviously, the thugs responsible for attacking any property — never mind tourist buses — must be condemned, but the incident needs to be viewed with some sense of proportion. I think such an attack would not have had such a negative impact and received the press coverage it did had it happened in Belfast, where more happens to attract the attention of journalists and the original incident may not have been chased up in the same way.

So bad news, when it comes from Derry, can travel very far indeed.

But I digress slightly. There are so many other challenges when it comes to increasing the North West tourism offer, and overcoming adverse publicity, and getting a rolling, positive marketing drive under way, is just one of many reasons why we need the super-agency suggested by Mr O'Doherty, one that combines tourism, hospitality, marketing and public relations in the most effective manner possible.

The North West is making progress but probably not at the rate it should be. Despite record figures for visitors, Derry especially is not bringing in the numbers it should expect, given its history, its walls, and its proximity to areas like Donegal and the North Coast.

And it’s probably fair to say that this is partly because so many areas are doing their own thing on limited budgets, whereas a combined effort, and properly targeted resources, could achieve so much more.

Last year, international visitors to the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) in Derry increased by 2% accounting for 78% of all its visitors and the hotel sector experienced an average occupancy of 69%. The hotel average occupancy rate was 7% up on 2006. The call for a super-agency is one that must be given careful consideration by all of those who can make it happen. As the regional capital, Derry stands to do well from any superagency effort to boost tourism — but so too do the Donegal, Limavady, Strabane and Coleraine areas.

All of these parts of the North West already enjoy degrees of success, but if their efforts and resources were brought together under one umbrella group, the results could be signficant indeed.

Belfast Telegraph