Tourism businesses which give visitors a unique and authentic experience are set to be rewarded at this year's Northern Ireland Tourism Awards, tourist chiefs said.
The awards come after a mixed year for visitor numbers in Northern Ireland. Boosted by a strong euro, the number of tourists from the Republic taking holidays in Northern Ireland in the first six months of 2009 rose by 41% - but the recession brought a decline in visitor markets such as Europe and North America.
Alan Clarke, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Board, said new categories in this year's awards were focused on recognising unique and authentic experiences.
He said: "The Northern Ireland Tourism Awards are the premier industry accolades and winning one makes a clear statement to both competitors and customers about the success of your business."
Clare Strawson, corporate relations manager of awards sponsors Diageo NI, said; "Diageo Northern Ireland is delighted to sponsor the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards to recognise the outstanding contribution the tourism industry makes to our local economy.
"Tourism plays an increasingly important role in the future success of the Northern Ireland economy and I believe tremendous potential exists for business growth within the sector.
"In Northern Ireland we have an unrivalled reputation of being great hosts, ensuring that those who visit us have a great experience and this year's tourism awards are key to the continued development of our thriving tourism industry."
Applications should be submitted by March 4.
Winners in an expanded range of categories, including best visitor experience, marketing and sales excellence and visitor information, will be announced at a ceremony on June 3.