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Tourism chiefs ramp up budget to attract visitors

Tourist bosses in Ireland are spending £18m as they seek to take advantage of the 'volcanic ash effect' of travellers waiting until the last minute to book their summer getaways.

Tourist Minister Arlene Foster yesterday unveiled a new marketing campaign to attract visitors from Great Britain, the US and mainland Europe to both sides of the border.

The Minister also opened a renovated departures area at George Best Belfast City Airport, which she said was a major boost to tourism.

Tourism Ireland's £18m budget for this year's summer campaign contrasts to last year, when £14.6m was spent.

The new campaign includes 'silver surfer summer savings,' a bid fronted by TV personality Gloria Hunniford to attract the so-called 'grey pound'.

The Minister said tourism was having another hard year thanks to continued volatility in the global economy and fragile consumer confidence.

"The recent disruption to air travel arising from the volcanic ash plume is also causing additional concerns," she said.

"As a result of the uncertainty, people are making bookings for travelling abroad later than ever. Tourism Ireland's new marketing plans aim to attract last-minute bookers and tap into the later-than-ever booking trend, which is more pronounced this year.

"People around the world will still want to take holidays and we will be working to ensure that Northern Ireland gets its fair share of that business."

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said there was still hope for 2010 despite a "very difficult year" so far.

"We still have everything to play for in terms of winning the business that is out there - over 60% of our overseas visitors arrive between May and September."

The Enterprise Minister also opened the newly renovated departures area at George Best Belfast City Airport, which includes a new lounge, conference rooms and improved technology intended to hurry the journey through security.

Around 20 jobs have been created as a result of the investment by owners ABN Amro, which the airport said would enable it to handle more passengers.

The Minister said: "These new airport facilities will be a major boost to tourism.

"The Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment's draft Tourism Strategy aims to increase visitor numbers from 3.2 million to 4.5 million and earnings from £536m to £1bn by 2020.

"I welcome the efforts made by Belfast City Airport in improving and enhancing the tourist experience in Northern Ireland."

Airport chief executive Brian Ambrose said: "Passengers have reported a remarkable difference thanks to the upgraded facilities when departing the airport."