Belfast eyeing £100m conferences bonanza
Hosting international conferences could be worth up to £100m for Belfast over the next three years, it has been claimed.
Catherine Toolan was speaking as the Belfast Waterfront complex officially launched its new conferencing brand identity.
The ICC (International Convention Centre) Belfast has hosted a total of 108 conferences since a £29.5m extension was completed in 2016.
Worth an estimated £17m for the city's economy, the managing director said Belfast's growing reputation is helping attract bigger and better events.
In May the ICC hosted its biggest event to date, when a capacity 5,000 delegates attended the Royal College of Nursing congress.
Ms Toolan said the estimated economic benefit for that one conference alone was £4.8m.
While there are none of that size currently on the books, she said there's a steady stream of events attracting between 1,000 and 2,000 people.
"We have a very strong pipeline of events over the next number of years, with bookings as far as 2025 and beyond," she said.
Crucial for attracting major conferences to Belfast has been the boom in hotel building. Some 1,170 rooms have been added this year, bringing the total to around 9,000.
"It's vital to the success of a conference market that there is sufficient hotel rooms in each segment of the market, whether five star to budget hotels," she said.
"The new hotel rooms really helps to drive our position as a great business tourism destination."
Air accessibility is another key factor. Although the ICC is located close to George Best Belfast City Airport, she said many delegates travel via Dublin.
"It's just one hour, 40 minutes away and opens up an entire network of routes for us, and in fact many delegates use that route as well as the UK routes."
Ms Toolan listed ICC Belfast's main competitors as Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin, Prague and, to a lesser extent, Lyon and some of the other smaller cities in France.
She admitted that when it comes to the international market, there is still work to do to change attitudes about Belfast.
"There are still perceptions of Belfast in the past on the business tourism side and that's something myself and the team, as well as partners like Visit Belfast and Tourism NI, are working on to improve that perception and to let people know we're open for business," she explained.
"When we bring a conference, everybody in the city wins, everybody can benefit economically and socially.
"It's about extending that Belfast welcome, whether it be the taxi driver picking someone up, a hotel concierge, or bar or restaurant staff. We see how important that is, and that's something the delegates talk about when they leave."
Also speaking at yesterday's launch, chair of ICC Belfast Ellvena Graham said: "We are focused on delivering ICC Belfast as a major venue for national and international conferences on the global stage.
"Today is a crucial step on the journey, and with the support of our partners Visit Belfast, Tourism NI and Belfast City Council.
"The feedback we have already received is hugely positive.
"Everyone recognises that business tourism is critical to the economic prosperity of Belfast and Northern Ireland."