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Titanic anniversary 'key' to tourism recovery

Holiday business in Northern Ireland is down 12%, the head of the Tourist Board said.

The anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the opening of the Giant's Causeway visitor centre will be key to recovery this year, chief executive Alan Clarke added.

Visits from friends and family and business trips contributed to an overall 6% increase in the numbers from Great Britain and overseas. The market for domestic tourism has also improved.

Mr Clarke told Stormont's enterprise, trade and investment committee: "If we are looking for any slight disappointment it is the fact that holiday business is down 12% and again that is why those new products coming onstream like the Titanic and Causeway are key to that.

"Northern Ireland has traditionally done well from visiting friends and families, traditionally done well from business visitors although that is a reflection of the overall economy but the one area that we need to grow and get better at is our holiday segment."

About 30% of visitors are in Northern Ireland on holiday compared to 45% in the Republic of Ireland.

"Therefore that is where the growth potential is," Mr Clarke added.

Belfast has a series of events planned to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15. The Harland and Wolff-built vessel sunk to the depths of the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, with the loss of 1,517 passengers and crew.

The Giant's Causeway visitor centre on the North Coast is due to open later this year.

Committee chairman Alban Maginness, SDLP MLA for North Belfast, said the visitor numbers were of concern.

"We want progress in all fronts. Short stay visitors are the key, if we can encourage them to increase their individual spend that is important.

"If we have products that people want to buy in terms of services then people will spend the money."

Earlier this month Tourism Minister Arlene Foster announced that the number of overseas visitors to Northern Ireland increased by 6% in the first nine months of 2011, compared to the same period of the previous year.

The figures also show that overseas visitors spent an estimated £291 million during the period.

That represented an increase of 20% compared with the same period in 2010.

Northern Ireland residents took 1.5 million overnight trips within the country, with an associated spend of £121m.

In the same period local residents also took 1.8 million tourism day trips within Northern Ireland.

Mr Clarke said domestic tourism continues to do well and the amount spent by Northern Ireland people holidaying at home is up 20% but added they needed to be encouraged to spend more.

The Tourist Board has held a marketing campaign encouraging people to be tourists at home.

Meanwhile,the Circuit of Ireland car rally will start in Belfast for the first time in more than two decades.

The Harland and Wolff cranes and new Titanic Belfast building will provide the backdrop as the Titanic Super Special Stage, broadcast on Eurosport to almost 80 million, starts the two-day rally on April 6.

First Minister Peter Robinson said: "I welcome the thrilling contribution the 2012 Donnelly Group Circuit of Ireland Rally will make to the world-class programme of NI2012 events and especially welcome the news that the rally has been inducted into the 2012 Intercontinental Rally Challenge and is only UK stage in the calendar."

Belfast Telegraph

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