Tourism chief Howard Hastings hails public cash investment
Public funding support for tourism in Northern Ireland is an investment, not a handout, according to NI Tourist Board chairman Howard Hastings.
Mr Hastings warned that cuts to the tourism budget could seriously damage the industry's prospects for growth.
In an open letter reviewing the performance of the tourist industry in 2014 - and assessing the challenges it faces in the coming year - Mr Hastings said: "Tourism is an investment from the public purse, not a handout. It pays back."
Northern Ireland's tourism industry contributes 5.2% of GDP, approaching an £800m injection into the economy, and is well on the way to becoming a £1bn industry by 2020.
According to Mr Hastings, the tourism sector supports 43,000 jobs and has grown by 10% in the past five years.
He said: "Tourism makes a greater contribution to the economy life of Northern Ireland than agriculture, forestry and fishing."
While he was optimistic about future growth, he warned that while other parts of the UK and the Republic are investing heavily in their tourism industry, in Northern Ireland, tourism-related budgets are being cut.
"While our achievements have provided a platform for yet further development, we are well aware that dwelling on the past cannot generate future growth, nor will we progress without sustained investment," he said.
"The impact of the reductions to the NITB allocation for 2015/16 are primarily two-fold - loss of EU funding and 15.12% savings. As a result, NITB's spending power will be reduced by over 60%.
"The negative impact of a reduction in events funding has been well publicised to date.
"In addition, the loss of NITB's marketing campaigns is likely to take its toll directly on numerous businesses across Northern Ireland. Some 60% of our visitors are from the island of Ireland.
"In sub-regional and rural areas this grows to nearer 80%, meaning businesses are predominantly dependent on the closer markets for survival.
"Our investment of £2m in an advertising campaign in the Republic delivers over £50m in tourism revenue to the Northern Ireland economy every year."