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And the winners are... Northern Ireland's best experience, place to stay and eat named at Tourism awards

The Northern Ireland Tourism Awards have showcased the very best in local tourism for the fortieth time - at the venue where they first began 40 years ago.

The special anniversary event, organised by Tourism NI in association with Diageo NI, was held at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, where the inaugural awards took place in 1978.

The black-tie event, now regarded as the highlight of the tourism calendar, was presented by former BBC newsreader and Belfast native Maxine Mawhinney.

Originally titled the ‘British Airways Tourism Endeavour Awards,’ the annual event has recognised many hundreds of local businesses over the years for their inspirational contribution to the tourism industry.

Head of Beannchor Group and Merchant Hotel owner Bill Wolsey received the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award while a Tourism Hero Award went to Caitriona Lavery from Hastings Hotels.

Celebrating the huge step changes in the industry over the last four decades, the anniversary event received a record number of entries spanning 11 different categories.

Winners on the night included Titanic Belfast, which scooped the Best International Experience following its crowning as the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction, and the Museum of Free Derry, which lifted the Authentic NI Experience of the Year.

Derry City and Strabane District Council stepped up to the podium twice as its Slow Food Festival won the NI Food and Drink Experience of the Year and its renowned Halloween festival won Best NI Event or Festival Experience. The Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year title was awarded to Chris Wilson at Streamvale Open Farm, situated outside Belfast.

In the ‘Best Stay’ accommodation categories, Bushmills Inn earned the best hotel award, Dungannon’s Spice Cottages lifted best self-catering and the Water’s Edge in Glenarm won the best guesthouse/B&B award.    

Speaking at the event, Tourism NI Chairman, Terence Brannigan, said: “Northern Ireland’s attractiveness as a tourist destination has come a long way in the last three or four decades. When you compare today with 1978, the step changes that have happened in our industry cannot be missed nor underestimated. In the last six years in particular the sector has performed consistently well.

“Today we are Lonely Planet’s Best Region in the World to visit in 2018 and we are preparing to host The Open Championship in 2019, the most prestigious golf event on the planet.

“Tourism is now one of the largest, locally owned, internationally traded sectors of our economy, supporting 60,000 jobs either directly or indirectly and offering Northern Ireland one of its best opportunities for economic growth.

“Considering the challenges that the industry has faced over the last 40 years, the achievements have been nothing short of immense.”

Jorge Lopes, Country Director, Diageo NI said: “What a fantastic evening for the tourism and hospitality industry in Northern Ireland.  The Awards really served to highlight the significant strides the industry has made over the last four decades and Diageo is very proud to be a part of that journey.  Congratulations to all the winners, indeed to everyone shortlisted for awards. I think we can feel extremely positive and excited about the future of tourism in Northern Ireland.”

The full list of 2018 Northern Ireland Tourism Awards winners is:

Authentic NI Experience of the Year [Sponsored by Diageo NI] 

Winner: The Museum of Free Derry

Highly commended: Seamus Heaney Homeplace

Commended: ‘Artisans at Work’, Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust

Commended: Belfast Traditional Music Trail, An Droichead

Best International Experience [Sponsored by Tourism Ireland]

Winner: Titanic Belfast World Travel Award, Titanic Belfast

Highly commended: Belleek Pottery Visitor Centre

NI's Best Stay - Guesthouse / B&B     

Winner: Water's Edge, Glenarm

Highly commended: Blackrock House B&B

Commended: Ardtara Country House

NI's Best Stay – Hotel [Sponsored by First Trust Bank]   

Winner: Bushmills Inn

Highly commended: Merchant Hotel

Commended: Bullitt Hotel

Commended: Galgorm Resort and Spa

NI's Best Stay - Self Catering [Sponsored by Hoseasons]           

Winner: Spice Cottages

Highly commended: Blessingbourne Country Estate

Commended: Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel and Lodges

Commended: Ballygally Holiday Apartments

Most Impactful Digital Innovation Award      

Winner: Night Ride to Armagh: A Digital Transformation, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council

Highly commended: Motorhome Craic, Motorhome Parking Ireland

Commended: The MAC, Belfast

NI Food & Drink Experience of the Year [Sponsored by DWF]    

Winner: Slow Food Festival, Derry City and Strabane District Council

Highly commended: Walled City Brewery

Commended: The Parson's Nose, Balloo Inns Limited

Best NI Event or Festival Experience (International) [Sponsored by Tourism Ireland]        

Winner: Derry Halloween, Derry City and Strabane District Council

Highly commended: Northern Ireland Open, Galgorm Castle

Commended: Ulster Grand Prix, Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club

Most Promising Authentic NI Event or Festival Experience        

Winner: Armagh Georgian Festival 2017, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council

Highly commended: The Belfast Tattoo, XO Events

Commended: Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive, Outdoor Recreation NI

NI Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year [Sponsored by Ulster University Business School] 

Winner: Chris Wilson - Streamvale Open Farm

Highly commended: Melita Williams - Bespoke Northern Ireland

Commended: Sean McLaughlin - Fullerton Arms Guest House

NI Tourism Heritage Property of the Year     

Winner: Crumlin Road Gaol

Highly commended: Antrim Castle Gardens, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council

Commended: Blessingbourne Manor and Country Estate

Tourism Hero

Winner: Caitriona Lavery, Hastings Hotels

Outstanding Contribution to Tourism 

Winner: Bill Wolsey, Beannchor Group

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