BY FIACHRA O'MAOLCRAOIBHE
Tourism in Northern Ireland is taking off at an exciting pace this year. It is at the forefront of the devolved government’s plan to rescue Northern Ireland from total economic doom. The Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment has set in motion an ambitious plan to rescue ‘our wee country’ through the tourism industry.
Northern Ireland has a lot to offer tourists in 2012. The development of ‘signature projects’ such as Titanic Belfast and the new Giant’s Causeway visitor centre expresses the level of confidence within the department. The feeling is that Northern Ireland is a hotspot for tourist attractions and a place that can offer the visitor an exceptional vacation.
In 2009, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, began putting together a strategy for the development of the tourism industry over the course of ten years. The foundation for the development of a new strategy was the belief that “tourism is everyone’s business” and that now is the time for “a simple common agenda that everyone can buy into.”
As a result of the development of this strategy, a number of simple targets were set; that earnings from the tourism industry would be worth £1billion by 2020, and that visitor numbers would increase from 3.2 million to 4.5 million by 2020. There would be a collaborative partnership between public and private investors committed to the associated actions connected with the advancement of tourism in Northern Ireland.
Achieving these targets is simple. The strategy aims to make it easier for visitors to spend money- however, the strategy seeks to grow income from visitors faster than projected visitor numbers. The emphasis for achieving this target is placed on providing a higher quality of visitor experience, offering more attractions, better facilities and overall more reasons to spend money.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) in partnership with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and other private investors seeks to exploit iconic attractions and major events which are taking place from throughout 2012 and 2013, which include the Irish Open, the World Police and Fire Games and the title of UK City of Culture 2013 for Derry.
As promising as 2012 may be for the tourism industry, the NITB is far from exploiting the true potential of Northern Ireland and achieving a steady rate of tourism throughout the calendar year. However, things will become much clearer when the barometer for this season’s performances are published by the NITB.Photograph: Tyler McNally