Tourism NI has highlighted early signs of success for its investment across a range of programmes, initiatives and campaigns to support the recovery of the tourism sector throughout Northern Ireland.
Some £31 million has been invested by the Department for the Economy and Tourism NI over the past two years in a Tourism Recovery Action Plan to provide a measure of protection for businesses and ensure that the tourism industry can meet the future needs of domestic and international visitors.
Recent research and analysis of available data suggests that closer to home markets, particularly the Republic of Ireland, are buoying tourism performance. It also points to growth in domestic staycations.
During June-September 2021 data collated by Tourism NI on spend in hotels, bars, eating places and attractions increased by one quarter compared to the same period in 2019.
Spend by Republic of Ireland residents more than doubled during the same time period, while domestic spend grew by almost one third and GB spend rose by 10 per cent.
Significant increases were evident for online reviews left by Republic of Ireland residents for NI accommodation establishments during June-December 2021, indicating a positive visitor experience.
Tourism NI’s consumer research indicates that approximately half of Republic of Ireland visitors to Northern Ireland during 2021, and the first two months of 2022, were first time leisure visitors.
Results also suggest continued strong demand from Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland residents for a Northern Ireland trip in spring and summer this year.
Hotel forward bookings paint a positive outlook, particularly for weekends.
Tour operators also indicate strong order books going forward. It is anticipated that tourism performance will return to 2019 levels by 2023-24.
Commenting on recovery, Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “As we continue to emerge from the pandemic with increasing optimism we must all continue to work hard to maintain the increased numbers of close to home visitors who buoyed performance during the pandemic, and work to attract new and returning visitors from international markets.
“There is still potential for significant growth and we will rebuild step by step, market by market, starting close to home.
“We know that the fundamental desire to travel remains, that closer-to-home markets will recover first and that visiting friends and relatives, as well as destinations which are familiar, are the holidays most likely to be considered first.”
Tourism NI Chief Executive John McGrillen said: “The Tourism Recovery Action Plan has supported Tourism NI to roll out a number of major initiatives, including a heavyweight consumer marketing campaign under the Northern Ireland – Embrace a Giant Spirit brand, bespoke business mentoring, increased support for the conference and events sector and a boosted sales programme in key markets in partnership with Tourism Ireland.
“We will continue to offer support across the industry for a wide range of additional activity to ensure that businesses are best equipped to thrive.
“While the last two years have been painful for many, our partnerships across tourism and hospitality have deepened.
“It is this spirit of resilience and collaboration that will ensure we are ready to meet the many exciting opportunities ahead, not least the return of The Open to Portrush in 2025.”
Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance Joanne Stuart added: “The significant support provided by the Department and Tourism NI during the pandemic was critical to the survival of the tourism industry, which in effect lost 12 months trading through closure and traded under significant restrictions since the July 2020 reopening.
“The importance of marketing campaigns to promote Northern Ireland as a destination in our home markets is clear to see.
“Support at this level is key and building on this investment will enable the tourism industry to play its part in rebuilding a strong regional economy and achieving the 10x economic vision.”
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