Homecoming Breakfast 17th October 2019
by Judith Owens, CEO Titanic Belfast
The sixth annual Belfast International Homecoming conference took place in Belfast between the 16th – 18th October, and as part of the event, Titanic Belfast took the opportunity to introduce a Tourism focus to the conference by sponsoring a Homecoming Breakfast at the Titanic Hotel Belfast. Discussions were centred around how the development of major Visitor Attractions in Belfast have been the catalyst for growth within the Hotels Industry. Dr Howard Hastings, Managing Director of Hastings Hotels took to the stage as the key note speaker and NITA’s CEO Dr Joanne Stuart facilitated wider discussions on various issues that are a priority for the Tourism Economy today.
Given the high level representation from the Civil Service, Belfast City Council and the Tourism Agencies, Dr Hastings did not waste an opportunity to drive home some key messages, highlighting 'that whilst the Tourism Economy in Northern Ireland has doubled and in economic terms we are one of the better performing regions within the UK, if we are to deliver redoubled growth by 2030, everyone has to play their part, Central Government, Local Government, and Private Sector alike.'
Howard implored the Department of the Economy to 'look at its return on investment from the industrial sector, and compare it with the returns achieved in recent times by the tourism and hospitality sector.' Urging them to 'concentrate on best value for the taxpayers money they administer, by investing where it can achieve the greatest return.'
He challenged central Government to 'match the ambition of those who are creating and sustaining tourism jobs, and those who are standing by to tell the world about what we have here.'
This set the scene for an engaging discussion, after a delicious breakfast celebrating the 'Taste The Island' initiative. NITA’s CEO, Dr Joanne Stuart, opened up wider discussions with the guests firstly discussing with Stephen McNally from the Dalata Group the opportunities to grow the number of visitors who stay overnight in Northern Ireland and thus creating more demand for the hotel sector.
John McGrillen, Tourism Northern Ireland's CEO, spoke of the importance of the creation of a new Experience Brand for Northern Ireland and how TNI have been working to incorporate 24 experiences from across Northern Ireland to launch the new brand 'Embrace a Giant Spirit'at the World Travel Market in London on the 4th November.
Responding to some challenging comments from Dr Hastings on the lack of reinvestment of business rates into marketing the City of Belfast , Alistair Reid, Belfast City Council's Strategic Director of Place and Economy, talked about the planned investments as part of the Belfast City Region Deal.
Dr Stuart highlighted the Belfast Harbour Commissioners recent investments in support of Tourism that include a new hotel in City Quays and the first dedicated Cruise terminal on the island of Ireland and inviting Joe O’Neill, CEO Belfast Harbour, to explain how Belfast Harbour Commissioners are now key players in growing Tourism, specifically in the area of Cruise and Screen Tourism.
Unfortunately Brexit could not go ignored, especially as the event happened just 15 days shy of a possibility of a No Deal. Dr Stuart and Niall Gibbons, CEO Tourism Ireland, talked about how Tourism Ireland are working with Trade and consumers to ensure the Island of Ireland is still seen as a destination that is open and welcoming to Tourists and the absolute need for a deal and for no restrictions at the border.
The final say came from the Acting Head of the Civil Service, David Sterling, who recognised the growth in Tourism so far, the issues facing the industry and specifically the difficulties of operating with a lack of Assembly. He urged the Industry to continue to make evidence based representation to the department for financial support.
Whilst we are all aware that many of the issues that face our industry cannot be dealt with overnight it was encouraging to feel the strength of determination for success within the room and proves that if we unite and speak as one voice there is more opportunity for our voice to be heard.