Rachael McGuickin, Director of Business Development, Visit Belfast on the return of Business Events following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Business Events were one of the first sectors to be affected by the pandemic and the longest to remain closed. The decision by the Northern Ireland Executive to allow conferences and exhibitions to resume from 16th
August was the welcome news (at last) that the sector had been waiting for and that NITA had been campaigning for.
Throughout the closure, Visit Belfast worked in partnership with its venues, hotels and clients to develop a retention plan for every booked event. This meant working with organisers to reschedule and redesign events, often multiple times - and it is a credit to the flexibility, resilience and innovation of our venue and hotel partners that we have managed to retain such high levels of conference business for the years ahead.
Over the last 18 months, we have successfully retained 103 events including 15 new wins that will deliver a combined £81m by 2028, clearly demonstrating the high economic impact and importance of the sector to the city economy.
And there are many reasons to feel positive as we look to re-build the business tourism sector.
Last week, the Department for Economy announced a £1 million conference support scheme to help secure more business events in Belfast, Derry and the region. This will give Northern Ireland the most attractive conference support scheme in the UK and Ireland.
The scheme will provide conference organisers with £50 for each out-of-state delegate to bring their association conference to the region, with awards ranging between £5,000 and £100,000 for all eligible events.
Open to not-for-profit associations and organisations, bringing at least 100 out-of-state delegates, applications for conferences taking place from 2022-2030 are now open.
The scheme is funded by Tourism Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council and Derry and Strabane District Council and delivered by Visit Belfast and Visit Derry.
As we continue to rebuild the city‘s visitor economy, the new Conference Support Scheme will help set Belfast and Northern Ireland apart from its competitors, help us secure new business for the region and support our venues, conference organisers, hotels and the wider supply chain who have been so severely impacted by COVID-19.
And on the same day as we launched the scheme, Visit Belfast secured the coveted ‘Best Events Destination’ title at the Conference & Incentive Travel Awards 2021.
The awards, which are held in London, recognise the best of the Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Events (MICE) industry around the world and are firmly recognised as the most sought-after honours in business tourism.
ICC Belfast, was also Highly Commended in the ‘Best Venue category’ at this year’s C&IT awards, reflecting its team’s hard work and dedication to creating innovative solutions for clients that have seen it continue to deliver a range of events and reaching global audiences.
Despite being faced with unprecedented challenges over the past year, ICC Belfast has continued to deliver immersive experiences and innovative hybrid events, including the launch of One Young World 2023 and a new product suite for STATSports, both of which were held in the purpose-built Hybrid Studio.
These awards could not have come at a better time as our teams are back out in-market, promoting Belfast and Northern Ireland as a destination of choice for agencies, PCO’s, associations and corporates.
After a long wait we are back in business…..