On 1 September last year I appeared on the radio to argue that tourism could not be the answer to Northern Ireland’s economic woes following on from this piece.
However, one reader wants to challenge me on that point! In the week Belfast hosts the 2017 Routes Europe aviation networking conference and writing in a purely personal capacity, Deborah Swain writes:
I would argue very much that tourism is absolutely central to Northern Ireland’s economic prospects. This is largely because the very purpose of tourism is to market Northern Ireland!
This week sees a major aviation networking conference, Routes Europe, take place in Belfast. It is events like this which have thrust so many cranes into the city’s skyline – there are now 19 hotels being constructed in the Greater Belfast area precisely because so many people want to come here. One major reason for this is events such as this conference.
This is not just good news for hotel chains. Everyone, from the hospitality industry (restaurants, retail etc) to taxis gain from this.
Furthermore, I would not distinguish between tourism and other sectors of the economy as if they are separate. They are fundamentally interlinked. Organisations such as Invest NI, Tourism NI and Visit Belfast work together to generate business tourism. The very idea is to expose people to Northern Ireland so that they come to consider it as a business destination – to create wealth and jobs across various sectors. By creating networks, promoting site visits and so on, what counts to us as tourism can be clearly more than what counts to many as tourism!
Routes Europe alone, for example, will see 1200 decision makers come to the city. This is a direct opportunity for our three airports to make their case to improve linkages; but much more than that, it presents Belfast as a location to build networks and do business. This can then be replicated in other sectors, because the infrastructure in Belfast and across Northern Ireland will be in place to do so.
Just this year, our “tourism” product will be targeted to bring world-leading industries to Northern Ireland with a strategic focus – that is to say, with a focus on key sectors such as cyber-security.
Tourism therefore is the very cornerstone of our economic turnaround – facilitating the very growth in targeted areas we want to see.
What do you think?