North's tourism trade increases, worth £820m

Tourism NI Chairman Terence Brannigan joins Aine Kearney, Director of Business Support and Events of Tourism NI, and Chef Niall McKenna at an event at the Ulster Museum to celebrate the end of the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink. Photo by Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye
Andrew Madden

TOURISM in the north is on the rise, according to latest figures.

Data from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency shows that overall visitor spend jumped 10 per cent in the 12 months to September when compared to the previous year.

This represents a £821 million cash injection into the economy. Nearly three quarters of the income came from visitors from abroad, a 14 per cent increase from the same time the previous year – making tourism in the north worth a healthy £606m.

The number of external visitors is also up 8 per cent to 2.5m and the duration of their stay is also up marginally, giving the overall view that tourists are coming in bigger numbers, staying longer and spending more.

Furthermore, the latest occupancy statistics up to November 2016 show that the record room occupancy levels experienced over the summer period have continued through the autumn.

There was a 10 per cent increase in bed spaces sold in hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs for the first 11 months of the year, which equates to almost 360,000 additional bed spaces sold compared to the same period in 2015.

Figures released last week also saw healthy annual passenger numbers for the north’s airports.

Belfast International saw 5.15 million passengers pass through its doors, marking a year-on-year growth rate of 17.2 per cent. Meanwhile, George Best Belfast City Airport catered for 2.67m passengers, narrowly shy of its 2015 figure of 2.7m.

Economy minister Simon Hamilton welcomed the positive performance and highlighted the past and future milestones for Northern Ireland’s tourism trade.

"We have much to look forward to in 2017 and beyond. The Irish Open will return to Northern Ireland later this year at Portstewart and in 2019 we will host The Open," he said.


Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen echoed Mr Hamilton’s comments.


"Some £2.4 million was spent by tourists every day during the first nine months of 2016, a period that saw the opening of the newly extended Belfast Waterfront and an outstanding summer for Titanic Belfast, the Causeway Coastal Route and many other tourism attractions across the country," he said.

"Other contributing factors include the highly successful programme for Year of Food and Drink and, of course, more favourable exchange rates across the peak holiday season."

Another boost in the tourist trade came in the form of the hit TV show Game of Thrones, which is shot on locations across the north.

Since it began shooting in 2010, the show has contributed an estimated £150m into the north's economy.

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