NI Tourism Awards short list revealed - and its Wolsey v Wolsey in battle of top hotels

Preparing for the 40th Northern Ireland Tourism Awards on May 24 are host Maxine Mawhinney with Jorge Lopes (centre) of Diageo and John McGrillen, chief executive Tourism NI. Photo: Darren Kidd/PressEye

HOTELS veteran Bill Wolsey will be going head to head with himself in one of the categories in the 40th running of the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards (

The short-list, drawn up by a panel of industry experts, has pitted Wolsey's gritty Bullitt Hotel against the opulence of the Merchant Hotel in the best hotels stay category, in which Bushmills Inn and the Galgorm Resort & Spa also feature.

Around 40 people, places and events have made the cut ahead of the gala awards event on Thursday May 24 at the Europa Hotel, presented by former BBC newsreader and Belfast native Maxine Mawhinney.

Tourism NI is again behind the initiative, headline sponsored by Diageo Northern Ireland, and the 11 categories recognising excellence include best international experience, best heritage property and best tourism entrepreneur.

The awards started life as the British Airways Tourism Endeavour Awards in 1978 and since then many hundreds of local businesses have been recognised for their contribution to the local tourism industry.

Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said: “We have had a record number of entries to the 2018 awards and will be recognising those businesses and individuals who have delivered world class experiences and have contributed to the £2.7 million spent every day by visitors to Northern Ireland.

“Today we are the Lonely Planet's Best Region in the World, with thousands of tour operators queuing to programme Belfast, the Causeway Coastal Route, Fermanagh, Armagh, the Walled City and many more parts of this corner of the island. This is a huge achievement considering the challenges that our tourism industry has faced over the last 40 years.”

Jorge Lopes, country director of Diageo Northern Ireland, added: “It's wonderful to have so many tourism and hospitality businesses, organisations and initiatives short-listed for these awards.

"Such diversity of entrants highlights the quality of our tourism offering and reinforces the importance of this industry to our local economy and Northern Ireland as a whole.”

The full short list is:

:: Authentic experience of the year - An Droichead (Belfast Traditional Music Trail), Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trust (Artisans at Work), Seamus Heaney Homeplace, The Museum of Free Derry.

:: Best event or festival experience - Derry City and Strabane District Council (Derry Halloween), Dundrod & District Motorcycle Club (Ulster Grand Prix), Galgorm Castle (Northern Ireland Open).

:: Best international experience - Belleek Pottery Visitor Centre, Titanic Belfast (World Travel Award).

:: Most impactful digital innovation award - Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council (Night Ride to Armagh: A Digital Transformation), Motorhome Parking Ireland (Motorhome Craic), The MAC Belfast

:: Most promising authentic event or festival experience - Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council (Armagh Georgian Festival 2017), Outdoor Recreation NI (Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive), XO Events (the Belfast Tattoo).

:: Best guest house/B&B stay - Ardtara Country House, Blackrock House B&B, Water's Edge Glenarm.

:: Best hotel stay - Bullitt Hotel, Bushmills Inn, Galgorm Resort & Spa, Merchant Hotel

:: Best self catering stay - Ballygally Holiday Apartments, Blessingbourne Country Estate, Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel & Lodges, Spice Cottages.

:: Food and drink experience of the year - Balloo Inns Limited (The Parson's Nose), Derry City and Strabane DC (Slow Food Festival), Walled City Brewery.

:: Tourism entrepreneur of the year - Bespoke Northern Ireland, Fullerton Arms Guest House, Streamvale Open Farm.

:: Tourism heritage property of the year - Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council (Antrim Castle Gardens), Blessingbourne Manor & Country Estate, Crumlin Road Gaol.

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