Tourism NI sets 'giant' ambition for jobs and revenue growth

Launching the Tourism NI/Tourism Ireland new destination brand at World Travel Market in London are (from left) Tourism NI’s chief executive John McGrillen and head of GB Julie Wakley with Northern Ireland-based artist Colin Davidson.Photo: William Cherry/PressEye
Ryan McAleer in London

TOURISM NI and Tourism Ireland have launched a major new marketing drive to promote the north internationally in a bid to double the size of the industry to £2 billion over the next decade.

Designed alongside Co Down artist Colin Davidson, the ‘embrace a giant spirit’ campaign was presented to the world’s biggest travel business event in London yesterday.

Tourism was worth around £968 million to the north’s economy last year, and is expected to break the £1bn mark in 2019.

But Tourism NI, which promotes Northern Ireland on the island, and Tourism Ireland, which markets it globally, have set a target of doubling that figure by 2030, estimating it could create up to 25,000 jobs.

Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen said yesterday that the absence of a minister to approve the major campaign had delayed its rollout by almost three years.

“When we had a change in some of the powers given to permanent secretaries, our permanent secretary Noel Lavery signed a public statement saying he felt this now needed to happen and we couldn’t wait on an Executive to come along and do this,” he said.

“Not having an Executive around has delayed this. It’s here now and I think it’s now a matter of getting on with it and getting out and selling it.”

The chief executive said the impact of Brexit uncertainty on consumer confidence only added to the urgency to bring the destination brand to the market.

The new campaign has set a goal of increasing visitor numbers and the economic benefit across the north, beyond the best known attractions such as the Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast.

A total of 23 visitor experiences will be promoted, although the majority (16) are located in Antrim and Down. The dark sky observatory, under construction at Davagh Forest near Cookstown, is the sole entry for Tyrone, while Armagh is only represented by a ‘blossom to bottle’ experience at the Armagh Cider Company.

Comparing Northern Ireland to a Skoda car, John McGrillen said: “The product is fantastic, but the image has maybe not kept up with the product.

“This is as much as changing the perception that people have of Northern Ireland and those of us who live there, by painting a picture of what the place is really like, as opposed to what people think it may be like.”

Artist Colin Davidson, renown for his portraits of some of Ireland’s best known personalities, said the idea of promoting his passion for the north convinced him to come on board for the campaign.

“The whole idea that I could in some way express – and have as an outward symbol – how much I love the place that I live and how I think that it is a fabulous place to come to, all of that fed into me thinking that I wanted to get my teeth into this, I want to really show this place off.”

Pulitzer prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey were also involved in creative content and production.

Tourism NI operates with an annual marketing budget of around £4m to £5m, while Tourism Ireland spends around £12 to £13m a year on promoting Northern Ireland outside of the island.

Overseas visitors are estimated to be worth around £560m a year for the north’s economy.

The new brand is due to be launched to the consumer market in the spring.

Shane Clarke of Tourism Ireland, who will promote it outside of the island said: “We are confident that this new brand will help give Northern Ireland real ‘stand-out’ on the international stage and will deliver a significant boost to the tourism economy over the coming years.

“In 2020, Tourism Ireland looks forward to unveiling Northern Ireland – ‘embrace a giant spirit’ in our key markets around the world and will roll out an extensive programme of trade, media and consumer communications. Our message is that there has never been a better time to visit Northern Ireland.”

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