The Open keeps tourism in the clover in 'otherwise challenging year'

Launching Tourism NI'sreview of the year are the organisation's chief executive John McGrillen (right) and director of business support and events Aine Kearney with Martin Slumbers, chief executive of R&A
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE 148th Open at Royal Portrush in July kept the north's 2019 tourism numbers in the black.

The golf extravaganza, returning to the north coast after a 68-year absence, generated £106 million of economic benefit for Northern Ireland.

That included £45m of 'new money', according to an independent study by Sheffield Hallam University's Sport Industry Research Centre, commissioned by the R&A.

And the chief executive of Tourism NI admitted that in what was an otherwise challenging year for the industry, year-end figures might have been otherwise flat if is hadn't been for the income generated through the Open.

John McGrillen was speaking at the launch of Tourism NI's annual review, which the organisation themed as ‘Building the Value of Tourism'.

The industry is worth £1 billion to the north's economy and employs 67,000 people (one in 11 of everybody in work), and in the next decade that spend is expected to double while another 25 people should get jobs in the sector.

Although full-year figures won't be published for some monthsyet, indications suggest the uplift in spend this year will be around 4 per cent - of which the majority came from the Open.

Mr McGrillen said: “The theme of our annual review is ‘Building the Value of Tourism' and that's exactly what we've sought to do by collaborating and working directly with local businesses to get them selling on a global scale and consolidating Northern Ireland's position as a must-see visitor destination.

“We've been able to do this against a very challenging economic and political backdrop and in an international marketplace that is crowded with other destinations, all competing for visitors.

“Latest figures show that tourism contributes £2.7 million a day to the local economy, making tourism a key driver of our economic growth.

“With the staging of the 148th Open, that growth was distinctly visible in our golfing product. Progress was also evident in areas such as the Causeway Coast and Giant's Causeway, Titanic Belfast, Belfast in general, and screen tourism, especially in relation to Game of Thrones experiences and attractions.”

Besides the golf, Tourism NI supported another 57 events this year (43 national and 14 international), which generated more than 840,000 bednights and led to a ratio return on investment of £24 to £1.

The launch in London in September of a new destination brand - Northern Ireland: Embrace a Giant Spirit - was singled out as another significant highlight of the tourism year, and it will be Tourism NI's strapline for the next five years.

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