Scheme offers £50 per head to bring conference delegates to Northern Ireland

L-R: Odhran Dunne, Visit Derry; Rachael McGuickin, Visit Belfast; Economy Minister Gordon Lyons; Eimear Callaghan, Tourism NI; and Deputy Lord Mayor, Alderman Tom Haire, Belfast City Council.

CONFERENCE organisers will be paid £50 per head for attracting delegates from outside Northern Ireland under a fresh tourism incentive.

The Conference Support Scheme has been around since 2010, but with live events beginning to return following the lifting of restrictions, it has tapped into a £1 million Covid-19 recovery pot to help kick-start the industry post-lockdown.

Organisers must attract at least 100 delegates from outside the north to qualify for the scheme, which can potentially award up to £100,000 if a conference attracts 2,000 people from outside Northern Ireland.

People travelling from the Republic and Britain will count toward the tally, but every qualifying delegate must stay a minimum of one night in paid accommodation.

It’s part of the Department for the Economy’s Tourism Recovery Action Plan, aimed at boosting and stimulating recovery across the tourism and hospitality sector.

Tourism NI is taking the lead on the scheme with Visit Belfast and Visit Derry, and the councils in both areas.

While hotels around the north have enjoyed bumper bookings from tourists staying on the island during the summer, the hospitality industry traditionally relies on conferences and business events for mid-week bookings, particularly during the autumn and winter months.

Conferences were worth an estimated £27.5m for the Northern Ireland economy in 2019.

But efforts to build on the interest generated by the global coverage of The Open in Royal Portrush were dertailed in early 2020 by the outbreak of the pandemic.

Rachael McGuickin from Visit Belfast said the organisation had worked to safeguard events during the lockdown.

“Over the last 18 months, we have successfully retained 103 events and won 15 new events that will deliver a combined £81m by 2028, clearly demonstrating the high economic impact and importance of the sector to the city economy.”

She said the Conference Support Scheme would help set the north apart from competitors.

Odhran Dunne of Visit Derry added: “In 2019, Derry hosted its largest ever conference and the revised Conference Support Scheme will provide a clear and compelling reason to choose the city and build on that legacy.

“The scheme will stimulate demand in the business events sector as we look forward to welcoming both national and international delegates to our historic Walled City in the years ahead.”

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons added: “This scheme will provide much needed support for the conference and events sector as it contributes to rebuilding the tourism economy and we very much look forward to welcoming conference delegates back to our vibrant towns and cities."

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