Julia Corkey: 'Stop, Collaborate and Listen' (in the words of Vanilla Ice)

Julia Corkey
Julia Corkey

MARCH welcomed the return of business events in our venues, as the conference sector began its recovery from a two-year hiatus.

Since then, we’ve hosted numerous events including the British Association of Spinal Surgeons, the Microbiology Society, and the International Association of Teachers of English in a Foreign Language, which delivered over £5.5 million in economic impact and brought delegates back to Belfast to reconnect and spend time in our city.

Having these experts attend events and enjoy Belfast brings home how hard these two years have been. But like our delegates – we’ve learnt so much.

I’m by no means a 90s hip hop expert. But when Vanilla Ice said ‘Stop, Collaborate and Listen’ – he didn’t realise how prescient his advice would be.


Two years ago, ICC Belfast switched focus. For a venue built to bring people together we adapted to ensure we stayed connected. We spent the time wisely, reframing our vision and agreeing how best to serve the sector post-Covid.

I joined this unique organisation in July 2020. Like all conference centres, we sell rooms, space, and additionals. But at ICC Belfast it means much more. We have a responsibility to sell Belfast internationally and when we pitch to win a business event, it benefits Northern Ireland. Not just in terms of pounds spent but supporting genuine societal and cultural change.

When we had to stop, it allowed us to sharpen our focus. We sum it up simply, when we win, everyone wins.


We work in complete collaboration with Tourism NI, Visit Belfast and Belfast City Council on a shared agenda to deliver economic impact. Think of the beneficiaries from business events, it’s our taxi drivers, retailers, cafes, bars, restaurants and tourist attractions.

In March, Tourism NI, Visit Belfast, Visit Derry and a range of organisations including ourselves, Invest NI, Queen’s University and Ulster University launched a new integrated strategy for business events in Northern Ireland.

The latest research showed that in 2019 business events generated £37m of expenditure for the Northern Ireland economy.

By recognising these events support our economic development strategy, we collaborate to compete globally on behalf of Northern Ireland and win a greater share of the sector.


In May we hosted the International Association of Professional Conference Organiser (IAPCO) Council. This is the accredited global authority for conference organisers. They stayed in our hotels, experienced our vibrant social scene and tourist attractions. Together with our partners, we hosted an event for them at ICC Belfast and they told us that collaboration was our greatest strength.

It’s essential to understand our audience and we always listen. Customer feedback informs our approach, and we’re always learning and improving. They tell us Belfast and Northern Ireland works for business events - delegates can finish a conference, grab a coffee and be in the Cathedral Quarter in eight minutes. Our hotel offering is both exceptional and affordable and delegates love the variety our hospitality sector offers.

By taking stock, collaborating, listening and learning – we’ve set a five-year target to deliver £125 million in economic impact for Belfast and Northern Ireland. It will be a challenge, but with the support of our partners we’ll do everything we can to deliver.

Vanilla Ice doesn’t know the impact his lyrics are having. However, like everyone, he is invited to come and experience what we have to offer.

:: Julia Corkey is chief executive at ICC Belfast

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access