Business

Belfast is named world's best business conference destination

Pictured with the award are (from left) Gerry Lennon, chief executive of Visit Belfast; John Walsh, chief executive of Belfast City Council; Rachael McGuckin, director of business development, sustainability and transportation at Visit Belfast; Nikki Paterson, interim business solutions manager at Tourism NI; and Charlie McCloskey, director of events and customer experience at ICC Belfast

BELFAST'S business tourism sector is back on winning form again this year after the city secured a major award that recognises its industry-leading strength as a top destination for national and international events.

Securing the top spot for 2022 Best Conference Destination at the highly influential Conference & Incentive Travel (C&IT) Awards in London for a second year in a row, Belfast sidestepped the global competition yet again as an ambitious destination that continues to exceed industry expectations.

And in means Belfast has now been recognised as the world's best conference and events destination at the annual C&IT Awards gala for four out of the last five years.

Celebrated as the global events industry's most sought-after awards, Best Conference Destination recognises Visit Belfast and the city's tourism industry for its efforts to meet and exceed the expectations of conference and event organisers to deliver a world class experience for thousands of delegates every year.

Visit Belfast is the official destination marketing and management organisation for the Belfast City Region, dedicated to promoting Belfast as a tourist destination for business, leisure and cruise visitors. Tourism NI, Invest NI and Belfast City Council are also key supporters and funders of business tourism into Belfast and Northern Ireland.

Belfast lords mayorChristina Black said: “Belfast's resilience and sheer commitment to excel, adapt and exceed expectations in the face of challenge is always worth celebrating and the passion and dedication which our city's vibrant business events industry has shown to maintain a world-leading position is not only remarkable but deserves to be hugely commended.

“Despite the challenges of recent years, Belfast continues to punch well above its weight in a highly competitive market, demonstrating its strengths, a team spirit and a prized warm welcome that makes more and more people want to come back.

“Belfast has a winning formula that's underpinned by a Team Belfast approach and I'd like to pay a big tribute and heartfelt thanks for the hard work delivered by Visit Belfast, ICC Belfast and key supporters Tourism Northern Ireland and Invest NI and their partners and stakeholders who continue to deliver a reputation for excellence for this city right around the world.”

Business events are a major part of Belfast's tourism economy, generating mid-week, year-round and high-spending visitors for local venues, hotels, bars, restaurants, transport providers and across events supply chain.

Business events play an important role in a balanced tourism portfolio attracting conferences, meetings and business and incentive programmes which bring benefits across Northern Ireland.

In 2019 such events generated £37 million of direct expenditure for the Northern Ireland economy, 3.7 per cent of all visitor revenue in a £1 billion tourism industry.

Gerry Lennon, chief executive of Visit Belfast, which promotes the city as a world class national and international conference destination, said: “Securing not one, but two, coveted C&IT awards is a significant win for Belfast that helps to elevate our position in a competitive market while drawing a fresh focus on the compelling offer which the city has as a leading national and global events destination.

“It is a major confidence boost for our industry and city which is still emerging from the pandemic and facing into many new and emerging challenges.

“These hard-fought award wins are a testament to the tremendous efforts that are made every day by our business team at Visit Belfast and at ICC Belfast and by many of our partners from right across our city's tourism industry and I'm delighted that we can share these awards on everyone's behalf.

“Visit Belfast, ICC Belfast and all our industry partners work together as a powerful, winning combination and I'm delighted on behalf of all the team that their passion and commitment to succeed has won through again yet this year.”

Northern Ireland's premier conference venue, ICC Belfast, was also shortlisted as the UK's Best Venue for events for 2022 for a fifth consecutive year, confirming a leading industry reputation for high calibre staff, cutting-edge innovation and a driving focus on sustainability. In March, it was recognised as the Best Venue offering digital and hybrid facilities at the UK Digital Awards.

In a first-rate short list that included London's ExCeL, ICC Birmingham and ICC Wales, Belfast's premier conference venue – and Northern Ireland's only purpose-built convention centre – was praised for its investment in its staff, in technology and in driving sustainability goals and success in energy, food and waste after a stand-out year.

In December, Visit Belfast's commitment and action in investing in and driving sustainable growth was recognised by Britain's leading body of conference organisers, the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO), after it secured its inaugural Corporate and Social Responsibility award at its annual Excellence Awards 2021 in London.

Belfast has also been ranked as one of the world's Top 20 sustainable destinations across 73 cities in the 2021 Global Destinations Sustainability Index. The GDS-Index is the world's largest sustainability performance improvement and benchmarking programme for destinations.

Next year, Belfast will host the sought-after One Young World Summitt 2023 event, hosting more than 2,000 people from across the world for this global forum of young leaders, which described the city as “one of Europe's most vibrant and exciting destinations, brimming with culture, award-winning attractions and home to the friendliest people you are ever likely to meet.”

A New Integrated Strategy for Business Events in Northern Ireland was launched in March which seeks to double the number of international conferences hosted annually and attract three times the number of delegates from the UK and Ireland by 2030.

The steering group, made up of representatives from Tourism NI, Visit Belfast and Visit Derry, and a range of organisations including ICC Belfast, Invest NI, Queen's University and Ulster University, estimated that the business events sector in NI could generate an additional £209m in direct economic impact and up to 2,000 new jobs by 2030.