Northern Ireland attracted almost 2.1 million overseas visitors during 2016 setting it up as one of the best years ever for the tourims industry here.
The figures from Tourism Ireland indicate an increase of 6% over 2015 contributing more than £527 million (+9%) in revenue to the economy - a rise of 9%.
Since Tourism Ireland came into operation in 2002, some 25.3 million overseas visitors have come to Northern Ireland, generating £5.5 billion for the economy.
Once again key attractions included Belfast and Titanic Belfast and the Causeway Coastal Route, as well as the Game of Thrones trail and this year crucially Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink.
“2016 looks set to be the best year ever for overseas tourism to Northern Ireland,” said Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons.
“Throughout the year, Tourism Ireland undertook a packed programme of promotions, to bring Northern Ireland to the attention of travellers everywhere.
“We highlighted Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, with launches in New York, London, Glasgow and Dubai, and our award-winning Game of Thrones campaign reached some 61 million people around the world.”
Thousands of opportunities, he added, had been created for potential visitors everywhere to read, hear or watch positive messages about the province, estimated to be worth around £104 million in equivalent advertising value.
Earlier this month, Tourism the agency launched its marketing plans for 2017 and beyond, with a target to welcome 2.15 million visitors to Northern Ireland. This figure will represent growth of +3.4% over 2016 and deliver £557m to the Northern Ireland economy (+5.6%) next year.
“We are heading into 2017 in a position of some strength, based on the success of 2016. Tourism Ireland will create ‘stand out’ for Northern Ireland, highlighting iconic experiences like Titanic Belfast and the Causeway Coastal Route.
“We will also promote Belfast, in particular for shoulder [late season] and off-peak travel.
“We will continue our successful partnership with HBO, to highlight Northern Ireland – through the exciting events of Game of Thrones – on the global stage.
“Tourism Ireland will also leverage the tourism benefits of major sporting events, including the Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club in July and the semi-finals and final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which will take place in Belfast in August 2017.”
A highlight of the year had undoubtedly been the Year of Food and Drink he said which the agency had promoted heavilty, working closely with Tourism NI, Food NI and other partners.
The programme included a partnership with Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube, showcasing food producers in Fermanagh, Antrim and Londonderry; a presence at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham; articles in major publications like The Daily Telegraph and Time Out in GB; as well as visits by influential food journalists, such as New Zealand TV and radio cooking personality Annabelle White.