The claim from business promotion organisation Visit Belfast comes as the city gears up for high-profile gatherings due to take place such as the Royal College of Nursing’s Annual Congress, which will bring 5,000 delegates to Belfast in 2018.
The Congress - the largest ever - will also see around 100 meetings and social events take place in a number of venues across the city over five days, bringing an expected £5 million in economic benefit for the city.
“Business tourism in Belfast has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and the city now competes with the very best,” said Suzanne Wylie, chief executive of Belfast City Council.
“2016 will be a watershed year for Belfast, with the re-opening of the Belfast Waterfront allowing us to welcome bigger conferences than ever before.”
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Conference tourism represents an important sector of the tourism economy in Belfast.
As well as bringing mid-week, year-round trade for the tourism and hospitality industries and complementing the growing leisure tourism market in the city, business travellers and conference delegates are typically high-spending visitors that bring trade to a wide range of local businesses
On the international scene, Tourism Ireland, along with 14 tourism companies including National Trust Giant’s Causeway, Stena Line and Titanic Belfast, has held a briefing as it prepares for a major initiative in four Chinese cities as part of its 2016 sales mission to grow tourism from the country.
The sales mission, from May 15-10, will focus on target top Chinese travel agents and tour operators in the key cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. And, for the first time ever, the trip will also include Hong Kong, to begin exploring the potential of the market there.
The objective is to engage with Chinese travel professionals who are currently selling Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, or who have strong potential to sell the destination – and to encourage them to extend their programmes, or to include the island of Ireland for the first time, in their brochures and programmes.
“Our sales mission is a key element of our promotional programme in China, to win a greater share of the four million Chinese visitors who travel to Europe each year,” said Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons.
“It will give our tourism partners a platform to inform and influence the Chinese travel trade on all that Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland have to offer and, importantly, encourage them to include the destination in their brochures and programmes.
“Tourism Ireland is committed to growing Chinese visitor numbers to Ireland to 50,000 per year, by 2017, and our sales missions play a significant role in helping us achieve this target.”
In 2015, Northernb Ireland welcomed around 45,000 Chinese visitors and Tourism Ireland aims to grow that figure to 50,000 a year by 2017.
According to the latest data from the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization), China is now the world’s largest outbound travel market – with some 120 million people travelling overseas each year, spending about $165 billion.
Tourism Ireland has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. The organisation’s activity in China involves establishing and building relationships with influential intermediaries, such as the travel trade, airlines and media – highlighting our natural attractions, cities, castles and proximity to Britain.