Tourism Northern Ireland, Visit Belfast and Visit Derry have joined forces with a range of organisations including Invest NI, ICC Belfast, Queen’s University and Ulster University to launch a new integrated strategy for business events in Northern Ireland.
Business events attract high spending visitors throughout the year and 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, the last year for which full statistics are available, they generated £37 million of direct expenditure for the Northern Ireland economy, 3.7% of all visitor revenue in a £1 billion tourism industry.
The strategy is seeking to double the number of international conferences hosted annually and attract three times the number of delegates from the UK and Ireland by 2030. In fully implementing the strategy it is estimated that the business events sector in Northern Ireland could generate an additional £209 million in direct economic impact and up to 2000 new jobs by 2030.
Key recommendations of the strategy include strengthened marketing and branding and a stronger sales presence in key markets, a brand strategy for business events marketing and communication, better synergies between business events and economic development organisations, a sectoral approach to sales activity, greater presence in international markets and more investment in research.
The strategy also sets out the roles of the agencies involved in delivering business events to Northern Ireland and how they will interlink to deliver on the goals outlined.
Chair of the business events Steering Group Conal Harvey, said: “The research findings uncovered in this report will play a pivotal role in unlocking the potential of Northern Ireland’s business events in a period of uncertainty and recovery. The success of this strategy will lie with all the partners and industry throughout Northern Ireland and it will require focus, continued and enthusiastic collaboration and appropriate investment.
“As the sector reopens, competition will be greater than ever. Equipped with the knowledge and insight gained from this report we are confident that Northern Ireland and its cities has the energy, the product and the giant spirit needed for continued success in business events. I look forward to seeing the strategy being implemented in full and the long lasting benefits felt across the country.”
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons, continued: “The importance of business events to our tourism economy should not be underestimated. Northern Ireland is competing globally for visitors while at the same time diversifying our markets so that every possible source of new business is fully developed. “It is recognised that business events are a crucial form of economic and intellectual engagement and becoming increasingly important in economic development strategies across the world which is why we need to be in the best possible position to win a greater share of this lucrative sector in the future.”
Naomi Waite, Tourism NI director of marketing, added: “While considerable progress has been made over the last decade in attracting high spending business visitors to Northern Ireland, and the cultural programmes on offer to business visitors are very well received and expectations are exceeded, the strategy highlights a number of key challenges including perception of the destination and ease of access. There is also more work to be done on converting interest in holding a business event in Northern Ireland into increased sales.
“Tourism NI looks forward to working in partnership to deliver on the recommendations of the strategy which comes at a critical time in rebuilding our industry. In particular we look forward to providing strategic leadership on an overarching brand for business events as well as capacity building, and on engagement with key partners to pursue opportunities.”
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