15th May 2024, NITA notes on Dept of Economy Committee Meeting: Tourism Strategy – oral and written evidence from the Dept of Economy

Present – Jeremy Gardner (DfE) John McGrillen (Tourism NI), Shane Clarke (Tourism Ireland)

Jeremy Gardner

  • Minister prefers action on ground rather than a Strategy for the immediate future.
  • Tourism Action Plan is being streamlined and will be presented to Minister although a 10 year action plan cannot be provided yet.
  • Tourism Partnership Board is being discussed and nearly ready to announce.

All Ireland Tourism – no mention of all Ireland tourism in any of the consultation responses or the full tourism document, does not appear to be any request from the sector – so why is it being taken forward? 

Currently the island of Ireland is marketed internationally, branding to be linked together eg for Causeway Coast and Wild Atlantic Way. Sector has requested it in consultation meetings even if not demonstrated in the document.

Air connectivity – TI has undertaken research on air connectivity which will be published soon.

International events – strategic approach to events, a framework will be compiled which will be presented when it is ready.

NI being promoted as a stand alone region – collaboration between TNI, TI and Failte and an excellent relationship between them. Includes familiarisation trips, promotion overseas etc.

NI Brand – Embrace a Giant Spirit is still the brand for NI, the brand is very successful.

Tourism Partnership Board – terms of reference are ready and gone to Minister, first meeting will be very soon.

Wild Atlantic Way to the Causeway Coast – extending to NI will mean we are using the best assets that we have to promote tourism. Discussions only at the moment and further discussions are necessary at a higher level. Advancement of discussions are needed!

ETA – Minister has asked for further meetings to discuss the problems as it will have great impact. Tourism agencies abroad will be discouraged from promoting visits to NI from RoI if ETA is required. Research in France and Germany have highlights that ETA will discourage travellers to NI although still not a huge awareness. It will impact the whole of the northern part of the island of Ireland.

Cycling – could be a very beneficial sporting event – no stadium, no tickets eg Giro D’Italia. Tour de France is a superior event – could it not be brought to Ireland? No budget when there was no Assembly and a business case would be needed to prove it would be beneficial to the economy. Golf is an example of a beneficial sport.

Tourism budget – both TNI and TI informed of their departmental allocation. Same amount as last year but advised in advance so planning can take place. TNI – £3.2m, TI £7m. The brands belong to Failte Ireland so it is complicated. Bid made to Shared Ireland Fund and funding was secured. Looked at gaps to strengthen both WAW and CC, audit being carried out on that work. Funding will be bidded for with campaigns to promote the North West. Needs to work for the whole tourism industry (TNI, TI and Failte). The challenges include where it stretches to as there are different demands by different groups. The product has to match the brand promise and that is what is being worked on to get the best for the North West eg if Derry can be part of both WAW and CC, that would be a bonus! Funding needs to be optimised to get the best for everyone.

Regional Balance – focus is on regional balance, every campaign has visibility in every area. Belfast is the hub but people are encouraged to visit the areas around. Ideally would like a capital programme to provide small scale investment that enhances visitor experiences but is not limited to 12 months budget. Considerable budget spent on collectively bringing tour operators over to Ireland eg Meet the Buyer – covers all Ireland.

City and Growth Deals – will also help tourism.

Music/sports tourism – why was Ebringdon Square not considered as a venue? Why was Foyle Cup not supported by TNI? £650k has been allocated to the event sector and there is a strict application process, applications must demonstrate the benefits to tourism. TNI have already met with Foyle Cup organisers to talk them through the application process for next years bid. Some tourism sectors feel they are being ignored – home grown events need nurtured so need to be pro-active with organisers.

Shared history – need to recognise shared history – recent marketing campaign mentions Free Derry museum but not the Seige museum – needs to be balanced. Marketing campaigns are only meant to show what is on offer to give people a sense of what there is, everything cannot be included. TNI campaigns are very balanced, their job is to promote tourism, not tell the history!

Golf – is a priority, more golf link courses drives tourism forward and means more money towards the economy. Challenges making this happen. Currently promoting NI as a golfing destination internationally.

10X – Tourism Strategy – moving away from this now to concentrate on the new Ministers 4 priorities due to lack of strategic direction. Tourism fits into those priorities. The new Minister sees the importance of tourism and there has been an increase in workload relating to tourism.

Daily spend of a tourist? Everyone different but there is a greater economic benefit from less carbon footprint, however Americans and golfers visiting from abroad spend more so it makes it viable. Important to maximise spend per visitor – but also to maximise the benefit to the economy. This is why golf is important. Mobile investment is important. 

Events budget – the breakdown of the £650k for events will be submitted for review by Committee members. International visibility when money is spent by international visitors so £650k will be aimed at events where people are coming from outside NI. Again the application process will be based on where the money is being spent and is it benefiting tourism? Will the events framework tell us this? A 10 year strategy would be needed to be handled by the Executive and this will not be happening at the moment. What about international gigs/events? If benefits can be demonstrated to tourism. Indigenous home grown events provide annual stable money eg North West – millions watching around the world but it receives limited funding? Can we look at a different way to support local events with professional people (rather than volunteers) to manage the event to increase commercial viability? The events framework will not provide this but TNI can provide assistance.

USA pre-clearance in Belfast – has not been explored and no plans to explore it further. It would be a devolved matter.

VAT in hospitality – discussed on Monday. Will bring the hospitality industry in to address the issues faced.

Cycling – mentioned again, 3rd biggest sport in the world so should make the most of it here.

Skills – young people need to be given ownership and be proud to be in the profession. A big piece of work is being done in skills to change perception and develop tourism and hospitality as a career. Moving in the right direction, TNI have an online portal and content to assist employers. Retention is the biggest challenge. Tourism addressing economic inactivity is growing provides employment to everyone at all stages of their lives. All the lifeskills being developed are important within tourism.

‘A Good Job’ – conditions, career prospects, flexibility and how they are treated, not just salary related!

Summary by Chair:

Initiatives:

  • Action Plan
  • Tourism Partnership Board
  • Increase funding to TI and maintaining funds to TNI because of the current funding ratio. TNI confirmed they are pleased as they had their closing budget from the previous year confirmed at the start of this next year – this helps planning throughout the year.