Visit Belfast said today that its work promoting Belfast as a leading conference and meetings destination during 2012/13 will benefit the City to the tune of £27.2m over the next four years, up 70% on the previous year’s performance.  These conference wins will bring 21,000 delegates to Belfast and generate an estimated 63,000 bed-nights for the local hotel sector.

Visit Belfast’s upbeat review of the City’s ability attract conference business in this increasingly competitive sector was revealed after it cemented Belfast’s reputation as a conference city on the rise by winning the hotly-contested ‘Best UK Conference and Incentive City Destination’ award at the Conference & Incentive Travel Excellence Awards in London.

Tourism Minister, Arlene Foster, said the award fully acknowledged the significant progress which has been made to make Belfast a natural choice for national and international conferences. She also said that it would help in Visit Belfast’s strategic, sales-led efforts to bring in more business.

Arlene Foster said:

“As the tourist gateway city to the whole of Northern Ireland, it is hugely important that Belfast positively promotes itself as an attractive destination at the forefront of delivering the best venues, hospitality and local tourism support.

“The international conference market is an incredibly competitive arena and the success with which the public and private sector support behind Visit Belfast’s strategic efforts made to date, is to be commended. When I spoke to journalists in South Africa recently, one of the questions they asked me was what facilities for meetings, conferences and events Northern Ireland could offer corporate visitors. I was able to tell them that Northern Ireland is already proving itself to be a world class venue with outstanding venues – this award is testament to that.

“Growing our business tourism sector creates and sustains local jobs, supports the mid-week economy, drives investment and further propels our reputation to host major events and I’m particularly pleased that Belfast is competing at the highest level in the UK.”

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, said that growing the city’s share of business tourism was vital for the future.

“The benefits of hosting conferences and business events extend right across the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors. They deliver a sustained, welcome boost to the city’s businesses and show thousands of new visitors just what a great city Belfast is, and how we are just as capable as London, Dublin and Frankfurt in delivering world class venues and award-winning hospitality.

“Let’s celebrate this success as we look forward to welcoming thousands of more business delegates in the years ahead.”

Visit Belfast Chief Executive, Gerry Lennon, added:

“Visit Belfast has continually invested in the promotion of Belfast as a vibrant conference and business tourism destination. These latest figures and the endorsement from the UK conference industry highlight the traction we are making as part of our plans to grow this important tourism sector by 131% from 2011-2014.

“With support from Belfast City Council, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Visit Belfast works closely with the private sector to bring together the venues, the hotels, transport providers and event services that are required to win and deliver world class conference events for Belfast.

“To have secured the endorsement of the influential C&IT panellists, at a time when the battle for conference wins is at its greatest, is an important achievement and our organisation looks forward to building on this latest success as we continue to strengthen our growing reputation as world-class conference destination.”

Visit Belfast also confirmed that is gearing up to kick-off a new marketing campaign next month to re-launch Belfast as a leading business tourism destination in key national and international markets.