With Northern Ireland embarking on the ‘Year of Food and Drink’, Belfast City Council once again will place the ‘Focus On Food’ at a major one-day conference, which will help further drive the city’s culinary renaissance and examine the importance of food and hospitality to the local tourism industry.

The conference – organized with support from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), through its Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme, and Tourism NI – will take place at St George’s Market on Tuesday 23 February.  The keynote speaker will be top chef and food writer Valentine Warner.

According to Tourism NI, in 2014 overnight visitors to Northern Ireland spent an estimated £751 million, of which approximately one-third was spent on food and drink.  In addition, £282 million was spent by Northern Ireland residents on tourism day trips; of this, approximately 40 per cent was spent on eating out.

“The aim of the ‘Focus On Food:  Our Recipe For Tourism Success’ conference is to see what more can be done to maximize the economic benefit of food tourism, not only for Belfast, but the region as a whole,” explained Councillor Deirdre Hargey, Chair of Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee.

“It will look at the long term development of food tourism in the city, and is designed to promote Belfast’s food tourism message; inspire the industry to collaborate and create new visitor experiences; engage producers, farmers, fishermen, chefs and outlets to better promote the food message to visitors; encourage the use of local produce and enable those in the industry to share experiences, challenges and opportunities.

“Last year’s conference was a huge success, with a key message being the desire for more events which allow the industry to network and collaborate. Delegates all agreed that that the conference helped to maximise the food tourism potential of Belfast and the region, with three-quarters of them saying that they made new partnerships and business contacts as a result of attending the event. A number of emerging themes and recommended actions were identified, and the council has taken these on board over the last year,” continued Councillor Hargey.

“Progress has been made on a number of fronts – through initiatives led by ourselves, through activities being planned as part of Year of Food and Drink and through industry collaboration, product development and a range of industry-led initiatives.  Not the least of our achievements has been Belfast earning two Michelin stars!

“The huge appetite for foodie events was clear when we held the first Twilight Market at St George’s in November, which attracted more than 17,000 people and generated more than £600,000 for the local economy.  Many of the city’s restaurants also benefited from the Twilight event and reported a subsequent increase in footfall and sales.  As a result, plans are being considered to hold seasonal Twilight Markets throughout 2016.

“In addition, Visit Belfast is currently facilitating a new industry planning group and we are currently finalising our plans for a number of other culinary events in 2016 to celebrate Year of Food and Drink,” concluded Councillor Hargey.

The conference is organized with support from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), through its Northern Ireland Regional Food Programme.  Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said:  “The conference will be a significant cornerstone event during the 2016 Year of Food and Drink.  It is an opportunity to celebrate our food and drink successes and capitalize on these through trade and consumer communications.

“It will offer the hospitality sector, producers, tour operators and tourism-facing businesses the opportunity to network, build on existing and new relationships and increase the number of local producers supplying produce to the Belfast eateries.”

The conference is also supported by Tourism NI.  Board member Angelina Fusco said:

“Year of Food and Drink 2016 is a great opportunity to harness the benefits of our successes in the food and drink sector, to drive quality, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship and support growth in export food sales.  Tourism NI is co-ordinating a series of dedicated industry and event roadshows across Northern Ireland.  We’ve also produced toolkits, brand guidelines and templates to support the industry which are available on www.tourismni.com.

“We have supplemented our annual Tourism Events Fund with an additional scheme specifically for food and drink experiences at events and are leading on an integrated plan to maximise the PR and communications opportunities at home and further afield.  Our aim is to inspire our industry, boost Northern Ireland’s destination reputation and grow our ability to attract visitors who will make a significant contribution to our economy”.

To register for the ‘Focus On Food:  Our Recipe For Tourism Success’ conference, visit www.belfastcity.gov.uk/belfastfood.  Attendees can also keep up to date with developments on Twitter, by following @belfast_food or #belfastfocusonfood.




•    One of Belfast’s top restaurants, Ox, recently was named by luxury travel magazine Condé Nast Traveller as one of the world’s “hottest places to eat”.

•    The Belfast City Council-backed Belfast Sustainable Food Network has been nominated for the National Sustainable Food Cities Award for its pioneering multi-agency work ongoing on food poverty, elimination of food waste, community education and awareness of healthy food, and recognition of the promotion of local, seasonal food produce.  The awards ceremony takes place in Liverpool in March.

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