Belfast has been named Best Events Destination at this year’s annual Conference & Incentive Travel (C&IT) Magazine awards, seizing back a title it had previously secured in both 2018 and 2019.

The awards, which are held in London, recognise the best of the Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Events (MICE) industry around the world and are firmly recognised as the most sought-after honours in business tourism.

In less than a decade, Belfast has confounded expectations to become one of the world’s best event destinations in a highly-competitive marketplace and this latest award recognises the efforts made by Visit Belfast and the tourism industry, which is renowned for going the extra mile for conference and event organisers – and delivering an exceptional experience for delegates.

Welcoming the award, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Tom Haire, said:

“After a challenging 18 months for tourism, Belfast has continued to demonstrate its determination to succeed and shown great resilience to overcome difficulties and positively move forward, ensuring that the city remains an attractive destination for meetings and events.

“I pay particular tribute to the many tourism and hospitality partners – organisations large and small – who have worked so hard to retain and reinstate Belfast’s award-winning position as the best in the world for business events. Congratulations to Visit Belfast, ICC Belfast and to everyone involved who support this great drive for collaborative success.”

Business events are a hugely important part of the city’s tourism economy because they generate mid-week, year-round, high spending visitors for our venues, hotels, bars, restaurants, transport providers and events supply chain. Conferences and Exhibitions in Northern Ireland were given the all-clear to return on 16 August so this award comes at a crucial time as event planners look to select destinations and plan in-person events.

The award also reflects Belfast’s commitment to the conference and events industry and to adapting fast to changing needs in the marketplace, which was confirmed by C&IT’s expert panel of judges who commented “…Belfast has always confounded expectations, building a tourism and events enterprise which now captures the attention of the global travel and events industry as a resilient destination that has adjusted and innovated to meet latest market demands.”

Earlier this year, Belfast was confirmed the official host city for the One Young World Summit in 2023 – a global forum for around 2,000 young leaders – following a competition of eight global city candidates from across five continents.

Since the start of the pandemic, Visit Belfast, in partnership with its venues and accommodation partners, worked hard to safeguard existing event bookings while also targeting new business events for the years ahead. Since March 2019, it has successfully retained 103 high-value future events and secured 15 new events that will deliver a combined £81 million by 2028, clearly demonstrating the high economic impact and importance of the sector to the city economy.

Visit Belfast’s Director of Business Development, Rachael McGuickin, said the C&IT award will help to ensure Belfast remains firmly on the global map for major business events and that Visit Belfast’s business tourism team were on track to confirm £30m of new business by 21/22 for future years.

“Working closely with our funders and partners, we have an ambitious strategy to lead the business events industry through recovery and growth and this award could not have come at a better time as we ramp up our sales and marketing activity across all markets. This prestigious industry acknowledgement is a big advantage for Belfast and it could not have achieved without the collective hard work, innovation and support shown by our funders Belfast City Council and Tourism Northern Ireland, as well as our hospitality and tourism industry partners.”

ICC Belfast, the city’s £30 million purpose-built international convention centre, was Highly Commended in the ‘Best Venue’ category at this year’s annual C&IT awards, reflecting its team’s dedication to creating innovative solutions for clients that have seen it continue to deliver a range of events that have reached global audiences.

Oonagh O’Reilly, Director of Sales and Marketing at ICC Belfast, said:

“We are absolutely delighted to be Highly Commended in the Best Venue category at this year’s C&IT Awards. Over the past year, our dedicated team has worked hard to create innovative solutions and we have held over 30 hybrid and virtual events that have been viewed over 250,000 times by audiences based globally. It’s a massive achievement for the whole team at ICC Belfast, and we look forward to delivering many more world-class events, both in person and virtually.”

“Despite being faced with unprecedented challenges over the past year, ICC Belfast has continued to deliver immersive experiences and unique hybrid events, including the 2021 Annual Congress of the European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (EABCT). This multi-day European conference was fully hybrid, offering delegates greater flexibility whether they chose to join us remotely or at our COVID-Secure venue.” 

Last week, a £1 million conference support scheme for the tourism industry was unveiled by the Department of Economy’s Tourism Minister Gordon Lyons to provide an attractive incentive for conference organisers to bring their events to Northern Ireland.

Launched in partnership with Tourism Northern Ireland, Visit Belfast, Visit Derry, Belfast City Council and Derry and Strabane District Council, the scheme is part of the Tourism Recovery Action Plan and is aimed at securing business events for Northern Ireland.