A mentoring project aimed at ensuring longer-term sustainability for tourism businesses in Northern Ireland has been described as an “instrumental support programme” following completion of its latest phase.
Funded by Tourism NI, the Kickstart programme provided almost 630 mentoring days to 45 businesses in four main areas including financial and business model restructuring, digital innovation, recruitment and talent development and sustainability.
The programme, which provides free access to a range of independent expert advice and support, was initially launched in October 2021 to drive innovation, sustainability and competitiveness amongst tourism businesses as the industry worked to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those who took part in the second phase of the programme, who had to meet eligibility criteria, collectively attract more than three million visitors per year and employ 4,000 full-time staff.
The most reported concerns for the businesses involved, prior to engagement with the programme, were increasing costs, high VAT, cash flow issues, availability of funding, financial stability and recruitment and retention.
Through the programme, expert independent mentors were able to support the businesses by delivering activities in areas including the review of existing business models, recruitment and retention support, and sustainability policies.
Eimear Callaghan, Head of Experience & Industry Development at Tourism NI, which invested £890,000 in the second phase of the programme, said: “Tourism NI’s Kickstart Programme has provided tangible expert support to more than 40 businesses this year, focusing on some of the many challenges facing the sector including operational effectiveness and the pressing need to be more sustainable.
“This support will enable Northern Ireland businesses to compete more effectively and continue their recovery in what continues to be a very challenging operating environment”.
Didi Baxter, who owns Rostrevor Holidays and who took part in the Kickstart programme, said it had been an “incredibly helpful resource”.
“The expert independent support provided through the programme has allowed me to address critical business decisions and ensure longer-term sustainability,” she said.
“The programme’s focus on financial and business model restructuring, digital innovation and productivity is exactly what my business needs to navigate the challenges of the Covid-19 recovery period.
“I highly recommend this programme to any eligible tourism business in Northern Ireland seeking free access to advisory and mentoring support”.
Catherine McKeever, from Long Meadow Cider in Portadown in Co Armagh, said she found the programme had “provided some valuable help and support for our family business and highlighted key areas which we are now working on.
“We are delighted to have been part of it”.
Tiarnan O’Neill, Finance Director with the Galgorm Collection, said Kickstart “continues to be an instrumental support programme, providing us with external support to help us inform critical business decisions and implement recovery action plans across four key business areas.
“This will ensure that our business is in the best position and to ensure long-term sustainability”.
Belinda Hunter, Operations and Visitor Experience Officer at The Linen Hall Library, which also took part in the programme, described the support provided by Kickstart as “invaluable”.
“The marketing training was eye opening as we didn’t realise until pointed out that we already have most of the right things in place being a library, museum and archive with events to share knowledge, we just need to let people know what we are doing,” she said.
“The carbon footprint calculation and resource audit with SDS is a fantastic resource as it gives us a path for what we need to do to move towards net zero and grants for funding which will enable us to implement what is needed.
“As we are a charity with limited funds the Kickstart project was invaluable to us”.