The tourism industry has been recognised as one of Belfast’s key success stories of the last two decades at Visit Belfast’s 20th Annual General Meeting.

Since Belfast’s official destination marketing organisation was set up in 1999 by Belfast City Council and Tourism Northern Ireland, the city’s tourism economy has grown four-fold, now contributing an annual £395 million to the city economy and supporting over 19,000 jobs.

The public-private partnership organisation, which represents over 500 tourism businesses and services reported that its sales, marketing and visitor servicing activity had contributed £131 million to the economy in 2018-19, delivering a return of £33 for every £1 invested.

Over the last twenty years, the economic, social and cultural face of Belfast has transformed the city into the international destination it is today, thanks to the investment in the tourism sector said Visit Belfast’s outgoing Chair, Dr Howard Hastings OBE:

“The city’s regeneration and revitalisation is attributable, in large measure, to our increasingly vibrant and dynamic tourism industry.

“It’s been a phenomenal tourism journey for Belfast and it’s thanks to organisations including Visit Belfast, Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, and the huge investment from the private sector that we’ve seen huge growth in the visitor numbers and economic benefit over the last 20 years.”

With its 500-plus tourism partner businesses, Visit Belfast’s sales, marketing and visitor servicing activity have helped put Belfast firmly on the international tourism map, inspiring hundreds of thousands of visitors to visit each year – and these efforts have seen Belfast’s share of the Northern Ireland tourism economy increase, now contributing 44 percent of the entire region’s visitor spend.

Visit Belfast’s sales and marketing activity brought people from right across the world to Belfast, generating over 660,000 bed nights and welcoming over 275,000 cruise visitors; and once here, its Visitor Servicing team handled almost 880,000 tourist enquiries ensuring visitors made the most of their time here.

Reporting on the last year and the tourism successes of the last two decades, Visit Belfast Chief Executive, Gerry Lennon, added:

“It’s been an incredibly exciting and busy two decades for Belfast and our tourism industry. During that time, we’ve seen the city flourish with new attractions, new experiences, new hotels and an ever-increasing list of reasons to visit.  No longer a Cinderella industry, tourism is now established a key contributor to the city’s social and economic fabric.

“Visit Belfast continues to promote Belfast as an exciting city break, group tour, conference, day trip and cruise destination. Our activity is focused on driving visitor demand and delivering a mix of customers balanced throughout the week and throughout the year.

“Last year, our efforts delivered a series of targeted marketing campaigns in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Europe, which generated £48 million to the city economy, secured 112 conference wins worth an estimated £52 million, and welcomed 146 cruise ships to the city carrying 276,000 visitors.”

In his first address as Visit Belfast Chair, Michael Williamson said that indications are that 2019 is shaping up to be another successful year for the city and region.

“In the first nine months of the year, over one million hotel rooms were sold in Belfast – that’s up 7 percent up on last year, and over 6 million air passengers have travelled through our airports. However, continued growth is not guaranteed, and the environment we operate in is as volatile as it has ever been.

“Visit Belfast will continue its commitment to partnership and collaboration, supporting the city’s ambition to be a top-ranking international tourism destination for both leisure and business visitors.”

“I would like to thank Howard Hastings for his input into the development and direction of Visit Belfast during his Chairmanship over the last three and a half years – I am very much looking forward to taking on the role of Visit Belfast Chair, and seeing tourism continue to drive prosperity for Belfast and those that live and work here.”