Following further changes to coronavirus restrictions by the Northern Ireland Executive on 29 July, Visit Belfast Chief Executive, Gerry Lennon, said:

“The latest announcement by the Northern Ireland Executive brings welcome news that fully vaccinated EU or US visitors will not need to self-isolate when coming to Northern Ireland from Monday, and that we will see the restart of international cruises from 31 July in NI, both of which are important steps forward in alignment of Covid travel rules with England, Scotland and Wales.

“However, while public health rightly remains the priority, the further delay of the return of conferences and exhibitions, is deeply disappointing.

“In 2019/20, Visit Belfast secured conferences and events worth an estimated £45m to the local economy. As the tourism industry continues to reopen and begins to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, conferences, meetings and events will play a vital role. This segment of the tourism industry provides mid-week business for our hotels, and importantly is year-round, particularly supporting the industry in the quieter “off-season”.

“Since March 2020, Visit Belfast has been working with conference organisers to reschedule events, or pivot to hybrid or virtual events in order to retain the business for the city. As restrictions ease and the industry is able to welcome visitors back to Belfast and Northern Ireland, it is crucial that we can host conferences in Belfast once more in order to rebuild city tourism and protect local businesses and jobs.

“From August to December this year, 19 conferences from the UK, Ireland and Europe are scheduled to take place in Belfast, worth an estimated £5m to the local economy, and it is our hope that the NI Executive is in a position on 12 August to allow the return of conferences so these events can proceed as planned.”