The Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance will provide a single, strong body to champion the industry, push tourism higher up the Government agenda, and create a more favourable climate for growth and success.
Chief Executive Officer, Doreen McKenzie describes the new organisation as ‘a much-needed and long-awaited asset for a sector which, historically, has never benefited from having a fully representative industry body to reflect its interests and provide a focal point for engagement’.
Speaking at the launch – the first corporate event to be hosted in Hastings Hotels’ new £53m Grand Central Hotel in the heart of Belfast – Ms McKenzie reinforced the current successes and future potential of tourism. “After a decade of fast-paced development, tourism last year contributed a record-breaking £926 million to the Northern Ireland economy and, despite inevitable challenges, that upward trajectory seems set to continue, making this initiative as timely as it is important,” she said.
Vice Chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance, Don Wilmont, added, “As a mature industry, we have earned the right to be listened to… and we now have the vehicle we need to make our opinions count on major strategic issues which will include everything from the UK’s exit from the European Union and the ongoing uncertainty of the economic climate to the industry’s overall competitiveness.
“This is a two-way street for communications and progress. Having one credible voice for tourism means that we can more powerfully claim the attention of our key audiences, notably within Government … but Government will also find it much easier to speak to tourism providers now that there is a single representative body.”
The Steering Group which, at the behest of Tourism NI, originally examined the need for a representative organisation and which laid the foundations for the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance was adamant that the new body should be led by the private sector. That direction is evident in a membership which already includes many of the biggest players in passenger transport, accommodation and hospitality, regional tourism partnerships, ports, airports, specialist retail and visitor services.
Membership of the Alliance also includes local authorities which are pivotal in setting the strategic agenda and vision for tourism in their respective regions as well as providing visitor infrastructure, Tourist Information Centres, major attractions, including key events.
Don Wilmont concluded, “Ultimately our credibility and power as the ‘voice of the industry’, will be determined by our capacity to work in partnership to achieve our goals and we are hugely encouraged by the positive response we have already received to the launch of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance.”
The organisation’s first initiative has been a formal response, drawn up by Oxford Economics, to the Government consultation process on the issues of VAT, Air Passenger Duty (APD) and tourism in Northern Ireland.
Doreen McKenzie says, “Coming together under the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance umbrella has enabled us to show a determined and united front as, fully supported by well-considered independent research, we reinforce the absolute need for change and investment on these key issues.
“Now that the tourism industry has finally found its voice, don’t expect us to whisper!”