I thank the Member for the question, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to report on this excellent initiative. WorldHost is an international standard that introduces participants to the principles of customer service and their practical application in hospitality, tourism and retail settings.
A unique feature in Northern Ireland sees part of the training focus on enhancing participants’ understanding and knowledge of their area, encouraging them to take pride in it and equipping them to highlight points of interest to visitors. Northern Ireland has excellent opportunities to showcase to the world what it has to offer. Particularly encouraging news is that Belfast and Derry are pursuing recognition as WorldHost destinations.
I am delighted that my Department has supported WorldHost through working in partnership with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, People 1st and others to deliver WorldHost training. A package of financial support has been provided to enable small- and medium-sized businesses to avail themselves of WorldHost training for £20 per par— par— parcipitant—, with the Department paying the balance of £170. Uptake has been excellent. To date, 3,122 people have participated in training, at a cost of £530,000. I am confident that my Department will meet its target of supporting 7,500 participants by March 2014, which equates to a total funding commitment of £1·275 million.
I am also seeking to be innovative in using WorldHost. The power of the programme to motivate and enthuse participants has been acknowledged. My Department has, therefore, sought to explore its use as a tool in helping young people to engage with education and learning through a pilot exercise for over 500 pupils in collaboration with schools in Derry. Feedback has been most encouraging.
WorldHost is the gold-standard, tried and tested development programme for exemplary customer service. I believe that it can enhance the experience of visitors to Northern Ireland and make an important contribution to our tourism industry.