Tourism: Potential and Promotion

Oral Answers to Questions — Enterprise, Trade and Investment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP 3:15 pm, 9th February 2016

T3. Mr Lyons asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for his assessment of Northern Ireland’s tourism potential and to state the actions his Department has taken to promote tourism here. (AQT 3473/11-16)

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

Tourism in Northern Ireland is going from strength to strength. I think that the last set of figures that I looked at showed that it is worth £751 million, and we intend to grow it to a £1 billion industry by 2020. I get very encouraged when I hear about 81 cruise ships coming into Northern Ireland and when I see statistics saying that 2·53 million people are visiting Titanic Belfast. I am also very encouraged to hear that, as I announced on Friday, 100 major Chinese tour operators are coming to visit Northern Ireland in the next number of weeks. The potential of that is absolutely huge. I had them down at Mount Stewart, and they were, quite frankly, blown away with what they could offer. They were telling me that they could surely attract significant numbers of Asian tourists, who are in one of the biggest markets in the world, to Northern Ireland.

Of course, I know that the Gobbins cliff path is in the Member's constituency. That is a feature. When you put it alongside Titanic Belfast, the Geopark in the west and Mount Stewart and combine them, you see why we have a unique tourism offering in Northern Ireland and why I am confident that we should achieve our target of a £1 billion industry by 2020.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I am very pleased that the Minister highlighted the Gobbins cliff path as one of the attractions in our constituency. It is great to hear that so many good things are happening within tourism at the minute, but we do have a slight problem. An awful lot of people go to Titanic Belfast and then perhaps up to the north coast. Would it not be a good idea for more tourists to go via the east Antrim coast to visit Carrickfergus, the Antrim coast road and the Gobbins cliff path? Will the Minister agree to work with and meet Mid and East Antrim Borough Council so that we can work out how we can maximise the tourist potential of that area?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

I will, of course, meet the council. The Member was with me the previous occasion we met the council specifically on the tourism initiative. I will continue to work with the council because I want all of Northern Ireland to benefit from the tourism that comes in.

We have found that, when people come and visit us, they like it. They come back and want to bring their family and friends. Part of our challenge is to make sure that they come and visit us specifically. The whole Causeway coastal route is worthy of international appeal, and it has been identified as an area for growth for visitor numbers and for spend.

When you add the other things that are going on on the periphery, you can see things like the huge success of 'Game of Thrones' tourism. The Irish Open in 2015 had 107,000 paying spectators, and we will get the Irish Open back in 2017. We will also have one of the biggest tournaments in the world, The Open, in 2019. You can compare those with things like the Women's Rugby World Cup. My Department is putting a lot of strength into trying to attract the Rugby World Cup to Ireland, which has the potential to bring some 350,000 rugby supporters here, and into working on how we can maximise that benefit for Northern Ireland. When you look at that, you will see that we can all be encouraged by the tourism offering.