The tourism strategy has been working its way though my Department. Like the industrial strategy, it has been nearing the point where it could be published for some time. Obviously, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it is impossible to get Executive agreement, so it would not be an Executive strategy. I intend to discuss with officials what might be possible. In fact, there has been communication with Tourism NI to see whether we can bring it forward with officials in the Department, because it is important, no matter what is happening politically, that we continue not only to give a clear signal on the direction of travel for the economy through an industrial strategy but to improve our tourism, which has been performing incredibly well in recent times.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Is it not more accurate to say that the previous Executive failed to agree a tourism strategy, as have this Executive? We have come out of the Year of Food and Drink; we are four months from the Irish Open in Portstewart; and we are two years from the British Open in Portrush. Is this not evidence of failure? Do you recognise that the 2021 anniversary — 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland — should also acknowledge the many who regret the partition of Ireland, as well as the many who celebrate the creation of Northern Ireland?
Quite a few. I regret that, because of circumstances, the tourism strategy will not be agreed by the Executive. Sinn Féin's walking away from the Executive has made that impossible. It has also obviously walked away from proceedings today; I am disappointed that my Question Time was not even enough to draw them back into the Chamber this afternoon. That is deeply disappointing.
I will look at how we can bring forward the tourism strategy in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Let us not fall into the position, or belief, that the absence of a tourism strategy will inhibit tourism. It would help in setting clear targets and in focusing on key goals, but tourism in Northern Ireland has been a success story. Indeed, figures recently published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) for the year ending September 2016 show that visitor spend in Northern Ireland is now at £821 million, 74% of which comes from external visitors, at just over £600 million. That is a 10% increase in overall spend year on year.
We now have 4·6 million visitors coming to Northern Ireland annually. Importantly, external visitors are up by 8% to 2·5 million, the highest on record. There is also a 10% increase in bed spaces sold. As I mentioned in response to Mrs Cameron's question, we have seen that reflected in air passenger flows going up at Belfast International and Belfast City airports.
I do not consider tourism in Northern Ireland to be a failure. I regret that the Executive have not been able to agree a tourism strategy, because of the circumstances that we are in, but tourism continues to go from strength to strength. I believe that, with some of the events that the Member mentioned, it will continue to do so.