Tourism Promotion

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 22nd March 2022.

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Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP 3:00 pm, 22nd March 2022

5. Mrs Erskine asked the Minister for the Economy to outline the work undertaken by his Department to promote Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. (AQO 3237/17-22)

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

By the end of this financial year, my Department will have invested over £12 million through Tourism NI to consistently and heavily promote Northern Ireland as a leading tourism destination across multiple campaigns and initiatives. I was pleased to secure an additional £8 million in the January monitoring round to support tourism marketing campaigns in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and Europe, including a comprehensive cooperative marketing campaign with airlines to highlight the ease of access to Northern Ireland via direct flights.

I have been pleased to engage in working with Tourism Ireland to showcase Northern Ireland on the world stage. In November, I attended the World Travel Market in London, which is the largest business-to-business event in the global tourism calendar, and we supported around 25 companies from Northern Ireland that were participating. Last month, I attended Expo 2022 in Dubai and engaged with industry partners who were participating in Tourism Ireland's 2022 Middle East sales mission. Last week, I was in the US to engage with around 20 top US travel industry and media guests at a Tourism Ireland breakfast round table. I will continue to do all that I can to promote tourism in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

As this is the Minister's last Question Time, I wish him well in the election, and, hopefully, after the election, we will welcome him back to Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

In my constituency, we have welcomed a lot of stay-at-home tourism as a result of the COVID restrictions. While we want to promote Northern Ireland as a place to visit from other countries, how can we also capitalise on that stay-at-home tourism and support the sector to do that, particularly in my beautiful constituency?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Absolutely. I, of course, encourage more home-grown tourism, and I encourage people in Northern Ireland, once they have visited East Antrim, to visit Fermanagh and South Tyrone

[Laughter.]

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

[Inaudible.]

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Mr Storey has something to say about North Antrim as well.

First of all, we can continue to develop the product that we have right across Northern Ireland, and we have not stood still. We continue to invest in attractions, experiences and accommodation. You only have to look at the 'Game of Thrones' exhibit, which is a huge asset to Northern Ireland that will pull in many more visitors, to see that. As I said in my opening answer, we spent £8 million this year on promoting Northern Ireland. Part of that was for the domestic market, and I am keen that we continue to look at the tourists who are on our doorstep to make sure that they are experiencing everything that Northern Ireland has to offer.

We have also taken other steps, and we see how Project Stratum has benefited tourism, because more accommodation providers and more experiences and attractions will now have access to that high-speed fibre broadband, which is critical for being connected in the modern world and in ensuring that we can make the most of what we have to offer.

I am sure that Mrs Erskine will continue, as she has done with me continually, to promote everything that Fermanagh and South Tyrone has to offer. I want everywhere in Northern Ireland to take advantage of what we have to offer to tourists, whether they are from just down the road or from the other side of the world.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

On the subject of tourism just down the road, the Minister will be aware that there has been a significant increase in the number of tourists visiting from the South — the Twenty-six Counties — with an estimated increase of 55% staying overnight, including in Mrs Erskine's constituency, I am sure, and in everyone else's constituency. Therefore, Minister, why do you underfund Tourism Ireland? Under the agreement that is in place, your Department should be providing one third of its funding, but you provide only 15%. You are undercutting local businesses by doing that. Will you commit to supporting Tourism Ireland fully?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Things were going so well yesterday, and Mr O'Dowd was so pleased with the work that I was doing.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I am just trying to be honest with you today.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Of course, the funding arrangement is complex. When the Government in the Republic of Ireland want to give more money and more funds to Tourism Ireland, we might not always be in a position to do so. We might be facing budgetary constraints, so our share will go down. Where possible, I have been able to give money to those campaigns through monitoring rounds or when extra money has become available, particularly to those campaigns that promote Northern Ireland abroad. I want to continue to do that. I see the benefit in making sure that everybody around the world knows about Northern Ireland and knows what we have to offer. I want to be able to give that funding and ensure that Northern Ireland can be promoted.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, most tourists who come to Northern Ireland from overseas do so via the South of Ireland. Dublin Airport is the biggest point of entry into Northern Ireland. With that in mind, did your Department respond to the all-island strategic rail review in order to explore how rebuilding the rail network, which has, unfortunately, been devastated over the past century on this island — we have only one cross-border rail link — could contribute to growing tourism in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I want to see improved connections, whether they are by road, rail or whatever else. I have had discussions and was able to meet representatives from an airline last week in New York, and when I was in the Middle East, I was looking at possibilities of having a direct route out there. I am more than happy to ensure that we get more travellers and tourists into Northern Ireland. Direct air links are one of the ways in which we can improve the connectivity of Northern Ireland to ensure that that can happen and that those who are coming in can take advantage of what Northern Ireland has to offer. I want it to be as easy as possible for visitors to come here, whether that is by road, rail, air or ferry, or whatever it might be, and to experience everything that we have.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

Further to Mr O'Dowd's question, if the Government of Ireland choose to put in additional moneys to Tourism Ireland, what are the implications for its work programme?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

If additional money is given to Tourism Ireland, the implications are that Tourism Ireland can do more work.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

For a different perspective, I ask the Minister what success he has had, since he came into office, in liberating Tourism NI from its satellite subservience to Tourism Ireland? Does he agree that, until that liberation is secured, the promotion of Northern Ireland as a free-standing, delightful tourism attraction will be stultified?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

The Member will be aware that there are certain things that are in my control and certain things that are outside my control. I am operating within the parameters of what has been put in place in the past. I am making sure that Tourism Northern Ireland is doing its job in promoting Northern Ireland. I am speaking constantly to the chief executive of Tourism Ireland about making sure that Northern Ireland gets its fair share, is promoted and is not secondary in any way. That is why, when I was in New York last week at the Tourism Ireland breakfast, I talked about what Northern Ireland has to offer and about everything that we can do to bring more visitors to Northern Ireland.