[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair] — Tourism (Northern Ireland)

– in Westminster Hall at 12:00 am on 17th May 2006.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister (Defence) 9:30 am, 17th May 2006

I welcome the opportunity presented by this debate. It gives us the chance not only to examine the potential of Northern Ireland as a tourist destination but to ask why more has not been done to maximise opportunities for tourism. I am sure that the new Minister is quickly coming to terms with her brief, but if she is not already aware of this, she will quickly learn how much Northern Ireland has to offer, both today and thereafter.

We have the natural resources to attract people for city breaks, weekend breaks and for longer stays, and it is essential that they know what is on offer, where it is, and how to benefit from it. We have much in the way of natural resources. Northern Ireland may not be the prime target for those seeking a two-week holiday in the sun— [Laughter]—but it is undoubtedly a fantastic place for short, and even not so short stays. I do not know why my colleagues are laughing; anyone would think that it occasionally rained in Northern Ireland.

Last weekend saw one of the largest and most spectacular outdoor events anywhere in the United Kingdom—the North West 200 motorbike races. The event lasted five days, and more than 100,000 people were attracted to it. Of course, I would be promoting that event, because it takes place in my constituency, on the north coast. None the less, it was a spectacular event and millions more saw it on satellite television. That is but a small indication of what can be achieved throughout the Province.

Because of our history and geography, our culture and our sport, Northern Ireland can offer attractions that cannot be found elsewhere in the United Kingdom. With a more peaceful environment and greater access to the Province through the better transport links that we now enjoy, we should be able to attract even more visitors, not only from Great Britain but from the Irish Republic, Europe and beyond.

Tourism is one sector in which we have lagged behind the others parts of the UK and our neighbours in the Republic, but that is finally beginning to change. Belfast has begun to discover itself as a prime venue for city breaks. Indeed, in the past two weeks both Portrush and the mountains of Mourne have featured in UK-wide competitions as the most desirable places to visit. It could be said that Northern Ireland's tourist time has arrived.

We are home to some of the most scenic areas in the UK. We have nine areas of outstanding natural beauty, and we hope that more will be added to the list. We have some of the finest fishing waters in the British isles, and we have the potential to develop a market catering for those interested in specific activity holidays. The development of such holidays—especially golfing or fishing—will spread the benefits of tourism beyond the cities.

I have not yet mentioned the giant's causeway, but despite the famously reported comments of Samuel Johnson, it is worth going to see it. All those assets mean that Northern Ireland has a natural resource base upon which tourism can be promoted. Although the problems of the past 36 years have resulted in us lagging behind historically, I believe that we havethe potential to develop tourism immensely in the foreseeable future.

The job of marketing Northern Ireland falls primarily to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. I believe that that organisation can do much more to improve the marketing of Northern Ireland, both to those who live close to the product and to those overseas. In any attempt to market a product, even one as excellent as ours, it is important to create a distinct brand identity. I believe that NITB needs to work to carve out that distinct identity—one showing that we are not just another part of the island of Ireland, to which people may take a day trip while staying in the Republic, but a destination worth coming to in its own right. That time spent will, of course, mean money spent in hotels, shops and restaurants, and ultimately the improvement of the overall economy for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Part of that distinct identity has to be rooted in the culture and traditions of the Province. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I will mention some cultural events and traditions with which I am familiar, which offer huge potential for tourism. If the Northern Ireland product is marketed solely from an "Irish" perspective, many visitors will, unsurprisingly, see the potential for exploring that Irishness from the Republic of Ireland, and will see little added value to be gained from coming to our country.

In my home city of Londonderry, the Maiden City festival is a very successful sequence of cultural events, held for a week every August to celebrate the relief of the city from the longest siege in British military history. It is a pioneering festival, which has led the way to this kind of tourism. Moreover, it has grown and developed despite a level of funding far below that granted to other events such as the West Belfast festival, although it is the type of event that is cherished and developed by tourism bodies across the globe. That example must be developed and replicated in other parts of Northern Ireland.

Throughout July and August, the Orange Institution and other groups have begun to take steps to help develop and market the commemorations and parades that they organise. They hold activities around them in order better to explain their history and significance,as well as to attract a wider audience. The July commemorations are some of the largest cultural displays seen not just in the British Isles but beyond. They are all organised and held with very little Government support or funding. Indeed, on occasion the NITB treats those events as unavoidable irritants. There is a sense that it includes such cultural events in passing, simply because they are difficult to ignore, but there is no real effort to develop the tourist trade surrounding them. I would like that to change, with the tourist board working in a real partnership with the organisers of those large-scale events to market them and exploit their full economic potential.

We have a rich history, which has not always been marketed to the wider international audience—and I now turn to what is known as the Ulster-Scots tradition, sometimes referred to in America as the Scots-Irish tradition. Yet when most Americans think of researching their ancestry and their roots, they more often than not look to the Republic of Ireland, and not to the region that history most definitely pinpoints as the area where they would be better off beginning their search.

I recently posed a parliamentary question asking what links there were between NITB and VisitScotland, to target potential visitors from the United States to both Scotland and Northern Ireland. I was informed that there were no such links, except for the usual meetings that would happen between officials in organisations like that. In recent years we have seen the establishment of Tourism Ireland, which has the remit of promoting the tourist potential in both countries on the island of Ireland. However, as is so often the case with such bodies, there appears to be an automatic assumption that the answer to most issues lies in Northern Ireland looking south. Yet Rabbie Burns country is as close to Larne as it is to Lanarkshire, so the NITB should look east as wellas south.

My party and I have made it clear that we have no objection whatever to north-south co-operation where it is practical and brings a benefit. There will be some issues within tourism where that will obviously be the case. However, for many other aspects, there are east-west links that equal or far outweigh any north-south promotional links. The Government must take that issue seriously and start to put together official structures that recognise those deep cultural and historical links—in this case, to develop tourism and the wider economy.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board should develop a specific Northern Ireland brand, and there needs to be acceptance in Tourism Ireland that Northern Ireland has a clear and distinct culture. That needs to be exemplified even when it comes to a very basic matter such as the commissioning, supply and promotion of mementos and souvenirs that reflect that ethos. If people look through information on the events and activities that Tourism Ireland promotes, they will find much devoted to Irish literature and culture; it is only very recently—within the last 18 months—that Ulster-Scots music and culture has featured at all.

I have made some criticism of the NITB today, but its recent publication of the proposed cultural and heritage tourism action plan is to be welcomed as a step in the right direction. The plan at least recognises some aspects of Ulster-Scots culture and associated aspects such as the plantation. I urge the Minister and the NITB to develop that process and carry forward those ideas, which could help to turn around some of the problems that I have outlined. Those ideas could also be allied with the focus on what Northern Ireland has offered to countries such as the United States, where there is a rich history to be explored and explained to many Americans who are interested in their heritage. That could not only lead to the promotion of tourism links between the United States and Northern Ireland, but could aid the economy and help to build economic links between the United States and Northern Ireland.

With Tourism Ireland, however, we start from a significantly lower base. There must be a cultural change in that organisation so that it recognises the product that it is helping to sell and the uniqueness of that product. Unfortunately, on some occasions, nationalists in Northern Ireland have focused on the political gain that they perceive is made through the establishment of a body such as Tourism Ireland, rather than on the fact that it is failing the area that they should want to be served. I hope that we can all unite in wanting to see a significant improvement today and in the future.

I stress that we have a massive marketing opportunity. It presents itself now, but will not last long. Northern Ireland will be featured next year in the Smithsonian Institution's annual folklife festival in Washington DC. That will be an opportunity for Northern Ireland to present itself on one of the biggest stages in the world. Millions of people go to that festival every July, and next July Northern Ireland will be centre stage. We have the opportunity to express to those millions of people the desire and the hope that they will come to the festival next July. I hope that the opportunity presented by the festival will be used to develop some of the themes that I have outlined, and that it will show the American public in particular what Northern Ireland has contributed to the development of their own nation, as well as building links for the future. The London Olympics in 2012 will also give Northern Ireland a tremendous opportunity to attract those who are visiting the games, as well as offering training for competitors. That applies to the United States and to other nations.

The Government, of course, cannot be held responsible for the weather—I hesitate to mention the weather again, because it seemed to cause much merriment earlier.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister (Defence)

We will endeavour to see whether we can transport some of the water that we have in Northern Ireland to the south-east of England. That would be an excellent way to promote east-west relations, although it might be somewhat expensive. However, other important issues can be given priority to develop a tourism industry with a lot to offer. It can deliver much, but it needs a promotional push to takeit forward.

Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon 9:45 am, 17th May 2006

May I say what a pleasure it is to speak before you, Mr. Martlew? I give you my best regards for your football team's performance in winning the championship this year.I welcome the debate—[Interruption.] It is halfwayto Belfast.

I thank Mr. Campbell for securing the debate today. I agree with a lot of what he said, particularly the fact that we cannot look at the situation in Northern Ireland as just an add-on to what is happening in the Irish tourist industry. It is different in many ways, and we should recognise, appreciate, respect and promote that difference.

I bring apologies from Sir Patrick Cormack, Chair of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. The Committee has agreed to look next at what is happening in the tourist industry.

I shall speak about my experiences, which go back almost 20 years. Despite having a grandmother born in County Cork, I never managed to get to Ireland until the summer of 1989. I had just been made redundant from the coal mines, and my 68-year-old father and I decided that it would be good fun to go camping. We camped in south-west Scotland, and while we were there we saw an advert for a day trip to the Bushmills distillery, which is quite a long way from Kirkcudbright. It meant waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning, getting to Stranraer for 6 o'clock, taking a three-hour ferry trip and then hitting the road, going around the coast to Ballycastle.

Ballycastle was the first place in Northern Ireland where I spent any time, and if I do one thing before I die, it will be to go back there and take the boat to Rathlin island, which I understand is a very impressive place. Perhaps we could build that into the Northern Ireland Committee's itinerary.

We went to the Bushmills distillery, my father being something of an expert on whiskey. He was certainly an expert in how much he could drink. I do not know about quality, but he certainly understood quantity. That made the bus drive back to Belfast very interesting.

That was the start of a lot of happy trips to Northern Ireland. My old man and I used to go together and just bum around. We would take the car with no idea where we were going, stopping by the roadside, in hostels and in bed and breakfasts—whatever suited.

There was one occasion when I was more worried than on any other. My dad was what I would call a quiet-man republican. He believed in the cause, he sang the songs and he had the craic, but he did not have very good political antennae. One night, we were welcomed into a British Legion—I cannot remember whether it was in Portrush or Portstewart—by an old man wearing a white tuxedo with the biggest bow tie I had ever seen in my life. I said to my dad, "If you start singing republican songs in here, you're dead." Thankfully, he concentrated more on playing dominoes than on singing that night.

Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon

Absolutely.

Despite the fun that we had, it was a worrying time. Daft things happened. My car had a Great Britain registration; were we in danger? We were stopped at checkpoints and when crossing the border. The sight of watchtowers and of helicopters in the air was not something that we were used to, although over the years I have come to know that my Northern Ireland colleagues had to live with it day in and day out for far too long.

In 1993, I became a member of the national executive committee of the trade union Unison. During my time there, I worked with people in Northern Ireland and had many happy times trying to find a way forward in the peace process for working people over there. One of my happiest memories is of 1996, when we had a conference in Newcastle, County Down at the Slieve Donard hotel. I recommend it to everyone. They should go there, too, before they die.

We also stayed in Kilkeel. We decided to make a holiday of it—we had gone across there and the union had paid, so we thought we might as well stay. We visited a place called the silent valley. If there is a more appropriately named place on this earth, I do not know what it is. It is for those who want real solitude. We could see the town below us, but we could not hear a thing. I would recommend it to anyone. It is an absolutely fantastic place.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the lakes in Ireland and the giant's causeway. That is one of Ireland's most visited places. So it should be, and so should other places like it—but the greatest reason to go to Northern Ireland is the people. They are genuine people, hospitable and warm. It does not matter what part of the country they come from; all of them make people feel welcome. Like me, and like some other people in the House, they come from a tradition of hard times and hard work. They have the attitude, "We don't have very much, but we'll share it with you." That is one of the greatest reasons to go there.

The place is now completely different from how it was 20 years ago—thanks in no small part to the people sitting in this room. Northern Ireland is vibrant, buzzing and alive. It has a positive future and our Government will play a major role in that future. There are new opportunities. There is now what I would call the "terrorist trail" in Northern Ireland—going round and viewing the murals. For people who have never been, that is probably one of the things that they most want to see, but there is so much more than that, and I hope that people will tap into it.

Last week that well-known entrepreneur, my hon. Friend Mr. Hepburn, organised a tour of the historic pubs of Belfast for us the night before the sitting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The event was purely investigatory—nothing else—but it was really interesting. That sort of trip has become an opportunity for people working in the tourist industry in Belfast, and shows visitors a whole new side of the place. The other good thing is that, as we were waiting for the plane at Newcastle airport at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, we noticed that the traffic was two-way. Geordies were going to Belfast and Belfast people were coming across to Newcastle. That is good for ourcountry and for working together, and there is now a lot of hope.

The Committee is conducting an investigation into organised crime, and last week we split into two groups. Some of us flew to Crossmaglen, which is the only way for security staff to get in there. It was worrying to arrive by helicopter, walk out of the front door of the police station, look down the street at a beautiful village square and know that the people in the station would almost certainly not dare to go out there unattended. The good news, however, is that watchtowers are coming down and last year, for the first time in 26 years, the police started patrols, albeit in armoured vehicles, from the road to Newtownhamilton, so in a sense things are improving.

After the Committee produces its current report we will begin an investigation into tourism. We hope that what we come out with will promote the good news and build on the advice, information and evidence that we have seen. We want to do justice to the situation, and as part of that, we are going to Northern Ireland on 12 July to look at cultural activities that many of us have never been involved in before.

Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon

I am looking forward to that—and I hope that I can get a hat big enough to wear.

To a certain extent, I have been involved in Irish politics for a long time, and I am not naive enough to believe that what has happened this week is anything more than a tentative start. Colleagues, both those in this Chamber and others in Northern Ireland, have got together to move forward, I hope, but we cannot move forward on terrorism, the peace process or anything else unless we are clear about three things. In our democratic society, there is no room for terrorists, criminals or wreckers. We do not want any of those people. We want to work together and, by using the tourism angle, we have a chance to build a new future not only for the people of Northern Ireland but for the people of the whole United Kingdom. I hope that the Government play their part in a big way, and that we will be led in this work by the people of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:53 am, 17th May 2006

I am pleased to follow Mr. Anderson, who has done as good a job as the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has done—it will probably offer him some commission for the adverts that he has given us today. I noted what he said about the people of Northern Ireland—but I have to say that if his dad had started singing republican songs in the British legion in Portstewart, he might have had to revise his opinion somewhat.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Campbell on securing this important debate. As has been mentioned, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will investigate tourism and we intend to spend some time sampling some of the tourist delights. It will be hard work, of course, and certainly not a junket or a holiday. We will discover some of the things that the hon. Member for Blaydon mentioned.

I want to reinforce the final point that the hon. Gentleman made. If tourism is to be developed in Northern Ireland, it is essential that we put the past of terrorism and criminality behind us. The Government and everyone in the Chamber have an important part to play in pushing those who are reluctant, and still look over their shoulders at their past and want to keep some connections with that past, towards democratic behaviour.

Tourism in Northern Ireland has the potential to achieve one of the objectives that the Secretary of State has rightly said is important if the economy of Northern Ireland is to develop. It will help to move Northern Ireland from public sector dependence to a greater emphasis on the private sector. It is significant that tourism is now the fourth largest private sector employer in Northern Ireland, and it has great potential if we use the tools we have at our disposal to help it to grow even more.

The magnet for tourism, of course, is the city of Belfast. Nearly 70 per cent. of those who come to Northern Ireland come through Belfast and stay there at some stage. We have to recognise that if that isthe magnet, attention should be paid to that part of the market. However, I represent a constituency on the edge of Belfast that opens up a different dimension, away from weekend city breaks—towards the natural heritage of Northern Ireland along the Antrim coast and the glens, the built heritage of Carrickfergus with its historic castle, walls and churches and the associated pageants, or the natural heritage, coastline and wildlife and opportunities for bird watching, walking and so on presented by the Antrim glens.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry pointed out that there is an east-west dimension to tourism. The town of Larne, which I represent, presents the gateway to the western coast of Scotland, through which nearly 600,000 people come every year to Northern Ireland as tourists. That is an important link that needs to be developed. It is significant that the strategic transport plan published recently by the Scottish Parliament does not even mention that gateway and that link. That is one of the reasons why we must emphasise the importance and potential—not only for us but for Scotland and the north-west of England—of that gateway and the way in which it can help develop tourism in both parts of the United Kingdom.

However, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, and the first is promotion. Two thirds of the budget spent on promoting tourism goes to Tourism Ireland, which promotes the island as a whole but does not specifically promote Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that there is a need to promote both Northern Ireland and southern Ireland on the international stage and I also accept that many people who come to southern Ireland will eventually come to Northern Ireland. The flaw is that with no specific reference to Northern Ireland in much of the promotional material, on which two thirds of the budget is spent, a huge gap is left. It is significant that if there is to be any specific reference to Northern Ireland in the promotional material, extra money has to be paid. We have not sufficiently grasped that.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board does its own promotion of Northern Ireland, of course. On top of that, local councils do some promotion. That creates a difficulty, which I find in my constituency with people who have bed and breakfasts, for example, or hotels. Much of the private sector is at the small business end of the economy. Those people do not know who to go to. Which agency should they focus on to promote their product? Should they go to Tourism Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board or their local council? At what level should they pitch and promote their particular facilities? That needs some attention.

Of course we need an overall strategy, and I believe that that is best done by the big agencies that operate on a world-wide platform. Once that platform has been created, we must look at ways of outsourcing it so that it is friendly to particular areas in Northern Ireland. The review of public administration and the creation of larger councils offer an opportunity to do that, and I see no reason, other than perhaps job insecurity, why the Northern Ireland Tourist Board should not outsource the promotion of what is available locally to the larger local authorities. That at least would provide a local connection between the small businesses involved in tourism and the local agencies, which are better placed to know what is available.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry pointed out, because much of the development and growth of tourism takes place in rural areas, it can be environmentally sensitive. That tends to create difficulties in applying for planning permission. In the last three weeks there have been instances of such difficulties in my constituency. For example, an individual who sells fishing licences—fishing is a big tourism sector in Northern Ireland—operates in a small village off the main road, but bureaucracy in the Roads Service prevents him from putting up a sign pointing to where people may get a fishing licence so that they can enjoy that aspect of tourism. For the same reason, bed and breakfasts off the main road are also prevented from highlighting their location.

We have to be sensitive to that. There might be regulations, and we do not want road sides cluttered with a host of signs, but if we are to promote tourism, agencies such as the Roads Service in Northern Ireland need to be more sensitive to the need to promote businesses in that way.

Then we come to planning. Only last week, I spoke to someone who had diversified from farming into holiday cottages, had turned three of the farm outhouses into holiday cottages and was booked up throughout the year—even in the winter. That person wanted to add another cottage, but because of the area in which it would have been placed, even though it was within the curtilage of the farmyard, they were having to fight the planners. Again, the authorities were applying the planning rules too rigidly rather than considering the potential for further diversification in the countryside, and the further promotion of alternative sources of employment now that farming is in decline, especially in some of the hill areas.

A major project involving a disused quarry just outside the town of Larne in my constituency is fighting for planning permission. A company plans to build a cycle track of international standing and provide various ancillary and associated activities that could attract thousands of people to the area, but already there are planning difficulties. We need more sensitive planning policies if we are to develop tourism, as well as proper training, especially in the hospitality sector. Without that proper training, we will drive tourists away. Those are some of the issues that need to be addressed. Tourism is an important sector of the economy and it must be allowed to grow. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to some of the points made here today.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party 10:04 am, 17th May 2006

I join other hon. Members in congratulating Mr. Campbell on securing this debate. He is my constituency neighbour; indeed, he has the very proud honour of being my constituent. Like me, he lives in a city that should be very attractive as a tourist destination and has great ambitions and aspirations in that regard. It is a city that is well located in a river valley and has much history, some of which the hon. Gentleman touched upon. It is luckily located, with the giant's causeway not very far away on one side, with all that the causeway coast and beyond has to offer, and Donegal and all its riches on the other side. It also has everything that the Sperrins and Erne areas of Fermanagh and Tyrone have to offer. As a tourism region, the north-west of Ireland has much to offer.

In taking forward the opportunities for tourism, we must examine all elements of the tourism industry, including what makes successful tourism experiences in other parts of the world that we visit and in other parts of these islands. As someone who holidays not on the continent but throughout these islands, I am constantly struck when visiting the south-west of England and the south-west of Ireland by the ease of reference from one amenity to another, and by the constant cross-promotion of information on all the different amenities and events. That can be compared with the difficulty that many visitors to Northern Ireland have in finding out even what visitor amenities and attractions are within a 20 or 30-mile radius of where they are staying. There is a lack of integrated information and promotion to give people a good, effective, attractive tourism experience. Too often tourists are left to do much of their own work in finding out what is there.

Councils and others at a local tourism level have been trying to do something about the problem, as have the regional tourism organisations in recent years. They have tried to sell not just one isolated location but a whole region, so that people have plenty to occupy them and a range of experiences over a period of days. Unfortunately, the regional tourism organisations have had their funding cut. They have now been replaced by regional tourism partnerships, which the Government tell us will have a wider brief, but which will also have smaller budgets.

If we are to gear up our tourism and all the sub-regions are to play their part, it is hard to see how they are meant to do so with diminishing Government funding and the loss of some of the European money that has supported tourism projects and initiatives introduced as part of the peace programme, under the heading of seizing the opportunities of peace. There are issues that the Government need to address. It is all very well to produce documents that highlight the room that exists to grow the tourism sector, and show the relatively low tourism figures in Northern Ireland compared with other parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but expansion will not happen unless we invest in it.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry and others raised the role of Tourism Ireland. As one of the people involved in the package of decisions that led to the creation of that company, I stress that it was created not as some sort of political gesture or gimmick but as a marketing company to enhance tourism marketing for the island of Ireland as a whole, and bring more tourists to it. We must all work hard to ensure that tourists who come to the island experience all that it has to offer. It is not just Northern Ireland that believes it sometimes misses out on the tourist traffic that comes to Ireland. Many of the counties in the south, above the Dublin-Galway line, feel that they too miss out, and that not enough of the coach tours take in enough of the whole island. That is not Tourism Ireland's fault; the southern half of the island simply has a well-beaten tourist track and a much more developed tourism infrastructure. That is all the more reason for us to invest more in our infrastructure in the north of the island, and particularly in Northern Ireland.

Some hon. Members present were recently in Killarney, at a meeting of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary body.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

They would probably count in the tourism statistics. [Interruption.] I am sure that Kerry will find a way of counting them as tourists—they are cute at that sort of thing in Kerry. However, the town of Killarney has more hotel beds than the whole of Northern Ireland, which tells us something about the scale of the opportunities that we are missing out on. Given that level of supply, and all the attractions in Killarney, it is obviously not Tourism Ireland's fault that foreign tourists very much want the south-west of Ireland to be part of their experience. We must therefore ensure that we build up our infrastructure, amenities and accommodation so that people know that is worth while being up in the north-west and other parts of the north of Ireland.

As we manage tourism in government terms, we must also tackle the disparate way in which so many tourism issues and visitor attractions are dealt with. When Departments were created on devolution, some of us proposed that tourism should be part of the brief of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, but others argued that it should stay with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Our hope and understanding was that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment would deal with the hospitality sector—that is, hotels—and with selective financial assistance, but that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure would take responsibility for co-ordinating tourism amenities.

Some heritage sites are with the Department of the Environment, while other attractions for tourists and local visitors, such as some of the forests, are with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Many visitor amenities are owned by councils, while other amenities and interpretive centres are owned by arm's length companies, and community and voluntary bodies. They all have very different opening policies, and there is a lack of a clear, integrated information system. The idea was that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure would marshal resources and deal with that side of things, but that never happened, and we have all missed out quite a lot since. There are therefore things that we need to rationalise and fine-tune if we are to determine which parts of the Government relate to and take responsibility for which parts of our tourism potential.

In all this, there is also the question of developing the tourism work force. One problem is that many people do not see the tourism sector as offering a long-term career. In addition, many business players in the sector feel that if they invest in work force development, somebody else or somewhere else will simply poach the fruits of their work. There is therefore a disincentive to such investment, and we need to look at how we can develop and improve our tourism work force properly, because the lack of investment clearly comes through in the tourism experience and perhaps sometimes leaves people who come to parts of Northern Ireland feeling a little less satisfied than they do when they go to other places.

Northern Ireland also needs to understand that as we grow tourism, the tourist trade will include not only the hotels and the bars but the small shops, the cafés and everything else; they are all part of selling the area and providing the information and added direction. Again, we need to develop that sense of awareness. In all that, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and regional tourism partnerships have a strong role to play.

It is wrong for people to create a false tension between the role of a regional body such as the tourist board and the sub-regional bodies, such as the tourism partnerships, and the clear international marketing role of Tourism Ireland. Working all such systems and networks together, we can increase the number of tourists and ensure that they go away with positive experiences and, in turn, bring in more tourists.

Hon. Members have referred to signage. I agree with Sammy Wilson; people with small businesses who are stepping out and saying, "Yeah, we're going to take the risk and invest in the tourism potential of this place," should not find themselves rationed to one brown sign, and having to pick which of three or four perhaps very relevant roads it will be on. That is simply nonsense; people should not lack such basic support and co-operation.

We need to remember that growing our tourism industry will involve a lot of small firms and individuals diversifying, not least in rural areas. As they choose to diversify, make that investment and take that risk, people should not be handicapped by needless regulation and controls, without the assistance that—given all the noises that they hear from all the politicians, not least the Government—they have every right to expect.

I look forward to hearing about how the Government intend to address some of the budgetary issues of tourism support and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's spend in the south of Ireland at the minute. Never mind marketing Ireland north and south together through Tourism Ireland; Northern Ireland has a very ready market to the south.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board's spend in the Republic of Ireland was reduced this year and last, yet big money is about to flow into households in the south of Ireland, as the special savings incentive accounts are maturing. Big money is going to come in; there will be big disposable incomes. People are looking to spend the money in different ways; one has only to look at the Irish newspapers to see how many ads there are for this, that and the other, all based on that big money boost. We could bring in some of the money that is floating about there if people from the south come to Northern Ireland as tourists. But what are we doing? The Northern Ireland Tourist Board's tourist promotion budget in the south is being cut. That seems utter folly.

Again, I ask the Government to think again about how they can better assist what they say they want to assist through sensible and accommodating budgeting.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry) 10:19 am, 17th May 2006

I, too, welcome the new Minister. This is her first encounter with us in an Adjournment debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Campbell on securing this one.

My hon. Friend Sammy Wilson spoke well about tourism in Northern Ireland. He has a reputation—a very decent one, I have to say—for being keen on motorcycles. Your predecessor was given the offer of a lifetime: to jump on the back of my hon. Friend's Harley Davidson—[Interruption.] My understanding is that she was about to take up the offer, but then—[Hon. Members: "She was rescued."] She was moved, and my hon. Friend was very disappointed because he had thought that the two of them could sail off into the sunset along the coast of East Antrim and away round by Larne. As I said, we would give you an insight—

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Order. I am not interested in going on the back of a motorbike, although the Minister may be.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

We could give the Minister an insight into tourism at first hand.

I will be brief; I just want to raise a number of points—more bullet points than anything else—on tourism. Because Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, I believe that we should emphasise the British link more. The British tourism market is worth £74 billion annually, and that is rising, whereas the tourism market in the Irish Republic is worth a mere €4.5 billion. While it is certainly worth getting a slice of that, there is more to be gained by promoting in tourism the Britishness of this part of the island, to get a slice of the £74 billion.

I also wish to emphasise a couple of points to do with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, relating to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Memberfor East Londonderry. In 2005 London attracted27 million visitors with a spending power of more than £9 billion—far more than the value of the entire Irish Republic tourism industry. It is time that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board started promoting the London link and heritage of the city, to tap into that lucrative and growing market. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has on its website a map of Northern Ireland which depicts the city of "Derry" and refers to the "Walled City of Derry". Astonishingly, it also states that the city of Derry is also known as Londonderry, when it should in fact address the city by its proper title of Londonderry, and state that some locals refer to the city by the nickname of Derry. It is wrong that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board does not give Londonderry its proper name, and that should be rectified immediately. There is also no mention on its site of St. Columb's cathedral, which is a massive tourist attraction. That is another thing that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board should examine and rectify.

We should redirect money from politically driven north-southery to invest in the Northern Ireland infrastructure. I believe that between 2005 and 2008 the Government plan to spend some £30 million each and every year on seven separate north-south bodies such as Waterways Ireland, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and the Food Safety Promotion Board. I ask the Social Democratic and Labour party to join the Democratic Unionist party—not literally, but in calling for savings and efficiencies—

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

Yes, that would make news.

I ask the SDLP to join the DUP in calling for savings and efficiencies in the north-south set-up to help fund the Northern Ireland infrastructure. There can beno justification for continuing to spend more than£30 million a year on what is basically a political project aimed at mollycoddling nationalists and republicans. Millions of pounds can be saved from the cross-border budget. Why should roads and railways suffer because money is needed to run bloated cross-border bodies?

I turn now to the international airport in the constituency of my hon. Friend Dr. McCrea. I am sure that he will discuss that point, but I want to refer to it briefly. Secure access to Heathrow is vital for the economic development of Northern Ireland. The Government need to take action and seek changes to the EU rules that will allow protected access to secure the long-term future of our air link.

Northern Ireland recently enjoyed some good news on the air front: new routes have been introduced. They are welcome, but not all the travel needs of passengers will be met, which is why our links to Heathrow remain so important. It provides a gateway to the rest of the world on a scale unmatched by any other UK airport. Our location and lack of direct air services to destinations outside the UK mean that Heathrow is essential for local passengers and businesses—but in recent years, the daily number of Belfast-Heathrow flights has decreased from 15 to just eight, and that situation must be addressed.

Despite all the problems that Northern Ireland has had, we remain a warm and friendly people. In saying that, I am referring not only to members of my own party but to the wider spectrum of the community. We have a great future in tourism. As has been mentioned, we had a meeting yesterday in the Assembly in Northern Ireland involving the Business Alliance. It gave us some startling figures: over the next 10 years we will have to create about 140,000 jobs—an average of 14,000 a year, which will be difficult to achieve. That figure relates to the people who are already up and coming, and does not include people coming from other countries who will try to get jobs. The tourism side can help in that process. As many Members have said, we have work to do, but we are looking forward to it and I have every confidence that the people of Northern Ireland will achieve that aim.

Several hon. Members:

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Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Order. I would like to start the Front-Bench wind-ups at about 10.35 am.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 10:27 am, 17th May 2006

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship,Mr. Martlew. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Campbell on securing this important debate, and I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Minister to her new responsibilities. I look forward to working with her.

I shall not go over many of the arguments that have been put, but I want to deal briefly with several issues. It is a pleasure to listen to the comments made by Mark Durkan. I was born in the city of Londonderry, so I have a fond attachment to that part of the country. My parents live in County Fermanagh, in Ulster's lakelands, so I have good connections there as well. In respect of the tourism industry in Northern Ireland, I have good connections all over.

As a Belfast Member, my prime interest and responsibility relates to the city of Belfast. It has been mentioned that Belfast is the regional driver for tourism in Northern Ireland, and that is very much the case. Visitor numbers have risen between 1995 and 2005. While the number of overnight visitors to Northern Ireland has increased by 19 per cent. during that period, the corresponding figure for Belfast increased by 95 per cent. In those earlier days, Belfast was a byword for troubles, difficulties and all sorts of things, so we are starting from a fairly low base, but those figures show the extent to which it is a major driver in the tourism industry, especially for weekend and overnight visitors who come to the Province.

There is enormous potential. In 2005, it was estimated that Northern Ireland's tourist industry was worth £350 million, whereas the Irish Republic's was worth £2.3 billion. That shows the discrepancy that exists, and hon. Members have mentioned some of the reasons for it—the well-developed infrastructure and all the rest of it. There is enormous potential for the development of tourism to create jobs and economic regeneration in Northern Ireland.

I understand that Dublin is the third most visited city in Europe, in terms of weekend visits and so on. Belfast is coming up the list, but we should be attracting far more visitors to the city. On that front, I am concerned that the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau—one of the main agencies that can help to attract visitors to the city—faces a £1 million cut in funding. I would like the Minister to consider that, because clearly that cut will make it more difficult to attract visitors to the city. That needs to be addressed.

For comparison, 4 per cent. of the Republic of Ireland's gross domestic product is tourism; for Scotland the figure is 6 per cent., and for Northern Ireland it is 2 per cent. We need to develop a vision for tourism in Northern Ireland. Reference was made to the debate in the Assembly yesterday, led by my hon. Friend David Simpson. In that debate, there was mention of the difficulties caused by the large public sector in Northern Ireland, and the challenges that Northern Ireland faces, with the decline in manufacturing industries and so on.

Tourism has enormous potential to create the jobs needed in Northern Ireland, but that potential will not be reached unless we create a real vision for tourists, and unless we market and invest in the tourism product in Northern Ireland; that has not been done sufficiently. Colleagues and I recently had a meeting with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. We discussed in detail some of the products that need to be developed, and particularly some of the issues mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry, such as the whole issue of the Ulster-Scots heritage. Frankly, I am extremely disappointed with the approach that has been adopted. Not enough has been done to develop the tourism product, and much more work is needed.

On the investment in marketing, reference has been made to Tourism Ireland, and clearly there is a role for the international marketing of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Tourism Ireland markets the island of Ireland abroad, in places such as Australia, America, Japan and the far east, but what causes me concern is the enormous amount of money going into tourism from Northern Ireland. By 2007-08, Northern Ireland will be putting £22 million into Tourism Ireland's budget; that is one third of the overall budget. Two thirds of the budget comes from the Irish Republic, as has been mentioned. By 2007-08, the entire budget for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will be £11.1 million, yet £22 million is going into funding Tourism Ireland from Northern Ireland.

I recognise the need for a marketing exercise along the lines that have been described, and the role that Tourism Ireland plays, but given that hon. Members have talked about the need for investment, we need to think about this. We cannot sustain so great an investment in Tourism Ireland while investment is cut in other areas, as the hon. Member for Foyle mentioned. The Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau is suffering cuts and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has an insufficient budget. There needs to be more balance, and I appeal to the Minister to look into the issue carefully.

The money—it will be argued—goes into bringing people to Ireland, and so goes into bringing more people to Northern Ireland, but the fact is that only20 per cent. of people coming to Ireland come to Northern Ireland, and most of that 20 per cent. spend far less time in Northern Ireland than in southern Ireland. I say strongly to the Minister that we need to think again about this. There is a need for investment in marketing the island of Ireland, but in my view things are not properly balanced. There is far too much money going into Tourism Ireland, as opposed to developing the tourist product and the tourism marketing of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

Finally, 2012 is coming up. The Olympics have been mentioned, but it is also the Titanic anniversary, so it is absolutely vital that the Government get a grip on the issue. Recently, I was at a meeting with the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Social Development, about the return of the Nomadic. I very much welcome the fact that it has been purchased and saved for the city of Belfast, and will be brought back there soon. It is an important part of the Titanic package, which I hope will encourage many visitors to come to Belfast in 2012. A £25 million lottery application for the Titanic project is under way, but I strongly urge the Minister to get a grip on the issue, because at present there is no Government commitment whatever to core funding for that project or indeed for any of the main signature projects that are part of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's remit. That needs to be grasped, because we have a tremendous opportunity before us.

Cities such as Cork and New York are developing strategies to capitalise on the Titanic anniversary, but Belfast should be synonymous with it: it should be the place that people will not leave out of their Titanic itinerary. It has to be marketed, and that needs investment. I appeal to the Minister to consider that very strongly.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We all have that vision, and want to get lots of tourists into Northern Ireland, which is absolutely correct, so how can it be acceptable that the international airport, to which people come from across the world, has no official train link to the centre of Belfast? Is it not time that that infrastructure was put in place?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I agree, and I would encourage as many links to and from Belfast as possible, as it is the gateway from which people should be persuaded to visit other parts of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 10:37 am, 17th May 2006

I congratulate Mr. Campbell on securing the debate. He is right to focus on the important issue of tourism, which has the potential to make a significant contribution to Northern Ireland's economy—perhaps greater than that of any other single industry.

Northern Ireland has a great many tourist attractions and it has a great deal to offer in that respect, from the new Titanic quarter in Belfast to the giant's causeway and the spectacular scenery in between. Heritage and environmental tourism also have great potential. Yet despite those attractions, Northern Ireland has done much less well from tourism than the rest of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. Given the recent history, it is understandable that tourists have been reluctant to travel to Northern Ireland, but the great progress that has been made in recent years has opened up tremendous potential.

It should not be an unrealistic ambition to increase significantly the number of visitors coming to Northern Ireland each year, thus increasing the revenue produced by the tourism industry from the tourist attractions themselves, and from bed-and-breakfast accommodation, restaurants and so on.

We should compare Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, which has done tremendously well from tourism in recent years, attracting 6.5 million visitors annually. Tourism expenditure in the Republic of Ireland doubled in real terms during the 1990s and visitor numbers increased at twice the world growth rate. Tourism is definitely an area in which north-south co-operation can be strengthened and enhanced, which can only benefit Northern Ireland.

For tourism to succeed and grow, every opportunity should be taken to attract potential visitors to Northern Ireland. Government have a role to play in publicity and in the education system, which must ensure that the vast range of service providers are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to satisfy the needs of a range of potential visitors from different countries and cultures, with a host of diverse backgrounds and languages.

The Government have a role to play, too, in providing transport infrastructure for visitors to get to Northern Ireland and then to travel around. I declare an interest: I represent the constituency on the British mainland that is closest to Northern Ireland. Hon. Members mentioned the links with Scotland, which are extremely important. It is also important for hon. Members and the Government to think not only of the link eastwards from Larne to Stranraer but the link northwards from Antrim to Argyll. There is a shared heritage between Argyll and Northern Ireland—not only the Ulster Scottish but the Gaelic heritage. Christianity was brought to Argyll by St. Columba sailing from Ireland, so there is a series of common heritages.

A ferry service ran between Campbeltown in Argyll and Ballycastle in Northern Ireland for three years between 1997 and 1999. That popular service was operated by a private company under a strange contract awarded during the dying days of the Tory Government. It was strange because the company was given the ship as long as it operated the contract for three years. Of course, the inevitable happened. When the three years were up, the ship sailed away and the company used it elsewhere. It was a publicly owned and publicly paid for vessel, the Claymore, which was formerly operated via the publicly owned Caledonian MacBrayne. That was certainly a lesson in how not to award shipping contracts. They should be awarded on the basis of an annual subsidy, not by saying, "Here's a ship; after the end of the contract you can sail away." It was a big disappointment when the contract came to an end after three years.

Efforts to restore the service have been made by the Scottish Executive and this Government, and by the Northern Ireland Executive, when they were in existence. They have come very close, but never quite got there. The Scottish Executive have the lead role in that, but I hope that the Minister will be able to inform us of the current position.

Although Governments have a role in developing tourism, it is important that it should flourish in the private sector. It is important that there is confidence in the private sector to invest, and that tourists have the confidence in it to come. Both tourists and private sector investors must be confident that Northern Ireland has a peaceful and stable future, and that crime and terrorism are things of the past.

It is also important that we re-establish the Assembly and the Executive, so that Northern Ireland is once more seen by the rest of the world as being in a normal situation. It also goes without saying that a local Minister living in Northern Ireland, elected by the people of Northern Ireland, is far better able to judge what investment is required than any Minister appointed from this House. It is important that Assembly Members ensure, over the next six months, that the Assembly and the Executive are re-established. I am convinced that if the rest of the world sees Northern Ireland as having a stable and peaceful future, tremendous potential from tourism can be realised.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 10:43 am, 17th May 2006

I congratulate Mr. Campbell on securing the debate, and welcome the Minister to her new responsibilities. She could have had no better introduction to the very pleasant side of her Northern Ireland Office responsibilities than the description of the delights of all parts of Northern Ireland that hon. Members from Northern Ireland have painted. I expect that Mr. Anderson will have told her a number of ways in which she can enjoy herself there—even on the rainiest of days.

Two themes have come through in the debate. First, that tourism offers tremendous opportunities for the Northern Ireland economy, and secondly that both the industry and Government have responsibilities to do their best to turn those opportunities into jobs, investment and prosperity. The industry has clear responsibilities to improve marketing and to seek to drive up standards of service at all times. It strikes me, from my anecdotal experience of travelling, that tourists are becoming more choosy. They want not only to see the best attraction described in a brochure or on a website but a high standard of service. If it is not delivered to them adequately they will not come back, and they will advise friends and relatives not to visit that destination.

The industry needs to focus on what tourists want from a visit to Northern Ireland. In some cases, it will be opportunities for family breaks, long weekends and so on. Other packages might include an island of Ireland tour, which would probably require thinking in terms of north and south. The reality is that an American or Japanese tour group will have limited time to spend on the island, and that time limit will mean that they will want to scoot around to different destinations as quickly as possible.

There may be a future for more golfing and fishing packages that are marketed on a north-south or Scotland-Ireland basis. A Scotland-Ireland distillery tour could well be promoted as a non-seasonal or winter activity.

There are responsibilities for the industry, but clearly there are also responsibilities for the Government. I shall touch quickly on several issues that I hope the Minister will address as she gets to grips with her new brief.

The first relates to a point made by Mark Durkan about the need for co-ordination within Government. The Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland recommended that if devolution is restored there should be a junior Minister with specific responsibility for tourism. At present, responsibilities are divided among different Departments and agencies. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has a target to raise the annual visitor spend in Northern Ireland, but the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Roads Service, the Planning Service and the Department of the Environment all have responsibilities, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has an interest in promoting farm diversification. It is important to co-ordinate not just the budgets of the various Departments and agencies but their forward planning and ways of setting their various priorities, so that tourism does not always slip to fifth or sixth place in each Department's list. There must be a regional focus on the importance of the industry.

Connected with that is a point made by Sammy Wilson. We must remember that most tourist businesses in Northern Ireland are small, family-run businesses. People do not have time to search through acres of paper or pages on Government websites to find out what needs to be done, so how the Government disseminate best practice in an easily accessible form must be an important part of the strategy.

Improving transport infrastructure is of continuing importance. The point has been well made about the lack of rail links not just from Belfast International airport but from Belfast city. There are no direct rail links into the city centre, and anybody who has been stuck behind a tractor on the road between Dungannon and Enniskillen knows that there are some serious bottlenecks in the Northern Ireland road network that need attention.

A wealth of projects represented by promoters seeking Government financial support will compete for the Minister's attention. I hope that the Government will be able to push forward the pace of decisions on the proposed international sports venue. There has been a perfectly reasonable debate about the best location for it, but a sports venue that is able to host major international fixtures would be a big tourist asset. The promoters of the Ulster canal regeneration bombard me with letters from time to time, and I suspect that that is another project that will find its way on to the Minister's desk.

There are opportunities, but there have also been warnings in some of the Northern Ireland Audit Office reports. The experience from well-intended projects such as the Navan centre in Armagh, to which many hopes were pinned, is that money can be spent with good intention but customers may not come in. I return to my opening point: every decision that is taken about tourism in Northern Ireland must aim to provide what the customer wants to spend his or her money on.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 10:50 am, 17th May 2006

This has been an excellent debate, and a great one with which to start so early in my time as Minister with responsibility for such issues in Northern Ireland. I congratulate Mr. Campbell not only on securing the debate—it is awkward enough to get time for debates in Westminster Hall—but on putting his points so coherently, forcefully and clearly.

I always try to deal at least with some of the points made by the Member who initiated the debate. Ministers never have enough time to deal with all of the many points that arise in these hour and a half debates, but I undertake to write to Members concerning any points that I omit to address. It is clear to me that most of the Members in the Chamber today are not as new to this as I am, and I have enjoyed hearing from everybody about the many attractions in Northern Ireland that should be pulling in tourists. I have no doubt that Members from all parties, regardless of any divisions, will agree that Northern Ireland has fantastic potential as a tourist destination, and agreement on that is a pretty good place to start.

The fact that we are starting from a low base gives us a chance to move quickly. There is no reason why we cannot start moving toward the position in which Northern Ireland would have been in the absence of past disadvantages and difficulties, and that should be the aim. There is significant potential for further growth, and notwithstanding the success of recent years we should not rest on our laurels. We should go further and faster to translate the potential into reality, because that reality can mean jobs for local people, increased business activity and increased balance between public and private sectors, all of which are tremendously important to the future of Northern Ireland. I see the responsibility for that as one of the most important that I have acquired in my new role, and I shall focus on it a great deal.

In 2005, there were some 2 million out-of-state visitors to Northern Ireland. That is quite a number—more than the number of inhabitants. It is a landmark that needs to be built on and a significant achievement. Visitor spending from that group topped £354 million, with a further £146 million spent by local people holidaying at home—it is not only visitors from outside who offer potential. The latest quarterly employment survey showed that more than 51,300 people were employed in the tourism and leisure sector, which represents a significant number of jobs for the local population. There is already improvement, there is great potential, and we should progress a lot further.

As Mr. Lidington and several other Members mentioned, if Northern Ireland is to compete effectively in an international and increasingly global travel and tourism market, there must be knowledge of what customers want. We must match what is available in accordance with that principle, so that the available products are marketed as well as possible. Getting the products right and marketing them properly is the key to best performance.

I was interested to learn that some 69 per cent. of overseas holidaymakers to Northern Ireland use the internet when planning their trip; 65 per cent. actually book their flight or ferry online, and a further 27 per cent. book their accommodation online. We must ensure that we move with the trends in how people book and plan their trips—it is no good having lousy websites, and products that can be marketed only in the traditional way. We must be up to date, and it is important that Tourism Ireland and other institutions promoting tourism on the island of Ireland seek to achieve that.

I want to deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for East Londonderry, because this is his debate. He referred to the Smithsonian folklife festival. I am sure that we would all agree that that has enormous potential for showcasing the delights of Northern Ireland. We have until next July to get it right, but we need to get moving sooner than that if we are to do so.

I asked officials to let me know what benefit Scotland had gained, having had the same honour. The results were impressive, and I am glad that officials from the Northern Ireland Departments are talking with their Scottish counterparts to ensure that they learn the lessons that Scotland learned and do not miss any tricks, but exploit the opportunity to the full. Some 10,000 key travel prospects attended lectures on Scottish holidays, 44,000 people logged on to the VisitScotland website for travel information and key members of the international industry attended events in Washington. All of them now know far more about Scotland and visiting Scotland than they knew before. We have to ensure that the activities that we undertake this time next year present Northern Ireland with similar opportunities. We must design what we do to maximise those opportunities, and I intend to ensure that we do that.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the 12 July celebrations and the Orange Order, and made some points about tricks that might be being missed, and commemorations and cultural displays that are not being properly exploited as products for visitors. I think that he said that the NITB treats some of those events as unavoidable irritants. I hope that he will accept that more links have been made recently in order to improve on what he sees as a poor record. Meetings have taken place between the Orange Order and senior NITB officials to attempt to ensure that the situation improves, so he should in future feel able to say nicer things about the efforts that are being made. Certainly, the main event on 12 July is now on the visitor website. Lots of people decide whether to visit on the basis of websites and what they see online. We hope that there will be improvements in understanding and better links, and therefore better marketing of all appropriate events in future.

I should like to say a word about the Ulster Scots traditions, on which several hon. Members commented. There were concerns that the tourist potential of those traditions—part of the culture of Northern Ireland—is not being exploited to the full, particularly among people in the United States of America seeking information about their family history. I am aware that there have also been a number of parliamentary questions. I have answered some and had a look at others. The Ulster-Scots Agency has made a contribution towards marketing materials that Tourism Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board have produced specifically to try to market that sector. Again, I will not argue at this early stage that that has been exploited to the full, but I will say to the hon. Gentleman that we clearly recognise that there is an opportunity that has not been exploited, and we are determined to do more in relation to that tradition. I hope that in due course he will be satisfied that things are improving in that respect.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for East Londonderry, made the point that Tourism Ireland should be looking east-west rather than just north-south. I heard what was said about money and resources, and about the focus of the institutions, whether Tourism Ireland or the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Tourism Ireland's targets for growth in visitor numbers and revenue are higher for the north than they are for the south. That might not answer all the points that were made, but it demonstrates that we recognise that the industry is less developed in the north than it is in the south, and that the gap needs to be narrowed. All the institutions, tourist boards and various bits of Government—

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Order. We must move on to the next debate.