Growing business tourism

New facilities and a drive to attract national conferences are helping to put Northern Ireland on the map for business visitors.

Recent figures for business tourism suggest that more development is needed to maximise its potential for Northern Ireland. Business tourism’s prospects are closely connected to the ability of a city or region to provide high quality accommodation and venues for events.

The estimated number of business tourists decreased from 417,000 to 376,000 between 2013 and 2014 despite the emerging economic recovery. The majority of travellers in this group (59 per cent) came from Great Britain with the next largest groups coming from overseas (19 per cent) and from within Northern Ireland (17 per cent).

Much of the decrease is explained by a reported fall in business tourists from Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, an element of caution is needed when interpreting the figures for both regions as the they are based on small sample sizes in each case represented less than 30 people.

Northern Ireland’s draft tourism policy, published in 2010, recognised the need to develop the province’s facilities and offer for business tourism, and also to ensure a supply of high quality mementos and corporate gifts.

Improvements would mainly be delivered by the private sector although Belfast City Council would take the lead on developing a convention and exhibition facility in the city – a commitment which is coming to fruition through the Belfast Waterfront’s extension.

In addition, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (now Tourism NI) has worked with Visit Belfast and Visit Derry to attract national conferences and trade and consumer exhibitions. This has resulted in an increasing (and varied) range of clients booking conference facilities in the province.

For example, over the summer, Belfast will host the 2015 World Jujitsu Conference, the UK Society of Biomaterials, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Society in Europe for Simulation Applied Medicine.

Visit Belfast highlights the city’s character, warm welcome, hospitality and sense of fun as reasons for coming to the city. Not to be outdone, Visit Derry states that its friendly charm and vibrant atmosphere can equal any European conference destination. The 1,000-seater Millennium Forum is a key selling point in the North West.

While most of a business visitor’s time is likely to be taken up by meetings, they will also be keen to rest and relax, particularly in the evenings. And a good experience will, of course, create a positive impression which can be passed on to their family, friends and colleagues.

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