One voice for tourism

Tourism, which will shortly be a £1 billion industry in Northern Ireland, has found a new and united voice following the launch of the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance.

After a decade of fast-paced growth, tourism last year contributed a record-breaking £926 million to the Northern Ireland economy and, despite challenges, that upward trajectory seems set to continue.

If visitor levels are at an all-time high, so too is confidence in the capacity of this agile business sector to meet ambitious growth targets. Clearly, tourism in Northern Ireland is getting something right, so why, then, is there a need for another tourism organisation?

The new Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance (NITA), officially launched in June, has been established to act as a representative body for all of the Northern Ireland tourism industry, preparing to push tourism higher up the government agenda and increase awareness of the economic value of the sector, now and in the future. According to its Chief Executive Officer, Doreen McKenzie, the new body is a much-needed and, indeed, long-awaited asset for the tourism scene.

“Historically, unlike other sectors, we have not had one strong industry body to reflect our interests and provide a focal point for engagement,” she explains.

“Now, we have established a single, unified organisation which can represent all the major commercial forces in our industry, creating a powerful new voice to champion and shape the growth of tourism, and, crucially, working to create a favourable operating environment for all those involved in its delivery. That is an ambitious remit, but totally achievable, particularly in the light of the support we have already drawn from across our sector.”

The Steering Group which, at the behest of Tourism NI, originally examined the need for a representative organisation and which laid the foundations for the NITA, was adamant that the new body should be led by the private sector. That direction is evident in a membership which already includes many of the biggest players in passenger transport, accommodation and hospitality, regional tourism partnerships, ports, airports, specialist retail and services.

Membership of the Alliance also includes local authorities which are pivotal in setting the strategic agenda and vision for tourism in their respective regions. More tangibly, they also provide visitor infrastructure and Tourist Information Centres, as well as delivering many major attractions, including key events.

McKenzie says: “Given their input, the meaningful engagement of the public sector is clearly crucial to our success, but the Alliance will nonetheless be resolutely private-sector led. This is the moment for private sector businesses, large and small, to step up to the plate to work together for the betterment of tourism in its broadest sense. The private sector is firmly focused on profitability, growth and sustainability and that clear vision will give our industry the sharp business edge needed to fulfil our potential.”

Membership of the new body will also embrace influential organisations such as regional tourism bodies, education and skills providers, ABTA, Tourism NI, and Tourism Ireland. The board of the new Alliance, led by Chairperson Brenda Morgan, a well-known and industry-respected face of British Airways in Northern Ireland, is, however, equally determined to drive membership across the all-important private sector at every level.

Vice Chairman, Don Wilmont, adds: “Ours is an industry which has finally ‘come of age’ and having achieved critical mass, the time is now right for us to join forces to build our future. NITA has been established to lead the sector into what could, and should, be a period of robust growth.

“We will represent its interest and, on members’ behalf, we will confront those major issues which could prompt or hinder its development, lobbying government for all necessary investment and legislative measures. However, in order to become the real ‘voice of the industry’, we recognise that our best chance of success lies in getting everyone on board so that we can work in partnership to achieve our goals.

“This is a two-way street for communications and progress. Having one credible voice for tourism means that we can more powerfully claim the attention of our key audiences, notably within government. Also, government will also find it much easier to speak to tourism providers now that there is a single representative body.”

While shared experiences, opportunities to network and raising the bar on best practices and innovation are invaluable, this is an organisation which has its sights set firmly on the objective of creating a more favourable operating environment for all those involved in the delivery of tourism.

Wilmont adds: “In theory no-one will argue with that goal, but in practice we certainly expect our share of hard work and even having to overcome the occasional barrier as we call for the changes and investment which will secure that favourable environment.

“Tourism already brings 4.6 million visitors to Northern Ireland each year, spending around £850 million and generating around 5.2 per cent of GDP. We are an industry which, year on year, demonstrates its capacity to grow. As a mature industry, we have earned the right to be listened to and we mean to make our opinions count on major strategic issues which will include everything from the UK’s exit from the European Union and the ongoing uncertainty of the economic climate, to competitor sets and the industry’s overall competitiveness.”

The organisation’s first initiative has been a formal response, drawn up by Oxford Economics, to the Government consultation process on the issues of VAT, Air Passenger Duty (APD) and tourism in Northern Ireland.

McKenzie says: “Coming together under the Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance umbrella has enabled us to show a determined and united front as, fully supported by well-considered independent research, we reinforce the absolute need for change and investment on these key issues.

“Now that the tourism industry has finally found its voice, don’t expect us to whisper.”

Contact details

For more information please contact: 
Doreen McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer 
Northern Ireland Tourism Alliance 



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