An inclusive vision for tourism in Northern Ireland

Our vision is for tourism as an ecosystem to bring opportunity for all, with lasting economic and social benefits that are felt by communities across the whole of Northern Ireland, writes Carolyn Boyd, Industry Development Manager of Tourism Northern Ireland.

We are aiming for a fairer distribution of opportunities, specifically ensuring that our young people have access to better opportunities across Northern Ireland.

Tourism is a people-oriented industry and so it therefore has a major role to play in delivering inclusive, balanced sub-regional growth. In 2019, employment in the tourism and hospitality sectors was geographically dispersed with 70 per cent of those jobs existing outside of Belfast, showing that the tourism sector in Northern Ireland offers inclusive opportunities throughout all regions and to all ages.

Tourism has the ability to address economic inactivity in both our urban and rural communities and is one of the few industry sectors which has the potential to create substantial employment across every part of Northern Ireland and within every section of our society.

By placing an emphasis on our people, their skills, and professionalism, we aim to enhance the attractiveness of Northern Ireland as a world class visitor destination.

Inclusive initiatives: Embrace the Inclusive Spirit

Understanding that 23 per cent of people in Northern Ireland have a disability, 40 per cent of households in Northern Ireland include a disabled resident and £249 billion is spent by disabled customers in the UK each year, businesses should be prioritising this section of the community and doing as much as they can to improve accessibility for all.

Inclusive initiatives and partnerships which we have supported at Tourism NI include Belfast’s first inclusive tourism event. On 20 February 2024 Belfast City Council, supported by Tourism NI, hosted Belfast’s first inclusive tourism seminar called ‘Embrace the Inclusive Spirit: How welcoming disabled visitors makes business sense’. The aim of this event was to bring together a range of stakeholders, agencies, and tourism businesses to explore how we improve our tourism offering, making it accessible for all.

The day-long seminar was a partnership initiative developed by Belfast City Council and supported by Tourism Northern Ireland, Visit Belfast, Titanic Belfast and Open Arts. It was free to attend and concentrated on how welcoming disabled visitors makes business sense.

Hosted by disability rights activist Seán Fitzsimmons, the seminar included guest speakers including: Irish writer, educator, disability activist and director of Tilting the Lens Sinéad Burke; Mary Jo McCanny from Visit Belfast; and Amy Waumsley from AccessAble. This free resource supports tourism providers and services to put inclusivity at the heart of their business covering topics such as; welcoming and communicating with tourists with disabilities, accessible communications and guidance as well as audio and web accessibility.

Tourism NI also provides guidance online for businesses on how to make their websites more accessible and inclusive as well as providing guidance for tour guides on how to promote inclusivity through their guiding. More accessible tours delivered by skilled, professional tourist guides benefits every visitor, not only those with additional needs. For example, Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast now offers British Sign Language, which allows their material to be interpreted via sign videos, making the tour more accessible and enhancing the inclusiveness of their self-guided tours.

Inclusive success will mean more sectors of the economy across the whole of Northern Ireland will benefit from tourism. Tourism investment, conferences, and events will also have tangible benefits to local communities and the sector will be actively engaged with local communities as valued stakeholders in tourism development and delivery. Our aim will be that tourism will be an inclusive employer offering a diverse range of desirable career paths to people throughout Northern Ireland.

Contributing to a more inclusive economy

One challenge for the sector is understanding the perception of tourism as a career choice. Without a confident, well trained, and professional workforce there is no visitor experience. Therefore, there is an urgent need to address the skills gaps within the tourism sector, to develop tourism career opportunities and life-long career pathways, and to create a sector that people of all ages aspire to work in.

Ways to improve inclusivity in the tourism sector include:

  • employers being able to offer staff competitive salaries;
  • staff seeing career pathways in the tourism industry;
  • staff having the opportunities to secure further training and qualifications; and
  • comfortable and equitable working conditions which facilitate an accessible, competitive and attractive industry in which to work.

Taking these actions should result in an annual increase in the number of employees within the tourism sector from underrepresented groups. This includes those who are economically inactive, those who have disabilities, and those who come from deprived areas all contributing to an equitable distribution of opportunities to all our people.

Titanic Belfast Reimagined, New Galleries, Titanic Quarter, Belfast.

Case study: Titanic Belfast

Titanic Belfast opened in 2012 with the aim of establishing Belfast as the home of RMS Titanic, celebrating the city’s maritime and industrial heritage, and showing the spirit that built Titanic from strength to strength on a local, national, and international level.

Titanic Belfast is recognised as industry leaders on a local, national, and international level for accessibility standards. As recognised ambassadors, Titanic Belfast is continually working to further develop a five-star customer service by ensuring that all visitors’ access requirements are not only met but exceeded.

Having recently refreshed around a third of the Titanic Experience following a £4.5 million investment, designed to deliver a world-class spectacle, it was incredibly important to ensure accessibility was taken into consideration at every turn. Titanic Belfast worked with various organisations and charities covering off a number of different accessible needs, who provided input and insights to its plans and tested the new spaces ahead of opening to ensure everything was catered for those with additional needs as much as possible.

Titanic Belfast also has a long-standing partnership with Orchardville, a charity who support people with a learning disability or autism to live, learn and work. Each year, they host a ‘takeover day’ where participants from the charity are paired with one of the Titanic Belfast team in a buddy system to learn the ropes of working in a busy visitor attraction, giving them valuable work experience and training in new skills.

They have detailed accessibility information about the attraction available on their website so that visitors can familiarise themselves with this before they arrive. The attraction itself is accessible across all spaces, with level access, lowered ticketing desks, hearing loops and wheelchairs and mobility scooters which can be reserved on request by contacting us in advance.

To help individuals with ASD to enjoy their visit, Titanic Belfast has a sensory guide which can be downloaded from its website in advance to help prepare for a visit, alongside a number of different aids including ‘VIP’ Wristbands which can be shown to a member of staff if assistance is required particularly in areas where you may encounter increased sensory input, queues or crowds. They also have ear defenders and/or black out tents which can be loaned to those who you benefit from it.

All staff are JAM card trained so guests can show they need a minute, as well also partake in disability and diversity awareness training to ensure everyone is given the same five-star service and welcome when they come through their doors. They also operate a free essential carer policy for those who require assistance to visit the attraction and annually host a ‘Community Day’ where they open the attraction for free to a number of community groups, often those with accessibility needs.

X: @NITouristBoard
L: Tourism Northern Ireland

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