Tourism Ireland boss Niall Gibbons has said a recent city break campaign in Britain resulted in a huge spike in the number of people visiting the Derry section of its website., writes Kevin Mullan.
Mr. Gibbons claimed the spring promotion drive had reached up to 73 per cent of all adults living in British city’s with direct flight connections to Derry.
The Tourism Ireland Chief Executive told members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC), which is currently conducting an inquiry into tourism in the North, that the campaign was working and that bookings were on the up as a result.
“Tourism Ireland is rolling out an extensive global marketing campaign at the moment to build on the success of 2018 and continue to grow overseas tourism to Northern Ireland in 2019.
“Our television campaigns alone, so far this year, have reached up to 72 million people in the United States, 34 million in Germany and France, and 12 million in Great Britain.
“Our Northern Ireland city breaks campaign this spring reached an estimated 73 per cent of all adults in major British cities, with direct flights to Northern Ireland from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
“This resulted in double-digit increases to the Belfast and Derry/Londonderry pages on our websites, and key partners reported increased bookings from that promotion,” said Mr. Gibbons.
The Tourism Ireland supremo who is responsible for marketing the island of Ireland abroad as a leading holiday destination provided evidence alongside John McGrillen, Chief Executive of Tourism Northern Ireland, which is responsible for the development of the tourism industry and product in North.
During the evidence session praise was heaped on Visit Derry the tourism lobby responsible for encouraging more visitors to come to Derry, Tyrone and Donegal specifically.
Ian Paisley Junior said Odhran Dunne, the Visit Derry manager’s briefing of the NIAC inquiry had been impressive.
“Visit Belfast and Visit Derry made brilliant presentations to this Committee.
“Everyone was impressed with what they said. Is there more scope for collaboration with those organisations?” he asked.
Both Gibbons and McGrillen agreed that Visit Derry, which represents 280 businesses and is backed by Derry City & Strabane District Council, was doing a great job.
“Visit Belfast and Visit Derry are terrific partners of ours already and I am more than happy to work with them,” said Mr. Gibbons.
“We also work extremely closely with Visit Belfast and Visit Derry,” added Mr. McGrillen.
During the course of the briefing Mr. Gibbons said Tourism Ireland periodically partnered with various airliners to encourage more passengers through local airports, including City of Derry Airport.
“On the website, at various times of the year, we share our front page and have Northern Ireland-specific campaigns, which also involve working with the carriers - for example Loganair, British Airways, Ryanair and Aer Lingus - to promote specific campaigns for Northern Ireland, Belfast or Derry/Londonderry, depending on where the access goes.
“We have also done city break campaigns this year to promote the new hotel access,” he said.
DUP MP and committee member Gregory Campbell put it to the two men that the forthcoming golf major at Portrush should be used as leverage to promote Derry airport.
“The Open at Royal Portrush will be a fantastic event, the biggest event anywhere on the island this year and maybe in any other year.
“Do you accept that, in targeting the visitors coming to that, any of the three airports, Londonderry in particular, would be convenient, and Belfast City or Belfast International would be more advantageous than Dublin for that that event?” he asked.
Several members of the committee voiced the oft-aired unionist suspicion that Tourism Ireland was promoting the South in detriment to the North.
For example, the Tory MP Maria Caulfield said: “While Tourism Ireland might have Northern Ireland campaigns, it was directing people to fly to Dublin, to then go and visit Northern Ireland, but not to come into Belfast or Derry to start with.
“Is there a conflict of interest in that three of the main airports in the Republic are state-owned?”
Mr. Gibbons said: “No, because we do not have any investment in the airports. The bottom line for us is that our job is to ensure consumers -come to the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland on their holidays.
“The contract between the airport and the carrier is a matter for them. There are bigger contracts that are not relevant to us.
“Our job is to try to motivate demand for people to take those flights by promoting them, rather than going somewhere else.”
Both Mr. Gibbons and Mr. McGrillen pointed out to the committee that the main challenge for them was attracting long haul visitors to Ireland in the first place.
“We have focused on airports today but, for a lot of tourists coming across the island of Ireland, it is sometimes the last mile.
“It is easy to get to Dublin, Belfast or Derry, but how do I get beyond them, unless I hire a car?
“What are the public transport links like?
“That is not a Tourism Ireland role, but this is the benefit of a joinedup approach.
“How do we make that last local mile work, if you go to a small rural village e and want to go to the next one?
“Public transport links are maybe not what we want them to be,” said Mr. Gibbons.
Mr. McGrillen echoed these sentiments: “As Niall said, in trying to get visibility, the international marketplace is very competitive.
“People can choose from thousands of places to go to across the globe, so we need to convince them to come to Northern Ireland.
“We need to make sure that we work collectively, so we are presenting all that Northern Ireland has to offer, as opposed to what Armagh has to offer, versus Belfast, versus Derry/Londonderry.
“The challenge is for all of us and the councils to work together to present itineraries that encourage people to come not just to Strangford, but maybe to spend some time in Strangford and Belfast, to go up to the Causeway, to Derry and down into the Lakelands, and stay two or three days. That requires us to work collectively.”