Tourism chiefs in Derry have said that further investment could help achieve ambitious plans to boost the number of tourist industry related jobs to 10,000 by 2025.
They were speaking in connection with a 2017 independent review which recommended that the Council increase its contribution to the public-private Visit Derry organisation by over 50% to £693,175.
The current service level agreement involves funding which has just been increased from £410,000 to £460,000 for Visit Derry to deliver destination marketing and visitor servicing and also to help industry engagement.
The report identified that Visit Derry is under-resourced and there is a need to increase investment in order to reach objectives set both by the Tourism Strategy and the Strategic Growth Plan.
In June 2018 Councillors agreed that additional funding should be made available subject to the rates process. Following that, the additional £50,000 was granted to Visit Derry.
Chair of Visit Derry Don Wilmont told the Business & Culture Committee that addressing under resourcing was a “key issue” when it came to reaching Derry’s tourism targets. He said the additional funding this year and any future additional funding will help maximise opportunities for tapping into key emerging tourism markets such as China and the Middle East.
“Visit Derry can’t do it on our own,” he warned, but added that with more funding and working with Council, national tourism bodies and others they could guarantee success.
Following the presentation by Visit Derry, Aontú Councillor Anne McCloskey, who chaired the meeting, said: “It certainly seems to me that the marketing of Derry is in very safe hands.”
DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock meanwhile said that a video presented by the Visit Derry team “certainly makes you proud to be part of this wonderful city”.
SDLP Colr. Sinead McLaughlin said she was delighted to see that one of the key targets - one million bed nights - has been hit. “That is absolutely super,” she said.
“The fact that we have got new bed stock augurs well for this year as well,” she said. “At some points during the summer it’s very difficult to get a bed.”
Colr. McLaughlin said she knew that the budget for marketing Derry was tight and that by the end of the year every penny was spent. “I think the private sector should be coughing up a little bit more money to the organisation itself,” she said.
As tourism increased, she said, hotels and other tourism related businesses were beneficiaries through increased profits and questioned whether more of that was going back into Visit Derry.
Mr. Wilmont confirmed that Visit Derry's funding breakdown was 54% from Council, 28% from the private sector and 18% from other sources. He also confirmed that private membership had increased.
Sinn Fein Colr. Mickey Cooper, who has been on the board of Visit Derry and is a tour operator with 20 years experience, said: “I can say without hesitation that we are on an upward curve, no doubt about that.”
Colr. Cooper said there were some gaps in provision of hotels and accommodation, particularly in outlying areas like the Sperrins, which are the focus on a new tourism drive. He added that there were also many Asian and other tour groups coming to Belfast but few making their way to the north west. He added however that overall the picture was very positive.
Independent Colr. Raymond Barr questioned whether Visit Derry extended beyond the city region and was told that it did indeed promote the wider region.
The Visit Derry reps confirmed to People Before Profit Colr. Eamonn McCann that the city was indeed part of a European Walled City Network after he said a link up trail to walk all the walled cities of Europe might be a good idea. Colr. McCann said: “The Derry Walls are of historically more significance than anywhere else.”
Visit Derry manager Odhran Dunne said one of the challenges going forward will be ensuring that there are enough tour guides who can speak different languages.