Tourism boss, Odhran Dunne, believes the hoards of jazz lovers flocking to Derry this weekend will become ambassadors for the city once they experience its hospitality.
The ‘Visit Derry’ manager who represents 280 businesses and is backed by Derry City & Strabane District Council, has suggested that once people experience the city they become de facto promoters of Derry as a must-see destination.
Mr. Dunne made the observations during a briefing of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday when he painted an extremely positive outlook for one of Derry’s most important growth sectors
He told MPs that despite recent unwelcome international publicity, Derry would this year host a record number of cruise ships, was already at 80 per cent hotel occupancy for the week of golf’s Open Championship in July and was in the midst of a screen tourism boom thanks to Derry Girls, Star Wars and Game of Thrones.
However, Derry’s well-earned ‘festival city’ reputation remains key to Visit Derry’s strategy for attracting visitors from the domestic, national and international tourism markets, he told the committee.
“In terms of international events we have a number on our doorstep.
“We have the annual Derry Hallowe’en Festival which has international significance.
“This weekend we have the City of Derry International Jazz Festival.
“We have the International Choral Festival and we have the Foyle Maritime Festival, which includes the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race,” said Mr. Dunne.
The Visit Derry boss said his role was to “get as many visitors to the North West spending as much money as possible.”
Attracting American, European, British and Irish tourists to come in the first place is the hard part, he said, but once they get here Derry does the rest.
“Once we have attracted them to N. Ireland we create an emotional connection. They become our brand ambassadors. The first challenge is to get people into NI. Once we get the people there they sell NI and our job is done for us,” he explained.
Mr. Dunne said Derry was an easy sell in North America - 25 per cent of our tourism market and the largest non-domestic one - due to its geographical location.
“We want people to stay in and around the historic Walled City but the experiences around there within an hour and an hour-and-a-half are so wide and broad, that we can offer most for our visitors,” he maintained.
Derry’s 400 year old Walls remain the jewel in the city’s crown but Mr. Dunne was quick to inform the NIAC of other major attractions.
“We have the Museum of Free Derry, the Siege Museum, the Guildhall and the Tower Museum. We have fantastic tours and experiences that take you into the rural area of the Sperrins but, yes, our natural catchment is in the wider North West region and whilst we can sell a city break, for the long haul traveller who is travelling across the island, we are perfectly, geographically located to have the benefits of all of that, including screen tourism and golf tourism.
"Obviously we offer the infrastructure around the night-life, the restaurants, the bars, the accommodation that can give you that emotive experience,” he said.
Mr. Dunne said Derry was well-poised to capitalise on the Open Golf Championship in July even though it’s being held 50 miles away in Portrush.
“The significance it will have will be unprecedented. We’re already over 80 per cent full for the whole week and 80 per cent of those visitors are coming specifically for ‘The Open’ which just shows you the impact. The city is the shortest drive to ‘The Open’. It’s important to remember that. People can stay there and there’s great access in terms of the train and coach service,” he said.
And Foyle Port will host more cruise liners than ever before in the 2019 season.
“This year we’ll have a record number of cruise ships. We’ll have 18 and that will be the most we have had into Lough Foyle and that will bring about 10,000 passengers to us,” he said.