The Chairperson introduced Ms. K. Thomson, Chief Executive, National Museums NI, Mr. G. Lennon, Chief Executive, Visit Belfast, and Mr. H. Hastings, Managing Director, Hastings Hotels, to the Committee and they were admitted to the meeting.
Ms. Thomson highlighted Visit Belfast’s vision and long-term commitment to improving tourism in Belfast and thanked the Council for its support over the last decade.
Mr. Lennon provided a presentation on Visit Belfast’s strategic plan 2021/22 which focused on supporting tourism recovery. He explained the impact which the Covid-19 pandemic had had on city tourism, with a reduction in Hotel Room Revenue by 69.7% and a reduction in Air Passenger Transit by 72%.
He highlighted that tourism was a pillar of the city’s economy and should be prioritised in the economic recovery plans for the City. He pointed out that Belfast was a region of strategic importance and provided a summary of its significance in relation to visitor numbers and spend.
He provided an example of a new regenerative model for Belfast, which included: Building a resilient economy; Delivering inclusive growth; and Protecting the environment. Mr. Lennon explained their plans for future destination marketing, with a focus on drawing demand and a variety of offerings through collaboration and cohesion.
He summarised Visit Belfast’s Guiding Principles and Objectives, together with the operating challenges it needed to overcome. He explained the organisation’s Policy Framework and highlighted the excellent data and research which had been provided by the Council.
Mr. Lennon suggested what tourism might look like in Belfast, post covid-19, and explained changing visitor behaviours and preferences for the future and how this would influence marketing, sales and new initiatives.
He provided an overview of priority markets and segments, together with key business tourism and travel trade priorities. He informed the Committee of its Visitor Servicing work and change project outcomes.
Mr. Hastings explained further the three year tourism recovery strategy and the vision for Belfast to become even more competitive post Covid-19. He also highlighted the objective for Belfast to become a low carbon economy.
During discussion, the representative’s answered a range of questions in relation to the demand for travel after the pandemic, predicted occupancy rates, the impact of Brexit on tourism, data sharing across the industry, air travel rates, the demand for business tourism and conferences, the importance of neighbourhood tourism, post covid-19 preparedness of hotels and its staff, accessibility and inclusion for disabled people and their families, the employment market, environmental and societal metrics, green tourism, the promotion of Council assets, and diversity and shared history events. One Member also suggested that Members of Council could also contribute different ideas for future neighbourhood tourism plans.
The Director of Economic Development stated that a report on the Council’s 10 year tourism plan would be submitted to Committee in June and would include an update on neighbourhood tourism. He also highlighted the need to build capacity and capitalise on the cities tourism assets to align with anchor products.
The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their informative presentation and they retired from the meeting.
The Director of Economic Development drew the Members’ attention to the report which had been published alongside the presentation which outlined the request for funding from Visit Belfast for the 2021/22 financial year and set out the organisation’s strategic plan, which focused on supporting tourism recovery.
He advised that it provided further information in relation to rebuilding city tourism and future tourism outlook which highlighted that Visit Belfast sought to re-purpose and re-structure its operations and activities to adapt to the changing environment and operating context. He provided an overview of the activities which aimed to maximise efficiencies and prioritisation of resources to facilitate an appropriate and rapid response to dynamic market, customer and operating challenges.
He reported that, in 2021-22, Visit Belfast’s core objective continued to be driving the visitor economy through securing trips to the city and visitor spend. This would be achieved through the ongoing delivery of main service areas:
· Marketing, Communications, Partnership and Commercial;
· Business Development; and
· Visitor Servicing.
He explained that, in the current financial year, the Council’s funding arrangement with Visit Belfast was £1,997,465 and an allocation of £1,997,465 had been set aside within the Departmental estimates for the financial year 2021/22.
After discussion, the Committee:
· Noted the draft Visit Belfast business plan 2021/22 and that the overall funding requirement for Visit Belfast in the coming financial year had been taken account of in the revenue estimates that had already been approved by the Council.
· Approved the funding allocation of up to £1,997,465 for 2021/22 expenditure, subject to the development of a funding agreement confirming priority areas of activity as outlined in the presentation and agreed targets.