The Chairperson introduced Ms. K. Thomson, Chief Executive, National Museums NI and Mr. G. Lennon, Chief Executive, Visit Belfast, to the Committee and they were admitted to the meeting.
Ms. Thomson outlined how the tourism sector had been profoundly affected by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over the previous two years and how it was a key sector that would contribute to the rebuilding of the city’s economy. She stated that Visit Belfast had been developed through consultation with Council officers, to be fully aligned to the Council’s key strategic priorities and to act as a key vehicle in rolling out the ten year tourism strategy, Make Yourself at Home.
Mr. Lennon provided a presentation on Visit Belfast’s Rebuilding City Tourism Plan which focused on supporting tourism recovery. He outlined how a new regenerative model for tourism would contribute towards building a resilient economy, delivering inclusive growth and protecting the environment.
He highlighted that tourism was key to the city’s wellbeing and that it had generated £417million in tourism spend in 2019 and had accounted for 21,863 tourism related jobs. He pointed out that tourism had been a catalyst for community and societal regeneration, and referred to examples, such as the Cathedral Quarter and the Crumlin Road Gaol.
He reported that Visit Belfast had put in place a number of key initiatives, policies and themes to create robust framework to rebuild city tourism over the subsequent three years.
He outlined the progress to date in 2021/22 and informed the Committee that the progress now placed Belfast as the fifth most transformed destination in 2021 and was nineteenth out of seventy-three destinations from around the world, on the Global Destination Sustainability Index. He stated that the outlook for 2022 was positive, due to conference bookings, cruise calls, cultural events and milestones, and Belfast’s designation as a UNESCO City of Music.
Mr. Lennon summarised Visit Belfast’s policy framework, key themes and sustainability and impact action plan and he outlined the marketing focus and framework.
He informed the Committee that, with regard to business tourism, Visit Belfast’s objective was to secure enough conferences to bring £40million to the local economy and 82,000 bed nights. He reported that a campaign was to be developed to target business visitors to encourage them to extend their stay or return in the future for a leisure visit.
He referred to visitor servicing and destination management and outlined a model that would be used to enhance the visitor experience and spread the benefit of tourism.
He pointed out that there were 144 cruise calls expected in 2022/23, generating £11million economic spend from around 300,000 cruise passengers. He reported that Visit Belfast had been working with Belfast Harbour to develop a cruise sustainability plan.
During discussion, the representative’s answered a range of questions in relation to targeting tourists who arrive in Dublin, the environmental impact of cruise liners, tourism levies and accessibility.
In response to a query from a Member, the Director of Economic Development stated that a report on the Council’s 10-year tourism strategy would be submitted to Committee, following a consultation, which had been approved by the Committee in February and that it would include an update on neighbourhood tourism.
The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their informative presentation, and they retired from the meeting.
The Chairperson 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 2022/23 financial year and set out the organisation’s strategic plan, which focused on supporting tourism recovery.
· Noted the draft Visit Belfast business plan 2022/23 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 a multi-annual funding agreement for 2022-25 and agreed a funding allocation of £1,997,465 for 2022/23, subject to the development of a funding agreement that would confirm priority areas of activity and agreed targets;
· Approved an inflationary increase of 2% in year 2 and year 3 of the funding agreement, subject to satisfactory progress against targets and budget setting; and
· Approved the renewal of Visit Belfast’s Management Agreement with the Council to operate Leisure Marketing, Business Tourism and Visitor Servicing in Belfast, including the operation of Welcome Centre at 8-9 Donegall Square North.
The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their informative presentation and they retired from the meeting.