Northern Ireland is packed with some of the most incredible tourist destinations. From castles & caravans to beaches and glens, there is something in it for everyone. However, the country has still not realised its true potential. Tourism is currently worth 5.2 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), attracting 4.1 million visitors and generating revenue of £723 million. Tourism NI’s mission is to create opportunities for tourism by boosting the local economy. The ultimate goal is to develop and promote the Northern Ireland experience as a whole and to double tourism’s contribution to the economy by 2020. It hopes to attract two million overseas visitors to Northern Ireland in 2016.
The tourism industry has benefited from significant events such as the World Police & Fire Games in 2013, Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 and the Giro d’Italia in 2014. There has been a growing demand in screen tourism after the worldwide success of Game of Thrones, which showcased local locations. In 2015, Northern Ireland hosted the Irish Open and the Tall Ships, both of which were hugely successful. Smaller initiatives such as opening of the Titanic visitor centre and new visitor centre at the Giants Causeway have also helped in attracting more tourists. According to NI Annual Visitor Attraction Statistics 2015, there were 17.5 million visits to visitor attractions in 2015. Visits to prominent attractions including Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast increased by 4% while visits to the top ten attractions increased by 5%.
Domestic tourism, on the other hand, saw a decrease of 4% over 2014 representing an expenditure of only £219 million (down 8% from 2014). According to the Northern Ireland Domestic Tourism Report published in May 2016, only 2.2 million domestic overnight trips were taken within Northern Ireland. There is also growing concern about leaving the EU, as there would be lot of restrictions placed on travel. If Brexit happens in it’s most severe form, most Europeans would shy away from coming to Northern Ireland for their holiday due to potential visa and immigration applications.
Tourism Northern Ireland, announced in early 2015 that one of the major initiatives to boost tourism was to focus on Northern Ireland’s ‘Year of Food and Drink 2016’. It’s a yearlong affair aimed at promoting the regions as a preferred tourist destination. The idea is to invite people who love food to come and enjoy a wonderful culinary festival, where they will discover the best of local produce and have the chance to experience the spectacular scenery and wonderful coastline. The plan is to highlight the Gobbins Cliff Path while promoting iconic attractions like Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway and various National Trust properties. The country will also be marketed as a top golf and business tourism destination. The Irish Open in 2017 is expected to give a further impetus to the tourism industry.
With all of these projects and more in the pipeline, Northern Ireland is hopeful of making its presence felt in the global tourism scene and Digital DNA Tourism aims to help this sector realise the potential for growth with help from digital technology.