‘Urgent rethink’ needed for tourism growth, warns hotel boss Hastings
by John Mulgrew
Hastings Hotels managing director Howard Hastings
Tourism funding in Northern Ireland “requires an urgent rethink”, one of the region’s foremost hotel owners has said. Howard Hastings, who heads Hastings Hotels, was speaking during the annual meeting of Visit Belfast, the tourism promotion body.
The Visit Belfast chairman said “without action”, our tourism industry risks seeing slowing levels of growth.
Speaking at the meeting, he said it is now time for government to “step up to the plate… and make a step change” as to how it invests in, and markets, Northern Ireland.
“It is clearly time for Government to step up to the plate and to make a step change in its approach to investment in the marketing of Northern Ireland, for example in its allocation of funds to Tourism NI, to Tourism Ireland and other agencies,” he said.
Mr Hastings, whose firm owns hotels such as Belfast’s Europa and the Culloden near Holywood, said “tourism is key to developing a sustainable, resilient and buoyant economy and I truly believe that this is Belfast’s time to shine.
“However, we must be clear that this is only a start, and competition for tourists is tough.
“As Belfast embarks on the most significant private sector expansion of hotel capacity in the city’s history, the challenge for ‘Team Belfast’ will be to generate the extra demand required to meet fill this additional capacity.”
“How tourism is funded in Northern Ireland requires an urgent rethink,” he continued. “Otherwise, we risk not capitalising as well as we might on the opportunity that additional accommodation provides for Belfast and for the region.
“Without action, we risk delivering growth at a level below which we are not only clearly capable of delivering, but which we want to achieve.
“Let’s not look back, or at our current successes, but at what we can achieve in the decade ahead.”
Visit Belfast says it contributed £122m to the city’s tourism economy last year as part
of its marketing and sales drive to push “leisure breaks, conference business, cruise ship arrivals and tourist enquiries to new highs”.
Also speaking at the meeting, Gerry Lennon, chief executive at Visit Belfast, said: “Belfast’s tourism economy is strong thanks to the industry’s commitment and growing confidence to invest in their own products and services, both existing and new.
“As we look to deliver new tourism milestones for Belfast and ensure the city maximises its position in all markets through stimulated growth, our commitment to partnerships and team ethos will help to ensure that Visit Belfast achieves its challenging aspirations and ambitions.”