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16 Dec 2015

Tourism Ireland looks back on a successful year for overseas tourism to Northern Ireland

2015 was a strong year for overseas tourism, with Tourism Ireland estimating we have welcomed about 1.9 million visitors (+5% growth over 2014), contributing approximately £454 million in revenue to the Northern Ireland economy. Tourism Ireland today reflected on highlights of its promotional activity around the world in 2015. These have included promotions to highlight the Causeway Coastal Route, Titanic Belfast, our world-class golf, as well as another ground-breaking campaign with Game of Thrones creators HBO.

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell said: "Building on this year’s success and sustaining growth into the future is at the heart of Tourism Ireland’s strategy for 2016. Next year presents exciting opportunities to continue to promote all of the major themes and attractions in Northern Ireland around the world, including the Causeway Coastal Route, Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway, our National Trust properties and our world-class golf offering. In 2016, we will also be inviting people from across the world to come here and enjoy a year of culinary celebrations for Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, giving them the opportunity to discover some of the best dining and hospitality on offer. Northern Ireland has much to offer both tourists and business visitors alike and I look forward to another successful year.”

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “Throughout the year, Tourism Ireland undertook a packed programme of promotions, to bring Northern Ireland to the attention of travellers everywhere. We joined forces once again with Games of Thrones creators HBO on an extremely successful social media campaign, leveraging the huge global popularity TV series and its strong associations with Northern Ireland.”

At the beginning of this month, Tourism Ireland launched its marketing plans to promote Northern Ireland in 2016. The organisation aims to build on this year’s growth and to welcome 2 million overseas visitors to Northern Ireland (+4%) next year.
Commenting on the plans for 2016, Niall Gibbons said: “Next year, we will place a major focus on Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, inviting people who love great food to come and discover the best of local produce and have the chance to experience the spectacular scenery and wonderful coastline which makes Northern Ireland so special. We will highlight The Gobbins Cliff Path around the world, while continuing to place a major focus on other iconic experiences like Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway and our unique National Trust properties. We will continue to target people of Ulster-Scots descent; and to promote Northern Ireland as a top golf and business tourism destination.”


The Causeway Coastal Route – reached millions of potential holidaymakers in top markets
The Causeway Coastal Route, and driving holidays to Northern Ireland, have been a major focus of Tourism Ireland’s promotions throughout 2015. The Causeway Coastal Route has been promoted across a range of platforms including TV, print and online advertising; on and through social media channels; at major international consumer and trade fairs; through familiarisation visits for influential travel agents, tour operators, as well as travel and lifestyle journalists and bloggers from around the world; and through Tourism Ireland’s promotional material, its market guides and brochures – reaching millions of people in our top four markets alone (GB, United State, France and Germany).

Overseas publicity
Working with overseas travel, lifestyle and special interest media is an important element of the overseas promotional programme. In 2015, thousands of opportunities were created for potential visitors around the world to read, hear or watch positive messages about Northern Ireland. Tourism Ireland estimates that this exposure is worth an estimated £90 million in equivalent advertising value.

Improved direct access
2015 saw a number of positive announcements on the important access front, including welcome new routes introduced by various carriers (e.g. KLM from Amsterdam to Belfast, Vueling from Barcelona and Jet2 from Rome), as well as United’s decision to reinstate its year-round flight from Newark. An estimated 93,313 direct, one-way airline seats to Northern Ireland were available each week during summer 2015, a +10% increase in capacity over summer 2014. The announcement of a new Brussels Airlines flight to Belfast City Airport for summer 2016 is also good news.
As an island destination, the importance of convenient, direct, non-stop flights to Northern Ireland cannot be overstated; there is a proven direct correlation between access and growth in visitor numbers. In 2016, Tourism Ireland will continue to work closely with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, airlines, airports and other key partners – with a particular focus on markets such as Canada and Germany – to identify and help close gaps in air services to Northern Ireland, stimulate new flights and jointly promote existing routes.


Tourism Ireland sponsors Ireland team for Cricket World Cup
Tourism Ireland sponsored the Ireland team for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, which took place in Australia and New Zealand. The Cricket World Cup was one of the world’s biggest sporting events of the year, in terms of its global viewing audience; it was televised in 220 countries, to around 2.5 billion viewers. Tourism Ireland leveraged the huge, positive media exposure to support tourism growth from key cricket-loving countries – with its logo prominently displayed on the team’s playing shirt and training kit; the logo also featured prominently on the website and social media platforms of Cricket Ireland. Video footage of the island of Ireland, including interviews with some of the players describing their favourite place to holiday, was shared by Tourism Ireland on its website and with its Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

Selling Northern Ireland to 250 top international buyers at inaugural ExploreGB
More than 250 top international buyers from 37 different countries, including Australia, China, India, Japan, Brazil and Russia, heard all about Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland at the inaugural ExploreGB event, VisitBritain’s new flagship international event which took place in February, at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire. The two-day workshop involved a series of pre-scheduled, one-to-one appointments – showcasing Britain and the island of Ireland to a large audience of international buyers and helping to deliver additional itineraries and brochure pages featuring both destinations.

‘Jump into Ireland’ sales blitz kicks off in the United States
Tourism Ireland’s 2015 series of ‘Jump into Ireland’ sales blitzes across the United States kicked off in February – in Washington DC, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Subsequent ‘Jump’ events took place during the year in Atlanta (Georgia), Charlotte and Tampa (Florida), Minneapolis (Minnesota), Denver (Colorado), Dallas (Texas) and in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara (California). The ‘Jump’ schedule included a B2B event in each city for the Irish delegations, showcasing Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland to the influential American travel professionals in attendance, via a travel TV show format. Each event also included an opportunity for networking with influential travel and lifestyle journalists.

Global Greening season
Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening initiative for St Patrick’s Day was bigger and better than ever before in 2015 – generating more than £7 million worth of positive publicity for the destination across the world. This year, the Colosseum in Rome, the Sacré Cœur basilica in Paris and Edinburgh Castle were illuminated in green for the first time ever to celebrate St Patrick and our Christian heritage. Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening initiative has truly gone from strength to strength, with more than 180 landmark buildings and iconic sites around the world taking part this year, including the Great Wall of China, Niagara Falls, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro and the famous ‘Welcome’ sign in Las Vegas.

Winter is coming! Tourism Ireland rolls out major Game of Thrones campaign
In April, Tourism Ireland joined forces once again with HBO and its smash hit TV series Game of Thrones, to promote Northern Ireland around the world. Timed to coincide with the return of the long-awaited fifth season of Game of Thrones, the campaign ran for 12 weeks in Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia – leveraging the success of the HBO brand and the huge global popularity of Game of Thrones and its strong associations with Northern Ireland.

New strategy to boost tourism from Australia
Also in April, a new three-year plan was unveiled by Tourism Ireland, setting out challenging and ambitious targets which will see the number of Australian visitors to the island of Ireland grow by +20% per year by the end of 2017. Australia is the third most important market for tourism to Northern Ireland (after GB and the United States), in terms of visitor numbers and revenue.

VIP visit provides tourism boost
The visit by The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall provided a unique opportunity to convince potential holidaymakers in Great Britain, our largest tourism market, to visit Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland during 2015. A large media contingent travelled here with the royal couple to cover the visit, bringing the story to millions of people in GB and elsewhere around the world. During their time here, the royal couple enjoyed our wonderful hospitality and scenery, including the wonderful gardens at Mount Stewart.

Ireland ranked number 5 in the world for tourism marketing and branding
Also in May, the World Economic Forum announced the results of its 2015 global ‘Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index’ (TTCI), with some positive rankings for Ireland. In the ‘effectiveness of marketing and branding to attract tourists’ category, Ireland moved from number nine (when the index was last compiled in 2013) to number five in the world – ahead of France, Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Sales mission to China
Tourism Ireland’s 2015 sales mission to China saw a delegation of tourism businesses (including Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast, Ramada Portrush, Titanic Belfast, Visit Belfast and the National Trust – Giant’s Causeway) meet and conclude deals with leading Chinese tour operators and travel agents in the key cities of Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing. The sales mission was specially designed to strengthen business links between the tourism businesses and the influential Chinese travel professionals, through a busy programme of workshops, presentations and networking events.

Tourism Ireland reaches 3 million Facebook fans (now 3.33 million)
In July, Tourism Ireland reached three million fans on Facebook around the world. The organisation is now the third most popular tourism board in the world on Facebook (after Australia and the United States), number two on Twitter and number two on YouTube.

Tourism Ireland launches online film promoting Belfast design
Tourism Ireland launched a new online film, ‘Belfast – Design City’, specially created to highlight Belfast, its wonderful architecture and world-class designers.

Online film highlights the Ulster Grand Prix
The Ulster Grand Prix took place at the beginning of August and Tourism Ireland unveiled a new short film, promoting the annual road race, and Northern Ireland, to motorbike fans and potential holidaymakers around the world. The film highlighted the excitement and atmosphere of the race, as well as our wonderful scenery – giving people everywhere a flavour of what to expect when they visit.

Days like this! Tourism Ireland invites Marcus Robinson to film Belfast on eve of Van Morrison’s Cyprus Avenue concerts
As Belfast geared up for the much-anticipated Van Morrison 70th birthday concerts on Bank Holiday Monday at the end of August, Tourism Ireland invited Belfast-born film-maker Marcus Robinson to create a short, time-lapse film in the city of his birth, to reflect the excitement before the Cyprus Avenue concerts and to highlight the creative spirit of Belfast.

Autumn campaign with a festival focus
Tourism Ireland launched an £8.5 million promotional blitz in September, to boost late-season travel to Northern Ireland from around the world. The campaign highlighted the many festivals and events taking place here during the autumn months – from the Ulster Bank Belfast International Arts Festival to Culture Night, the Banks of the Foyle Hallowe’en Carnival in Londonderry, as well as the Belfast Comedy Festival and Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival.  

Lights, camera, action’ – 1.8 million Dutch see Northern Ireland on top TV soap in the Netherlands
Images of Northern Ireland were seen by 1.8 million peole in the Netherlands, on the country’s most popular TV soap opera, Good Times Bad Times (also known as GTST). Invited to Northern Ireland by Tourism Ireland in Amsterdam, the cast and crew spent a week here in May, filming material for five different episodes at some of our most iconic tourism attractions – including the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, Dunluce Castle and the Dark Hedges.

Targeting the Ulster-Scots in the United States
Representatives of the Ulster Historical Foundation, the Ulster-Scots Agency, the Belfast Tattoo and Causeway Coast Rentals travelled to Georgia in the United States, to join Tourism Ireland for this year’s Stone Mountain Highland Games. The two-day event attracts more than 80,000 people of Scots-Irish and Scots descent each year – and was part of Tourism Ireland’s activity in the US to target people of Ulster-Scots descent, highlighting Northern Ireland as a wonderful holiday destination to people with strong ancestral links to the province.

Londonderry chef ‘cooks up a storm’ in the Windy City
Tourism Ireland invited Londonderry chef and cookbook author Emmett McCourt to showcase Northern Ireland’s superb culinary offering at this year’s iBAM! Chicago (Irish books and music festival). At the festival, Emmett championed our local food and drink, holding cookery demonstrations and enticing visitors to the festival to come and sample a taste of Northern Ireland for themselves.

Destination delicious! Tourism Ireland launches Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink 2016 in London
Award-winning British chef Theo Randall joined well-known Northern Ireland chefs and producers (including Niall McKenna of James Street South, Derek Creagh of Harry’s Shack, Will Brown of The Old Schoolhouse Inn, James Huey of the Walled City Brewery, as well as the Krazi Baker, Mark Douglas) at the Good Housekeeping Institute in London, for the launch of Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink 2016. The event, organised by Tourism Ireland, was attended by top GB food and travel journalists and bloggers. In 2016, Tourism Ireland will highlight and celebrate our wonderful food scene, promoting Northern Ireland food around the world – and giving more tourists an appetite to visit Northern Ireland.

Spotlight on Northern Ireland in China
Tourism Minister Jonathan Bell promoted Northern Ireland in China – at an event in Shanghai organised by Tourism Ireland and attended by leading Chinese travel agents and tour operators. A number of influential journalists were also in attendance – including a representative of the Shanghai Morning Post, the city’s main daily newspaper.

Tourism Ireland launches online film promoting Londonderry
In November, Tourism Ireland launched a new online film, ‘Halloween in Derry-Londonderry’, specially created to highlight the walled city and its spectacular Halloween festivities. Celebrating the fact that the city had recently been voted the best Halloween destination in the world by readers of top American newspaper USA Today, Tourism Ireland’s film aims to give viewers around the world a sample of the ‘spooktacular’ show which is the largest Halloween celebration in Europe.

Tourism Ireland scoops top marketing award for Game of Thrones campaign
Tourism Ireland scooped a top marketing award for its ‘Northern Ireland, Game of Thrones Territory’ campaign, at the International Content Marketing Awards – organised by the Content Marketing Association (CMA) – in London. Tourism Ireland was one of ten organisations shortlisted in the “best travel” category for its 2015 Game of Thrones campaign, beating off stiff competition from the likes of British Airways, Scandinavian Airlines and Qantas Airways, to take the top prize.

Belfast wins ‘trendiest city destination’ award in Amsterdam
Belfast was named the trendiest city for business travel in Europe, at an awards ceremony in Amsterdam. The annual awards are organised by M!CE & Business Travel Magazine, the leading publication for the business tourism sector in the Netherlands. Beating off stiff competition from Reykjavik and Valencia, Belfast took the top prize for trendiest European city destination for business travel.


Notes To Editors

  • Tourism Ireland is the organisation responsible for promoting Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland overseas as a leading holiday destination.
  • Tourism is responsible for in excess of 5.2% of GDP in Northern Ireland and supports approximately 43,000 jobs.
  • By the end of 2015, we will have welcomed about 1.9 million overseas visitors to Northern Ireland, delivering revenue of about £454 million.
  • Tourism Ireland’s international website is, 29 market sites available in ten language versions around the world, which will attract about 16.5 million visitors in 2015.