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16 Dec 2016

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

Almost 2.1 overseas visitors to Northern Ireland contributing £527 million in 2016

2016 looks set to be the best year ever for overseas tourism to Northern Ireland, with almost 2.1 million visitors (+6% over 2015) contributing more than £527 million (+9%) in revenue to the economy. 

Since Tourism Ireland came into operation in 2002, some 25.3 million overseas visitors have come to Northern Ireland, generating £5.5 billion for the economy.

Highlights of Tourism Ireland’s activity around the world during 2016 have included promoting Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, Belfast and Titanic Belfast, the Causeway Coastal Route, as well as Tourism Ireland’s award-winning Game of Thrones campaign in the spring and a successful campaign to capitalise on Euro 2016. 

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “2016 looks set to be the best year ever for overseas tourism to Northern Ireland. Throughout the year, Tourism Ireland undertook a packed programme of promotions, to bring Northern Ireland to the attention of travellers everywhere. We highlighted Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, with launches in New York, London, Glasgow and Dubai. And, our award-winning Game of Thrones campaign reached some 61 million people around the world. Thousands of opportunities were created for potential visitors everywhere to read, hear or watch positive messages about Northern Ireland; Tourism Ireland estimates that this media exposure is worth an estimated £104 million in equivalent advertising value.”

Earlier this month, Tourism Ireland launched its marketing plans to promote Northern Ireland in 2017 and beyond, with a target to welcome 2.15 million visitors to Northern Ireland. This figure will represent growth of +3.4% over 2016 and deliver £557 million to the Northern Ireland economy (+5.6%) next year. 

Commenting on the year ahead, Niall Gibbons said: “We are heading into 2017 in a position of some strength, based on the success of 2016. Tourism Ireland will create ‘stand out’ for Northern Ireland, highlighting iconic experiences like Titanic Belfast and the Causeway Coastal Route. We will also promote Belfast, in particular for shoulder and off-peak travel. We will continue our successful partnership with HBO, to highlight Northern Ireland – through the exciting events of Game of Thrones – on the global stage. And, Tourism Ireland will also leverage the tourism benefits of major sporting events, including the Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club in July and the semi-finals and final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which will take place in Belfast in August 2017.”  


Destination Delicious! Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink 2016
Throughout 2016, Tourism Ireland undertook a packed programme of activity to highlight Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink around the world, working closely with Tourism NI, Food NI and other partners. Tourism Ireland invited people everywhere to come and discover the very best of local produce – and to experience the wonderful landscapes and coastline which make Northern Ireland so special. The programme included a partnership with Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube, showcasing food producers in Fermanagh, Antrim and Londonderry; a presence at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham; articles in major publications like The Daily Telegraph and Time Out in GB; as well as visits by influential food journalists, such as New Zealand TV and radio cooking personality Annabelle White.

Game of Thrones campaign – reached 61 million people worldwide
This spring, 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 sixth season of Game of Thrones, an exciting feature of our 2016 GoT campaign was a series of 10 intricately carved doors, depicting moments inspired by this season, the ‘Doors of Thrones’. Tourism Ireland unveiled the doors each week as season six unfolded – referencing key scenes and events from the latest episode and incorporating some of the iconic symbols of the show. The doors were carved from the trees blown down last winter in Storm Gertrude at the Dark Hedges in Co Antrim – which serves as the backdrop for the Kingsroad, perhaps the most iconic Game of Thrones location in Northern Ireland. The campaign reached 61 million people worldwide and generated international media coverage worth an estimated £11.3 million. 

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 2016. 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.

Overseas publicity – worth £104 million
Working with overseas travel, lifestyle and special interest media is an important element of the overseas promotional programme. In 2016, 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 was worth an estimated £104 million in equivalent advertising value. 


Tourism Ireland kicked off 2016 by launching Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink in New York, London, Glasgow and Dubai. At the various events, leading food, lifestyle and travel writers, as well as travel agents and tour operators, heard all about Northern Ireland’s world-class ingredients, talented chefs, superb restaurants and cookery schools, as well as our rich food heritage. 

Tourism Ireland and two Northern Ireland tourism enterprises, the Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast, took part in a VisitBritain ‘GREAT’ sales mission to India – in a bid to grow our share of this emerging tourism market. The Northern Ireland companies met and concluded deals with, leading Indian tour operators and travel agents in the key cities of New Delhi, Gurgaon and Mumbai.

Global Greening season – 240 sites in 127 cities in 45 countries
Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening initiative for St Patrick’s Day was bigger and better than ever before in 2016 – generating more than over £8 million worth of positive publicity for the island of Ireland across the world. This year, 7 World Trade Center at Ground Zero in New York, Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, Yas Viceroy hotel in Abu Dhabi and the Nelson Mandela statue in Johannesburg were illuminated in green for the first time ever to celebrate St Patrick. Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening initiative has truly gone from strength to strength, with more than 240 landmark buildings and iconic sites in 127 cities in 45 countries 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.

‘Jump into Ireland’ sales blitz kicks off in the United States
Tourism Ireland’s 2016 series of ‘Jump into Ireland’ sales blitzes across the United States kicked off in March – in Chicago, Boston and New York. Subsequent ‘Jump into Ireland’ events took place during the year in Phoenix (Arizona), Sarasota (Florida), San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. The ‘Jump’ schedule included a B2B event in each city for the 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. 

New strategy to boost tourism from Spain and Italy
Two new plans were unveiled by Tourism Ireland, setting out challenging and ambitious targets which will see Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland welcome almost 3.8 million Spanish and Italian visitors between now and 2020 – 825,000 visitors per year from both countries by 2020 – representing growth of +25%.

Sales mission to China
Tourism Ireland’s 2016 sales mission to China saw a delegation of 15 tourism enterprises from the island of Ireland, including Titanic Belfast, Stena Line and National Trust Giant’s Causeway, meet and conclude deals with leading Chinese tour operators and travel agents in the key cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. And, for the first time ever, this year’s sales mission included Hong Kong, to begin exploring the potential of the market there. The Tourism Ireland delegation was also joined this year by the UK and Irish visa offices, to continue to highlight the British-Irish Visa Scheme, which enables leisure and business travellers from China to visit Ireland and the UK on a single visa. 

Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube film goes live
Tourism Ireland brought Jamie Oliver’s hugely popular Food Tube channel to film in Northern Ireland this year. The first of three different videos, featuring Fermanagh and starring chef and broadcaster John Quilter (aka Food Busker), went live in May. In the seven-minute film, which features spectacular footage of Enniskillen and the Fermanagh Lakelands, the Food Busker tells viewers “Northern Ireland has got loads of mega foodie treats to enjoy, that’s why you need to treat yourself and come here for a holiday”. The second film, featuring Dutch chef and Food Tube presenter Bart van Olphen in Glenarm, went live in June; and the third film, starring Fifteen apprentice Kerryann Dunlop, was unveiled in October, highlighting Halloween and Londonderry. 

Score for tourism! Capitalising on Euro 2016
Celebrating the historic and remarkable achievement that both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland teams qualified for the Euro 2016 tournament, Tourism Ireland created a new online film – bringing the beautiful game together with some of the most beautiful places on the island of Ireland. The video featured two freestyle footballers – Jamie Knight in Northern Ireland and Dara Coyne in the Republic of Ireland – playing ball at some of our top visitor attractions, including the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Titanic Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway. 

New online film starring actor Richard E Grant goes live, highlighting the Causeway Coast to millions across GB
The Causeway Coastal Route “with its ever-changing tapestry of picturesque, dramatic and unforgettable landscapes, regularly rates as one of the world’s premier road trips” – so said actor Richard E Grant in a new online film unveiled by Tourism Ireland. The film highlighted places such as the Dark Hedges, the Giant’s Causeway and the Walled City of Derry. It was part of a series of short films created by Tourism Ireland and Smooth Radio, to highlight Northern Ireland to about 5.5 million holidaymakers in GB this year. A second online film saw Richard E Grant discover Belfast and experiences and attractions like Titanic Belfast, City Hall, the Cathedral Quarter and The MAC, as well as the Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens. 

Thousands of golfers in GB, Mainland Europe and the US read all about our world-class golf
Golf fans from GB, Mainland Europe and the United States – and potential golf holidaymakers for Northern Ireland – have been reading and hearing all about our world-class golf, following a visit by leading golf journalists in July. In addition to watching the pros in action at the Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm, the group also tested their skills at the venue for the 2017 Irish Open, when they played the Strand Course at Portstewart Golf Club. The journalists also played Galgorm Castle and Royal Portrush. Promoting golf in Northern Ireland was a major focus for Tourism Ireland throughout 2016, in GB and in other important golf markets around the world. 

Chinese, Indian and Australian travel agents eye Northern Ireland
Twelve top-performing travel agents from six different markets – including China, India, Australia, New Zealand, the GCC and South Africa – enjoyed an action-packed visit around Northern Ireland. Their visit was the ‘grand finale’ of Tourism Ireland’s ‘Ireland Specialists’ online training programme – which is designed for travel agents and tour operators in Australia and developing tourism markets, to help them sell holidays to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. 

Autumn campaign with a festival focus
Tourism Ireland launched a £7 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 which took place – from the Belfast International Arts Festival to Culture Night, the Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival in Londonderry, Belfast Comedy Festival and Cinemagic Belfast. Tourism Ireland has also been promoting the new Seamus Heaney HomePlace, which opened at the end of September, to its important ‘culturally curious’ audience.

Sales mission to the UAE and India
Tourism Ireland and eight tourism operators from the island of Ireland, including Bushmills Inn and HMS Caroline, took part in a major sales blitz in the UAE and India, as part of a sales mission to grow tourism from these rapidly developing markets. With approximately 90,000 people from the UAE and India travelling here in 2015, Tourism Ireland is committed to growing tourism from these markets further in 2017. 

Spotlight on Northern Ireland in Atlanta, Georgia
Representatives of the Ulster Historical Foundation, the Ulster-Scots Agency, National Museums Northern Ireland and the Belfast Tattoo travelled to Georgia in the United States, to join Tourism Ireland for this year’s Stone Mountain Highland Games. Now in its 44th year, the Stone Mountain Highland Games is an annual event which takes place in Stone Mountain Park, north-east of Atlanta in Georgia. Attracting almost 80,000 visitors of Scots-Irish and Scots descent during the three-day festival, the games were another ideal opportunity for Tourism Ireland to highlight Northern Ireland as a wonderful holiday destination, in particular to people of Ulster-Scots descent.

Promoting Belfast to 1.5+ million ‘social energisers’ via Time Out in London
Tourism Ireland teamed up with Time Out in London to highlight Belfast, Northern Ireland and our special Year of Food and Drink – reaching the magazine’s 1.1 million readers with a great article on Belfast and its superb food and drink offering. The promotion also included digital activity, which targeted a further 550,000 people, through a special Belfast section on Time Out online, blog posts and email marketing. The article in Time Out magazine – which called Belfast the “latest hot destination for savvy foodie travellers” – mentioned places like St George’s Market, OX, Deanes Eipic and Miel et Moi patisserie. It also included tips on great food and drink for foodie visitors to bring home from Northern Ireland, including Shortcross Gin, dulse from Strangford Lough and Fivemiletown Ballyoak cheese.

Sales mission to Australia and New Zealand
A delegation of tourism companies from the island of Ireland – including Titanic Belfast and National Trust Giant’s Causeway – took part in our 2016 sales mission to Australia and New Zealand – meeting and concluding deals with about 400 New Zealand and Australian tour operators and travel agents, in the key cities of Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. They also briefed local travel editors and bloggers, promoting holidays to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. The busy programme included workshops, presentations and networking events.

Tourism Ireland’s Game of Thrones campaign brings home the gold, silver and bronze awards across Europe!
Tourism Ireland’s ‘Doors of Thrones’ campaign to attract visitors to Northern Ireland has racked up over 20 awards and accolades in the marketing and advertising industry across Europe – including three separate awards at The Drum’s Creative Out of Home Awards in London, in November (the Chairman’s Award, ‘Best Use of Illustration/Animation’ and ‘Best Experiential/Ambient’ awards).

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.
  • In 2015, we welcomed over 2 million overseas visitors to Northern Ireland, delivering revenue of about £454 million. 
  • Tourism Ireland’s international website is, 29 market sites available in 11 language versions around the world, which attracted more than 16.6 million visitors in 2015.