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18 Dec 2017

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

£586 million overseas tourism revenue in 2017, delivered by 2.26 million visitors

2017 has been the best year ever for overseas tourism to Northern Ireland, with around 2.26 million visitors (+6% over 2016) contributing more than £586 million (+8%) in revenue to the economy. 

Highlights of Tourism Ireland’s activity to promote Northern Ireland around the world during 2017 have included campaigns for Belfast and the Causeway Coastal Route, promotions to highlight our superb food offering, as well as Tourism Ireland’s award-winning ‘Game of Thrones Tapestry’ campaign in the summer. 

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “2017 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. Our award-winning Game of Thrones Tapestry campaign reached millions of people around the world. Thousands of opportunities were created for potential visitors to read, hear or watch positive messages about Northern Ireland; Tourism Ireland estimates that this media exposure is worth an estimated £100 million in equivalent advertising value.” 

Earlier this month, Tourism Ireland launched its marketing plans to promote Northern Ireland in 2018, with a target to welcome 2.3 million visitors to Northern Ireland and to grow overseas tourism revenue by +6%, to £623 million, for the Northern Ireland economy. 

Commenting on the year ahead, Niall Gibbons said: “We are heading into 2018 in a position of some strength, based on the success of 2017. Next year, we will continue to create ‘stand out’ for Northern Ireland around the world, 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 showcase our world-class golf, leveraging the prestigious 148th Open at Royal Portrush in 2019. Screen tourism will remain a priority, as we continue to highlight our connection with Game of Thrones. In the US, we ill also capitalise on the 300th anniversary of the 1718 Ulster Scots migration to North America.” 


Overseas publicity – worth £100 million
Working with overseas travel, lifestyle and special interest media is an important element of the overseas promotional programme. In 2017, 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 £100 million in equivalent advertising value. 

Digital strength – 800+ million digital connections
Tourism Ireland continued to leverage its strength in digital and social media – especially important in developing new ways of reaching, and connecting more frequently, with our target audiences. Tourism Ireland is now the fourth most popular tourism board in the world on Facebook (almost 4.1 million fans), number four on Twitter (457,000 followers) and number three on YouTube (almost 41 million views). By year end, Tourism Ireland’s international website,, will have attracted about 19.37 million visitors. 


Northern Ireland on national TV across the United States
In January, Tourism Ireland launched its first national TV campaign in the United States in over seven years. The month-long campaign reached an estimated 255 million potential American holidaymakers, on TV channels which resonate with our important ‘culturally curious’ audience, including the History channel, Food Network, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and BBC America.

Sales blitz to boost Canadian visitors
Tourism Ireland, together with a delegation of 15 tourism companies – including Lough Erne Resort, Titanic Belfast, Visit Belfast and the National Trust – took part in a four-city sales blitz across Canada, meeting with travel agents, luxury tour operators and group tour planners in the cities of Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.

Global Greening season – 299 sites in 45 countries
Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening initiative for St Patrick’s Day was bigger and better than ever before in 2017 – generating more than £9 million worth of positive publicity for the island of Ireland across the world. This year, One World Trade Center (the main building of the re-built World Trade Center complex in New York and the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere), the beautiful Petit Palais on the Champs-Élysées in Paris and the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc in Barcelona were illuminated in green for the first time ever to celebrate St Patrick. Other first time ‘greenings’ included four of Australia’s famous ‘Big Things’ – The Big Banana, The Big Kangaroo, The Big Merino and The Big Tasmanian Devil. Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening initiative has truly gone from strength to strength, with more than 299 landmark buildings and iconic sites in 45 countries around the world taking part this year, including the Colosseum in Rome, the Sacré Cœur basilica in Paris, the Great Wall of China, Niagara Falls and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.  

Ireland ranked No 3 in the world for tourism marketing and branding
In April, the World Economic Forum announced the results of its global Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017. The biennial report ranked the island of Ireland at number three in the world, out of 136 countries, for ‘effectiveness of marketing and branding to attract tourists’. This meant that Ireland moved from number five in the world, when the index was last compiled in 2015, to number three – ahead of countries including Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and France.

Sales mission to China
Tourism Ireland’s 2017 sales mission to China saw a delegation of 17 tourism enterprises from Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland (including Titanic Belfast, National Trust – Giant’s Causeway and Stena Line), meet and conclude deals with leading Chinese tour operators and travel agents in the key cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. 

Website is a big hit! Tourism Ireland’s website,, wins top award in France
Tourism Ireland scooped the top prize for ‘best tourist board website’ at the French hospitality industry’s ‘Les Travel d’Or’ awards. Beating off stiff competition from four other destination websites (including Britain, Mauritius, La Réunion and Guadeloupe), the Tourism Ireland site,, was voted number one for its winning appeal and content by some 200,000 internet users from around France and by a panel of web and travel industry experts. This was the fourth time that Tourism Ireland won a Travel d’Or award – considered the ‘Oscars’ of the e-tourism industry in France. 

First ever visit by Hong Kong travel agents to Northern Ireland
For the first time ever, a group of travel agents from Hong Kong visited Northern Ireland, experiencing at first-hand some of what Northern Ireland has to offer Chinese holidaymakers. Their packed itinerary included visits to attractions like Titanic Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway.

2 million golfers worldwide read all about the Irish Open and our world-class golf
Golf journalists from Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Australia and the Middle East – with a combined audience of 2 million readers – visited Northern Ireland in May. They tested their skills on this year’s venue for the 2017 Irish Open, when they played the Strand Course at Portstewart Golf Club. The journalists also played Royal Portrush – venue for The Open in 2019 – and the Mussenden Course at Castlerock. Promoting golf in Northern Ireland was a major focus for Tourism Ireland throughout 2017 in important golf markets around the world.

Tourism Ireland’s Game of Thrones campaign scooped gold, silver and bronze at the prestigious Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity – the ‘Oscars’ of the ad industry
Tourism Ireland’s Game of Thrones campaign scooped three awards – a gold, a silver and a bronze – at the prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, in June. The Cannes Lions awards are highly coveted and generally regarded as the Oscars of the advertising and marketing world. The Tourism Ireland campaign was awarded a Gold Lion for ‘Outdoor – Special Build’; in all, 20 campaigns were shortlisted for this particular category, including the likes of Nike, Microsoft and Heineken. Tourism Ireland also took the Silver Lion for ‘Use of Ambient Outdoor’ and a Bronze Lion for ‘Use of Social Platforms’. These accolades were particularly noteworthy given that the festival organisers announced that a total of 41,170 award entries had been received, across 24 different Lions categories.

Tourism Ireland’s Game of Thrones campaign reaches 70+ million 
In July, Tourism Ireland joined forces once again with HBO and its hit TV series Game of Thrones, to promote Northern Ireland around the world. Timed to coincide with the return of the seventh season of Game of Thrones, this year’s campaign was bigger than ever before – featuring an 80-metre long, Bayeux-style tapestry which told the story so far from season 1 to season 6 – giving fans a chance to re-visit all the key events which led to the season 7 premiere. As season 7 unfolded, new sections of the tapestry were revealed each week, in the build-up to the next episode, capturing key events from the previous week. Tourism Ireland shared these new sections via social media – using a mix of cinemagraphs (“living” photographs), time-lapse videos of the weaving process, carousels and Instagram Stories – to bring the creation of the tapestry to life. 

Score for tourism! Tourism Ireland rolled out Women’s Rugby World Cup campaign
Also in July, Tourism Ireland rolled out a special promotional campaign to leverage the tourism benefits of the Women’s Rugby World Cup – urging rugby fans and potential visitors everywhere to come for the games and then stay for the craic. Our campaign activity included a new video, highlighting our welcoming nature and our people; a specially created page on Tourism Ireland’s international website,; as well as extensive social media activity and a major PR and publicity push to Tourism Ireland’s 20,000 international media contacts. Pool stages kicked off in Dublin with the finals taking place in Belfast at end of August. 
New Tourism Ireland video highlights the spectacular Causeway Coastal Route
Tourism Ireland unveiled a new online film to encourage prospective visitors around the world to come and discover the spectacular Causeway Coastal Route. Titled "How to Explore the Causeway Coastal Route", the video was created to highlight the sights on Northern Ireland’s most famous coastline – from majestic cliff-top castles and swaying sea bridges, to a UNESCO World Heritage site, where the jewel of the route tumbles into the sea! 

Autumn campaign with a festival focus
Tourism Ireland launched its autumn promotional campaign, to boost late-season travel to Ireland from around the world. The campaign highlighted the many festivals and events taking place right around Northern Ireland – from the Belfast International Arts Festival to Culture Night, the Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival, Belfast Comedy Festival and Cinemagic Belfast.

Tourism Ireland campaign with The Daily Telegraph highlights Northern Ireland’s culinary delights 
A Tourism Ireland campaign in The Daily Telegraph promoted Northern Ireland food and drink to the paper’s 1.4 million readers in GB, with an article titled ‘Off the eaten track in Northern Ireland’. It gave a ‘flavour’ of some of Northern Ireland’s gastronomic treats including food producers like Broighter Gold rapeseed oil, Broughgammon goat’s meat and Ursa Minor Bakery in Ballycastle; and called out some of our award-winning restaurants including OX Belfast, Brown’s Ardtara Country House Hotel in Upperlands and Wine and Brine in Moira. 

Northern Ireland comes to New York and Beverly Hills
In September, Tourism Ireland teamed up with the iconic Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and Beverly Hills. Eye-catching window installations and in-store displays in the Saks flagship stores in New York and Beverly Hills showcased Northern Ireland and our world-class golf. In addition, a double-page spread featured in the Saks Fifth Avenue fall fashion book – which reached customers in stores, through direct mail and online (via

10 million Chinese tune into travel programme about Northern Ireland
Some 10 million people across China saw images of Northern Ireland in October, in an episode of Morning Call, a popular TV-style talk show which airs on one of the country’s most influential online video platforms, (similar to YouTube). 

Sales mission to the UAE and India
Twelve tourism operators from Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, including the National Trust – Giant’s Causeway and Stena Line, joined Tourism Ireland for its 2017 sales mission to the UAE and India. With approximately 100,000 visitors from the UAE and India travelling to the island of Ireland in 2016, Tourism Ireland is committed to growing tourism from these markets further in 2018 and beyond. 

Belfast and the Causeway Coast named the Top Region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet
Belfast and the Causeway Coast were named the Number One Region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet – coming in ahead of places like Alaska, the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France and the Aeolian islands in Italy. The leading travel media company unveiled the accolade in the prestigious Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 – its collection of the world’s hottest trends, destinations and experiences for the coming year. Tourism Ireland has been taking – and will take – every opportunity to maximise this accolade, using it as another hook to continue to promote Belfast and the Causeway Coast around the world as a ‘must visit’ destination. 

Spotlight on Northern Ireland in Atlanta, Georgia
Representatives of the Ulster Historical Foundation, the Ulster-Scots Agency, Dalriada Kingdom Tours, Visit Armagh, Mid and East Antrim and Brack Tours travelled to Georgia in the United States, to join Tourism Ireland for this year’s Stone Mountain Highland Games. 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.

Singer-songwriter dodie fronts new Tourism Ireland campaign with Vevo
Tourism Ireland teamed up with Vevo, a popular music video and entertainment platform, to create a new Belfast video fronted by YouTube sensation and singer-songwriter dodie. The video was part of a novel promotion to showcase the city to ‘social energisers’ in GB during the autumn months. 

Tourism Ireland campaign with easyJet reaches 3.6 million in GB
Tourism Ireland has teamed up with easyJet in a month-long campaign to promote winter breaks in Northern Ireland. The campaign includes full page ads and articles in Metro (newspaper), the London Evening Standard and TimeOut London, which have a combined circulation of over 3.6 million readers, as well as advertising on Facebook and a feature about Belfast on the easyJet website.

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 61,300 jobs.
  • By the end of 2017, we will have welcomed approximately 2.26 million overseas visitors to Northern Ireland, delivering revenue of about £586 million.
  • Tourism Ireland’s international website is, 29 market sites available in 11 language versions around the world, which attracted about 19.37 million visitors in 2016.