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17 Dec 2019

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

~ £570 million overseas tourism revenue in 2019, delivered by 2.26 million visitors ~

2019 has been a record year for overseas tourism to Northern Ireland. Latest estimates indicate that, by year end, overseas tourism will have generated around £570 million (+2% on 2018) for the economy, driven by 2.26 million visitors (+2%).

Tourism Ireland today reflected on highlights of its activity to promote Northern Ireland around the world in 2019. These have included the roll-out of its first global campaign in seven years – ‘Fill Your Heart With Ireland’; campaigns to leverage the eighth and final series of Game of Thrones and the 148th Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club; Tourism Ireland’s magnificent Game of Thrones Tapestry going on display in Bayeux; city breaks campaigns for Belfast; as well as the launch of a new brand for Northern Ireland, ‘Embrace A Giant Spirit’, in conjunction with Tourism NI.

“2019 is set to be another record year for overseas tourism to Northern Ireland,” said Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland. “Throughout the year, Tourism Ireland undertook a packed programme of promotions, to bring Northern Ireland to the attention of travellers everywhere. We pulled out all the stops to leverage the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities presented by the final series of Game of Thrones, as well as the superb 148th Open at Royal Portrush. 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 media exposure is worth an estimated £157 million in equivalent advertising value.”

Earlier this month, Tourism Ireland launched details of its new three-year strategy for 2020-2022 and its marketing plans for next year to tourism industry leaders from around Northern Ireland, in ICC Belfast. The aim is to grow overseas tourism revenue to £658 million (+15%) and visitor numbers to 2.57 million (+13%), by 2022.

Commenting on the year ahead, Niall Gibbons said: “In 2020, we will roll out ‘Northern Ireland – Embrace A Giant Spirit’ in our key markets around the world, through an extensive programme of trade, media and consumer communications,” said Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland. “It’s a really exciting time for Northern Ireland tourism and this new brand presents us with an excellent opportunity to get real ‘stand-out’ for Northern Ireland on the international stage. Our message is that there has never been a better time to visit Northern Ireland.”


Tourism Ireland’s ‘Fill Your Heart With Ireland’ global ad campaign reaches 78 million TV viewers
In 2019, Tourism Ireland’s first major global advertising campaign in seven years – ‘Fill Your Heart With Ireland’ – was rolled out around the world, reaching around 78 million viewers on TV alone, during the year. Filming for phase two began in May and additional content was filmed this autumn, to ensure coverage of lots of additional locations and activities. The campaign aims to continue to refresh and reinvigorate the presentation of the island of Ireland overseas and features a range of less visited attractions and locations including The Gobbins and Devenish Island. It also highlights the passions that research shows motivate our target audience, such as landscapes and heritage, and dials up activities like walking, cycling and kayaking.

Overseas publicity – worth £157 million
Working with overseas travel, lifestyle and special interest media is an important element of the overseas promotional programme. In 2019, 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 £157 million in equivalent advertising value.

Digital and social media strength – one click away from 1 billion connections
Tourism Ireland continued to leverage its strength in digital and social media – especially important in reaching, and connecting more frequently, with our target audiences. Tourism Ireland is now the fourth most popular tourism board in the world on Facebook (around 4.5 million fans), number four on Twitter (524,000 followers) and number four on YouTube (almost 64 million views). By year end, Tourism Ireland’s international website,, will have attracted more than 23 million visitors.


Creating ‘Celtic Connections’ in Scotland

A delegation of tourism businesses from Northern Ireland travelled to Glasgow, to take part in Tourism Ireland’s first promotion of 2019 in Scotland – a B2B workshop and networking event with influential tour operators and travel agents from Scotland and the north of England. The event provided a valuable platform for the participating companies from Northern Ireland to win business for the year ahead.

Tourism Ireland leads sales mission to India and the UAE
Tourism companies from Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland joined Tourism Ireland for its 2019 sales mission to India and the UAE. The delegation met and concluded deals with around 300 tour operators and travel agents in Mumbai, New Delhi, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

TV chef James Martin comes to Northern Ireland

Millions of people across GB tuned in to two episodes of the popular ITV show James Martin’s Great British Adventure, which were filmed here in Northern Ireland. In the first episode, viewers saw James meet up with his friend, chef Paul Rankin; together, they visited the Giant’s Causeway, where they cooked a fish stew for some tourists visiting the site.  Belfast, Moira and Strangford Lough featured in the second episode.

Ciao Belfast!
A new Tourism Ireland campaign promoting Belfast was rolled out in Milan and Venice – both cities with direct flights to Belfast. It was an online video campaign – with a new Belfast video running on popular websites. And, millions of commuters saw eye-catching ads for Belfast in metro stations around Milan – part of a separate Tourism Ireland campaign with Ryanair, to highlight Belfast as a fantastic city break destination and to drive demand for flights from Milan (Bergamo) to Belfast. The ads were on display in 15 different metro stations – which had a footfall of around 9 million people each week.

Global Greening season – 470 sites in 55 countries

Tourism Ireland’s annual Global Greening initiative for St Patrick’s Day was bigger and better than ever before in 2019 – generating more than €10 million worth of positive publicity for Ireland across the world. New sites for 2019 included the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (the world’s tallest building), Victoria Falls, York’s medieval City Walls, Lord’s Cricket Pavilion in London, Nation Towers in Abu Dhabi, the Atakule Tower in Ankara and the Shizuoka Stadium ECOPA in Japan (where Ireland played Japan in the Rugby World Cup in September). Tourism Ireland’s Global Greening initiative has truly gone from strength to strength, with around 470 iconic landmarks and sites in 55 different countries lighting up green this year, including the Colosseum in Rome, the London Eye, the Great Wall of China, Niagara Falls and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

City breaks campaign reaches millions of commuters in GB
A campaign promoting Belfast and Londonderry as ‘must visit’ city break destinations included high impact outdoor ads in 287 locations across London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh – all cities with direct flights to Belfast and Londonderry. The ads featured images of Belfast and the walled city of Derry and highlighted ease of access to Northern Ireland. Tourism Ireland estimated that the ads were seen by around 73% of all adults living in the six GB cities.

Food Glorious Food!
Visitors to London’s popular Borough Market enjoyed some delicious Northern Ireland food and drink during St Patrick’s week – with a pop-up showcase in the market featuring around 23 producers from Northern Ireland.  The showcase was part of Tourism Ireland’s programme of activity to highlight Northern Ireland in GB and, in particular, to raise awareness of Northern Ireland as a destination for some of the best food, drink and hospitality on offer for visitors anywhere.

Tourism Ireland’s ‘Glass of Thrones’ campaign reaches 29+ million fans

In April, 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 eighth and final season, the campaign – called ‘Glass of Thrones’ – was designed to encourage fans to make a pilgrimage to Belfast, where much of the world’s most popular TV show was filmed. As each episode of the final season aired, six beautifully crafted, freestanding stained-glass windows were installed across Belfast – creating a brand new trail for fans from around the world. Each window highlights a key House from the show, with a series of panels depicting the most exciting and talked-about moments from the entire saga.

Biggest ever sales mission to China

Tourism Ireland’s biggest ever sales mission to China took place in May. Five tourism businesses from Northern Ireland – including Andras Hotel Group, the Giant’s Causeway, McKeever Hotel Group, Stena Line and Titanic Belfast – took part in the targeted mission to Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing – to grow our share of this important emerging tourism market. Prior to the sales mission, Tourism Ireland announced its intention to double its marketing investment in China and to also double its marketing team to 12 – to grow Chinese visitor numbers to the island of Ireland to 200,000 by 2025.

German football legend Sepp Maier lends his famous hands to promote Northern Ireland!
Tourism Ireland enlisted the help of legendary German goalkeeper Sepp Maier, to showcase Northern Ireland and our world-class golf. Footage and photos of Sepp at various golf courses, including Royal Portrush and Ardglass, were shared by Tourism Ireland with German golfers – through the media in Germany and via Tourism Ireland’s social channels.

New strategy to grow tourism from GB

In June, a new strategy was unveiled to grow tourism from GB. It set out an ambitious target to grow revenue from GB holidaymakers by +33%, to £116 million, by 2022 – while ensuring continued regional growth and season extension. The strategy was developed cognisant of the ongoing Brexit negotiations and uncertainty; and the recommendations of the strategy remain valid and can be flexed under all potential outcomes of the negotiations.

The strategy stressed the importance of ‘unlocking the lifetime value of GB holidaymakers’. GB holidaymakers return time and time again and a key finding of the strategy included a change in behaviour when they return. Repeat holidaymakers tend to be more adventurous; they are more likely to come for longer, spend more and venture beyond our cities into the regions. As many GB holidaymakers come back time and time again, this makes them an important group to nurture.

New Tourism Ireland research looks at potential of Canada for Northern Ireland tourism
Canada offers significant potential for Northern Ireland tourism, according to research unveiled by Tourism Ireland, in June. The Canadian market has performed strongly for tourism to Northern Ireland in recent years; in fact, Canada was the fourth largest overseas tourism market for Northern Ireland in 2018 – in terms of visitors, holidaymakers and spend. Tourism Ireland’s research examined the profile of our current Canadian holidaymakers. It also identified the opportunities and challenges which will drive growth in Canadian visitor numbers to Northern Ireland over the coming years.

Showcasing Northern Ireland in sand

A giant piece of sand art – created by a group of award-winning sand artists called Sand in Your Eyes – appeared on Downhill Strand, ahead of The 148th Open at Royal Portrush. Tourism Ireland invited the artists to create the unique artwork, which depicted five Northern Ireland icons drawn into the coastline: Titanic Belfast, the city walls and the Guildhall in Londonderry, the Dark Hedges, Rory McIlroy swinging a golf club and the direwolf sigil of House Stark from Game of Thrones. It was part of Tourism Ireland’s extensive programme of promotions to shine a spotlight on Northern Ireland and to leverage to leverage the tourism benefits of this once-in-a-lifetime event for Northern Ireland.

Millions saw images of Northern Ireland during Sky Sports broadcasts from Royal Portrush
Tourism Ireland in GB invited Sky Sports to come and film at some of our tourism ‘hotspots’ in Northern Ireland, ahead of The Open at Royal Portrush. The footage captured was subsequently used in various Sky Sports broadcasts from Royal Portrush during The Open, showcasing not only our world-class golf, but also some of the many great things to see and do on a holiday here.  

Campaign to capitalises on Open ‘hype’
Following the hugely successful 148th Open in July, Tourism Ireland launched a golf campaign in GB to harness the excitement of the tournament and continue to leverage the tourism benefit and the fact that all eyes were on Royal Portrush and Northern Ireland. The campaign included a new partnership with The Daily Telegraph – both the print and online versions – which ran until the end of August. The Telegraph has a combined print and online reach of around 22 million.

£11 million autumn campaign launched

Tourism Ireland launched its autumn promotional campaign, to boost late-season travel to Northern Ireland from around the world. It incorporated a major focus on attracting visitors to more rural areas and our less visited attractions and locations and highlighted the many reasons to come here – including festivals and events like the Belfast International Arts Festival, the Armagh Food & Cider Festival and the Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival.

Lonely Planet names the Giant’s Causeway the number three visitor experience in the UK
Lonely Planet named the Giant’s Causeway the number three visitor experience in the UK and some 19 other Northern Ireland visitor attractions and experiences made it onto the travel giant’s ‘Ultimate UK Travelist’. Tourism Ireland’s leveraged the accolade via its social channels – highlighting the news to its fans and followers across GB, in particular via Facebook and Twitter.

Game of Thrones creator fronts new Tourism Ireland video
Tourism Ireland created a new online film fronted by George R.R. Martin, the bestselling author of the Song of Ice and Fire saga, the books that became the TV phenomenon Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin was here this summer, to accept an International Recognition Award as part of this year's Irish Book Awards – but made sure to take a trip to Castle Ward in Co Down, where some of the key Game of Thrones scenes were filmed.  Tourism Ireland took the opportunity to interview Martin and hear from him what it was like to return to Northern Ireland and re-connect with the real-life locations which brought the characters, scenes and stories in his books so vividly to life. The Tourism Ireland video showcases Northern Ireland’s beautiful landscapes and some of the locations used in Game of Thrones – including Binevenagh, Downhill Beach, Carnlough, Castle Ward and Tollymore Forest.

Tourism Ireland’s Game of Thrones Tapestry goes on display in Bayeux

Tourism Ireland’s hand-crafted Game of Thrones Tapestry went on display in Bayeux, Normandy, in September. It is being exhibited in the historic Hôtel du Doyen in Bayeux until 31 December, within walking distance of the legendary 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry – which was a key source of inspiration for its new neighbour. Tourism Ireland’s Game of Thrones Tapestry was created in 2017, in conjunction with HBO and National Museums Northern Ireland – featuring some of the most memorable and exciting scenes from season one to season seven. After the final episode of season eight aired earlier this year, a team of 30 volunteer stitchers completed the final section of the tapestry and it is now 87 metres long.

‘Flavours of Ireland’ in London

Tourism Ireland’s ‘Flavours of Ireland’ B2B tourism workshop took place in October – with tourism companies from Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland meeting and doing business with around 120 top UK inbound tour operators who bring business to Ireland and the UK from all over the world (including the US, Mainland Europe, Asia, Australasia and Africa).

Spotlight on Northern Ireland in Atlanta, Georgia
Representatives of the Ulster Historical Foundation, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, Mid Ulster District Council, as well as historian Billy Kennedy, travelled to Georgia in the United States, to join Tourism Ireland for this year’s Stone Mountain Highland Games. Food expert and author Judith McLoughlin, originally from Northern Ireland and now living in Georgia, was also in attendance, highlighting some delicious Northern Ireland produce. Entertainment was provided by the Stonewall Folk Group, from Co Armagh. Participation at the two-day festival is a key element of Tourism Ireland’s activity to showcase Northern Ireland as a compelling holiday destination to people of Scots-Irish and Scots descent in the United States.

New Northern Ireland brand, Embrace A Giant Spirit, launched at world’s largest travel fair

Tourism Ireland and Tourism NI launched a new destination brand for Northern Ireland – Embrace A Giant Spirit – to the international travel trade at World Travel Market in London, the largest B2B event in the global travel and tourism calendar. It will be used to promote Northern Ireland around the world in 2020 and beyond, to continue to grow visitor numbers and ensure economic impact across all regions. The logo was designed by internationally acclaimed, Northern Ireland based artist, Colin Davidson, with Pulitzer prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey also involved in creative content and production.

70 million Americans tune in to Ireland
Tourism Ireland kicked off a major US$1.7 million promotional campaign for 2020 in the all-important American market – with a five-week TV campaign reaching 70+ million people. Tourism Ireland’s ads – ‘Fill Your Heart With Ireland’ – are airing on major networks, including NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox, in the key cities of Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis and Philadelphia. The ads will run until the end of the year and have been specially timed to coincide with Thanksgiving and Christmas. For the final week of the campaign, the ads will also air in Seattle, San Francisco and New York – as the week between Christmas and New Year is a key vacation-planning period for Americans.

TV presenters Ant and Dec showcase Northern Ireland on ITV
Well-known TV presenters Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly highlighted the Sperrins, Castle Ward and our spectacular scenery on ITV – in a two-part documentary, called Ant and Dec’s DNA Journey. The programmes aired in November and showed the pair’s investigation into their ancestors – which took them to Desertmartin and Slieve Gallion in the Sperrins, as well as to Castle Ward in Co Down.

  Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, at Tourism Ireland’s end-of-year review.

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 65,000 jobs.
  • By the end of 2019, we will have welcomed almost 2.26 million overseas visitors to Northern Ireland, delivering revenue of almost £570 million.
  • Tourism Ireland’s international website is, 29 market sites available in 11 language versions around the world, which attracted around 23+ million visitors in 2019.