Clarke says North not being given enough exposure by Tourism Ireland

Northern Ireland tourist board chief also warns funding cuts will smother growth in sector

Giant’s Causeway, Co Antrim. Alan Clarke said knowledge of destinations such as Dublin, Cork and Kerry was well developed in Britain, while the NI brand needed a bit more promotion. Photograph: John Lawrence/Getty

Giant’s Causeway, Co Antrim. Alan Clarke said knowledge of destinations such as Dublin, Cork and Kerry was well developed in Britain, while the NI brand needed a bit more promotion. Photograph: John Lawrence/Getty

Thu, Aug 28, 2014, 01:00

Steps taken to boost tourism in Northern Ireland will be undermined if the sector is hit hard by Stormont funding cuts, the retiring head of its tourist board has warned.

In his last week in the post, Alan Clarke also expressed concern that the Northern Ireland brand was not being given enough exposure by Tourism Ireland, the cross-Border body that promotes Ireland abroad.

Mr Clarke, who is stepping down after 13 years as chief executive of the board, says tourism contributes more to GDP in the North than agriculture, but that position will be threatened if spend is reduced.

Stormont departments are absorbing a £78 million (€97 million) round of cuts and are preparing themselves for more pain in October, when the Executive will consider how to deal with the £87 million that is set to be sliced off the block grant if UK government welfare reforms are not implemented.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board receives more than £20 million a year from the UK’s department of enterprise, trade and investment.

Stormont funding

Aside from the pressure on its Stormont funding, the board will lose £2 million of EU support next year. Mr Clarke said the Dublin government had committed to spending more on tourism in the Republic.

He said: “They are going to put more investment in. Therefore if Northern Ireland doesn’t invest over the next number of years the gap between North and South, which actually has been narrowing over the last number of years . . . is going to widen again.”

Ireland is promoted overseas by the jointly-funded body Tourism Ireland. Stormont provides one-third of Tourism Ireland’s public funding and the Irish Government the other two-thirds. Mr Clarke said his relationship with the cross-Border body had been marked by “tension”.

“I think, to be truthful, there has always been a tension there,” he said.

He said there was a need for more “flexibility” within Tourism Ireland to enable Northern Ireland to sometimes be marketed as distinct from the rest of the island.

British market

Mr Clarke said the issue was particularly important with the British market.

He said knowledge of destinations such as Dublin, Cork and Kerry was well developed in Britain, while the NI brand needed a bit more promotion.

“We [Northern Ireland] are putting a third of the money in [to Tourism Ireland] and we get around 10 to 11 per cent of the holidaymakers coming to the island.

“So Northern Ireland is paying beyond its share, if you like. So, therefore Northern Ireland needs to get a return on that, and that return needs a more flexible approach by Tourism Ireland in the marketplace,” he said.

In response to Mr Clarke’s comments, a spokeswoman for Tourism Ireland said: “Throughout 2013, we rolled out our ‘GB Path to Growth’ strategy, to boost travel from that market, so we were particularly pleased to see that strategy clearly working, with a 15% increase in holiday visitors and 11% growth in business or conference visitors from GB, in the first quarter of this year.

“We have an extensive promotional programme in place throughout 2014, showcasing Northern Ireland around the world to prospective holidaymakers.” – (PA)