Tourism Ireland defends promotion of North following criticism of efforts

Belfast airport CEO made plea to Taoiseach for body to make North ‘gateway to Ireland’

Belfast International Airport chief executive Graham Keddie. File photograph: Aaron McCracken/Harrisons

Belfast International Airport chief executive Graham Keddie. File photograph: Aaron McCracken/Harrisons


Tourism Ireland has defended its work promoting the North after a Belfast airport boss was critical of its efforts.

The defence comes after Belfast International Airport chief executive Graham Keddie wrote a strongly-worded letter to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny making an impassioned plea for the tourism body to refocus and make the North “the gateway to Ireland”.

Tourism Ireland is responsible for promoting the whole island abroad.

“Just as Tourism Ireland aggressively marketed and promoted the Republic of Ireland through Dublin, we expect no less an effort now that the situation is reversed,” Mr Keddie wrote in a letter to Mr Kenny, seen by the BBC.

“Perhaps that is something you and your colleagues could impress on Tourism Ireland in the interests of fairness and equality.”

He called for Belfast to be a gateway to “the island as a whole”.

Mr Keddie also told Mr Kenny that the Leave result in the UK’s Brexit referendum was not an “à la carte” exercise.

He said that Brexit means different regions cannot remain in the EU and do what he described as “solo runs”.

On Friday, Tourism Ireland told The Irish Times it will launch its 2017 plans to promote Northern Ireland in Britain and other locations around the world, in Belfast next week.

A statement said: “Tourism Ireland continues to promote Northern Ireland in 23 markets around the world - building on the record growth we have seen in 2016.

“Official NISRA (Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency)figures confirm growth of +9 per cent in overseas visitors in the first half of 2016 - including growth of 10 per cent in visitor numbers from GB (Great Britain) and +29 per cent in holiday visitors from GB.”

DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr has praised Mr Keddie for the intervention highlighting that he wants “a fair crack of the whip” and for “Tourism Ireland to do its job and to see Northern Ireland as the gateway into the island of Ireland - not Dublin airport”.

Earlier this month, the North lost its only direct airline to the US after United Airlines announced it was halting flights between Belfast and New York, despite a £9m rescue deal being offered by the Northern Ireland Executive only weeks before.

SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley said that in the circumstances, suggesting Belfast as a gateway to Ireland was unrealistic and that “bold statements” such as Mr Keddie’s lacked credibility.