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Tourism NI Chief Executive Outlines Main Themes of the Tourism Recovery Plan

Tourism NI recently held its first ever virtual Tourism Conference at Belfast’s ICC. Chief Executive John McGrillen outlines the main themes of the Tourism Recovery Action Plan, launched with the Department for the Economy, which was a key topic of the conference. 

By John McGrillen, Chief Executive Tourism NI

We are now half way through 2021 and have spent the last sixteen months dealing with global events that have affected every facet of our lives.

Today with the successful roll out of the vaccine programme, the lifting of restrictions and the opening up of the Common Travel Area I am hopeful that by the end of 2022 the tourism industry in Northern Ireland could be back to 80% of the activity and employment levels of 2019 and see a full recovery by the end of 2024.   

Since 2013 tourism has grown by 46% to achieve an unprecedented £1bn in revenue in 2019, of which £731m were export earnings.

The tourism, travel and hospitality sectors employed approximately 70,000 people in 2019, with 12,800 new jobs created since 2013. This was double the growth in jobs experienced in other sectors of the economy over the same period. These jobs were generated in every part of Northern Ireland with over two thirds of jobs located outside Belfast.

Tourism provides passengers for our public transport and supports sea and air routes; it generates revenue to support our culture and heritage assets and can contribute to the protection of our natural environment; it provides revenue for central and local government and promotes a positive image of Northern Ireland overseas, supporting foreign direct investment.

A wide range of tourism interventions have been introduced over the last sixteen months and in May the Tourism Recovery Steering Group, headed by former Economy Minister Diane Dodds, produced an Action Plan that resulted in more much needed and timely support. 

The Plan has eight themes. Under Business Continuity a new KickStart programme will help businesses restructure, innovate and enhance their productivity. We will also support businesses to maintain and enhance their marketing activity to increase sales. 

We will be providing support to councils to enhance visitor experiences and develop new offerings. There will be a particular focus on food and drink experiences as part of this approach. We will also support with market testing and feasibility studies for future projects, and we intend to continue with our abatement of accommodation certification charges until March 2022.

The second area, Creating Consumer Confidence, will see the continued roll out of  the “We’re Good to Go” charter mark to allow the industry to demonstrate that safety is a priority, and that they are committed to the application of COVID safety guidelines. 

The third theme, Stimulating Consumer Demand, will ensure that Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland are adequately resourced to generate demand. In the immediate term the focus will be on the domestic, GB and Republic of Ireland markets, with an extension of our cooperative marketing fund.

As an island destination, sea and air access are critical to the tourism infrastructure so Safeguarding Connectivity is the fourth theme, with an immediate priority to re-establish GB routes. I therefore welcome Economy Minister Paul Frew’s announcement of a £4.5million initiative to support air connectivity between Northern Ireland and GB which has also been warmly welcomed by the directors of our three airports. 

The Action Plan also supports the industry’s request that the NI Executive continues to lobby for a suspension of short haul Air Passenger Duty (APD). APD has a disproportionate impact on Northern Ireland and has the potential to have a negative impact on recovery.

Enhancing the Competitiveness of the Region is the fifth theme and will highlight the investment required to provide greater access to our natural assets, while ensuring that they are managed sustainably for future generations. 

The City and Growth Deals present a unique opportunity for major investment in tourism infrastructure and will build on the success of the Signature Projects a decade ago. 

By Enhancing the Capability of Businesses, the next theme of the Action Plan, we intend to support with adopting digital technologies to improve business processes and productivity, bolster online presence and revolutionise access to digital marketing platforms.  

Under the theme of Enhancing the Skills of the Workforce we will be working closely with colleagues in the Department of Communities through the JobStart Programme to create new jobs and match job opportunities to prospective young employees. Through the Hospitality and Tourism Skills (HATS) network we will seek to ensure that sector wide skills requirements and career progression paths are effectively communicated and supported.

The final theme of the Tourism Recovery Action Plan is Creating a Supportive Policy Environment and here we seek to develop a new tourism strategy to maximise Northern Ireland’s tourism potential with a unified focus on sustainability and regeneration. Working collaboratively to deliver more sustainable economic, social and environmental outcomes will be critical to ensuring Northern Ireland’s reputation as a world class tourism destination. 

Successful delivery of the Action Plan will require us all to work together in partnership, from government departments and tourism agencies to local councils, representative bodies and most importantly the industry.

I am confident that the priorities within the Action Plan will support the recovery of our tourism industry to meet the needs of future visitors, create sustainable employment and make a positive contribution to local communities right across Northern Ireland  

Travel & Tourism

Galgorm Collection Goes for gold in New Partnership with NOW Group

Pictured celebrating the announcement are (L-R): Maeve Monaghan, Chief Executive of NOW Group, Laura Millar, Group HR Manager at Galgorm Collection, Richard Magowan, Group Staff Engagement Officer Galgorm Collection and Tiarnán O'Neill, Group Finance Director at Galgorm Collection. Photo Credit: Philip Magowan / PressEye

Northern Ireland’s leading hospitality group, Galgorm Collection, today confirmed a new three-year strategic partnership with the NOW Group which will see the first ever Gold Jam Card membership on the island of Ireland awarded to a hospitality partner.

Established in 2000, the NOW Group is a social enterprise focused on supporting people with learning difficulties and autism into jobs with a future. The group’s JAM Card Gold Membership is awarded to businesses that demonstrably place diversity and accessibility at the heart of business.

Through the programme, Galgorm Collection will place its full team through rigorous training to become JAM Card friendly, which means that guests requiring additional time and patience can discretely alert team members and ask for ‘Just A Minute’. It is hoped that the new initiative will help to support guests and visitors with learning difficulties, autism, or communication barriers to experience its full five-star service.

Galgorm Collection has also committed to creating at least five new jobs for people living with autism and enrolled with NOW Group’s employment service. The new jobs cover a range of hospitality roles throughout Galgorm’s collection of properties in Belfast, Ballymena, Crawfordsburn and Templepatrick.

Tiarnán O’Neill, Group Finance Director at Galgorm Collection, said:

“As a responsible business and major local employer, Galgorm Collection is deeply committed to excellence and inclusivity which is firmly embedded within our business. We’re delighted to be the first hospitality partner on the island of Ireland set to achieve Gold Jam Card Membership status and affirm our commitment to supporting our communities.

We continually strive to exceed customer expectations and offer an unforgettable service across our collection of award-winning, luxury hotels and restaurants and I’m delighted that this partnership will enable us to deliver this to all guests.

We’re also thrilled to confirm a new three-year strategic partnership with the NOW Group to really drive our credentials in the area of diversity and inclusion and to provide new employment opportunities to those living with autism or learning difficulties, which we hope to build on throughout the partnership.”

Photo Credit: Philip Magowan / PressEye

Maeve Monaghan, Chief Executive of NOW Group, said:

“We are thrilled to confirm Galgorm Collection as our first strategic hospitality partner and to work with the group in achieving Gold JAM Card Membership which represents our top mark for diversity and inclusion.

Since launching the JAM Card initiative in 2012, the scheme has been a resounding success with more than 1,800 organisations across the region participating in the training programme. We’re delighted to now build upon that momentum by announcing a new strategic partnership with Northern Ireland’s leading hospitality group which will take the programme to the next level.

Galgorm Collection is a key strategic partner for us and we’re excited to work closely with the group to deliver upon this new programme. Not only will this partnership create new employment opportunities for our service users, but it will allow Galgorm Collection to lead the hospitality industry in terms of neurodiversity and how it supports vulnerable customers.

We hope that this programme will encourage other organisations across all industries to see the benefits of joining us in committing to support those with visible and hidden disabilities through our JAM Card initiative.” 

In addition to the new jobs created, Galgorm Collection will further support the NOW Group’s social enterprise Loaf Pottery. Located in Crawfordsburn, the café and ceramics shop sits directly opposite Galgorm Collection’s newest venture, The Old Inn, which was acquired by the group earlier this year.

Through the partnership, pottery and ceramics crafted from the shop will be made available for sale across Galgorm Collection’s properties, reaching an expanded customer base and promoting the enterprise to new audiences from near and far.

For more information on the Gold JAM Card Membership or JAM Card Initiative, please visit or

For more information on Galgorm Collection’s commitment to communities, please visit

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Travel & Tourism

Embrace A Unique Art Experience On Picturesque Farm On The Causeway Coastal Route

Perched just a couple of hundred yards from The Gobbins Cliffs, Audrey Kyle offers a unique art workshop, helping people learn the skills of painting as well as connecting with nature.

Folklore and the landscape of the Islandmagee peninsula, shaped by the sea, offers a stunning backdrop to learn art away from the daily hustle and bustle of modern life.

Audrey Kyle Art operates on a simple premise – learning a new skill in a tranquil setting.

It is a concept Audrey developed after re-discovering her affinity for painting.

“I had been working in the corporate world in HR, but eight years ago I took a change in direction and haven’t looked back,” she explained. “I began painting, started to get commissions and my new career started from there”

Audrey opened the Gobbins Studios to showcase her own work, but has since opened the studios for classes.

This Saturday August 1 from 12pm – 4pm, Audrey will be hosting an open studio where she will be displaying some brand new pieces that incorporate organic materials.

“What is offered is quite different to what other art classes offer,” she said. “As well as learning the skills of watercolours it is very much aimed at creating a relaxing, mindful experience.”

It also helps that the studio is part of a working farm with a livery stable and a flock of 50 Suffolk ewes.

“Where we are situated means we have a stunning landscape and an active farm,” Audrey said.

“There are so many aspects that can be drawn upon. And, as it changes through the seasons it offers many different inspirations.

“For example, in the summertime we do watercolour workshops and experience days where the people that visit can go for a walk through the meadow and through the woodland, we collect wild grasses and wildflowers and then they come back to the studio and paint them.”

Most classes last for three hours and can accommodate up to six people. However, there are also special summer sessions.

“In summer I host experience days, which last for five hours including lunch, and woodland and cliff top walk along with the watercolour practice.

“This enables the folklore to be incorporated to build experiences of the folklore of Ireland and really embrace the spirit of this remarkable area.”

Art Fans are welcome to join Audrey Saturday August 1 at The Gobbins Studio from 12 pm- 4 pm to view some of the artist’s latest work.

You can find out more and book classes at or contact Audrey directly on 07712464966

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