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Brian Gillan, First Trust Bank

By Brian Gillan Head of Business & Corporate Banking, First Trust Bank 

 

“Earlier this year, First Trust Bank along with more than 300 tourism providers and industry stakeholders visited the beautiful grounds of Enniskillen Castle in Fermanagh for the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards. Here we shone a spotlight on the creative talent and commitment of those at the forefront of a sector whose innovative practices are driving the success of NI’s tourism industry locally and on the world stage. 

 

At the Awards it was plain to see why the hospitality industry is worth more than £1.1 billion annually to the Northern Ireland economy and employs one in every 20 workers. From hotels that are empowering their businesses through innovative technology, to family-run companies that are capitalising on niche markets, our local industry leaders demonstrate why 2.6 million people want to visit our region annually. With Belfast hotels reaching a record high room occupancy rate of 83.5% and Airbnb citing Northern Ireland as its fastest-growing UK visitor destination, our hospitality sector not only continues to deliver solid growth but demonstrates its extraordinary potential for future expansion. 

Although the Awards highlighted our hospitality sector’s bright future and the vibrancy within it, the celebrations followed a turbulent 2016. We have revelled in a successful ‘Year of Food and Drink’ programme and numerous prestigious awards - Belfast picked up the ‘Best UK City’ trophy at the Guardian and Observer Travel Awards and Titanic Belfast was named the ‘World’s Leading Tourist Attraction’ at the World Travel Awards – but we also had to consider the impact of the EU Referendum results, the drift in the Sterling/Euro exchange rate and potential challenges in the marketplace. 

Clarity around issues such as the Common Travel Area between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the free movement of people, goods and services across the border is essential to ensure the sector is supported and that it continues its important role of creating jobs and adding to the overall economic health of the region. Although we face the added pressures of local political stalemate, we know that debate, collaboration and knowledge sharing at an industry level - and right across the supply chain – can sharpen focus and create solutions. 

While together the industry can continue to emphasise its viewpoint in regards to Brexit arrangements, the focus should remain on innovation and investment for the future in any case. In our own business, we continue to see a return in confidence and an appetite for growth. From our offices in Ann Street, we can look out over the Belfast skyline and count a number of cranes all busy adding to local room occupancy rates. The same is true if you visit other areas in Northern Ireland. From the North Coast to the West, we have had customers add to their offerings by researching market trends and innovating across their businesses. From refitting premises and developing new products to investing in ICT systems and reinventing dishes, local companies and entrepreneurs are keen to attract guests and visitors regardless of the political and economic challenges we face on a macro scale. 

At First Trust Bank, we are keen to play our part and help nurture local businesses growth plans. From working with local cafes and restaurants to heavy-weight hotels and boutique B&Bs, we know first-hand the unique and wider challenges the hospitality sector faces and we are committed to working closely with our customers and the industry as a whole to help realise its potential. Two of our local customers – Quails in Banbridge and the Tullyglass Hotel in Antrim - share their business experience and insight from working in the fast-paced and ever evolving hospitality sector.”