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Published on : Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Tourism NI Chief Executive John McGrillen tells Alyson Magee of the organisation’s plans for Year of Food and Drink 2016 and why industry should embrace the initiative.The year-long celebration of Northern Ireland food and drink, aimed at elevating its reputation and export prospects while boosting the local tourism offer, has officially begun.
Producers, suppliers, retailers, caterers, venues and event organisers are invited to get involved in Year of Food & Drink 2016, which is led by Tourism NI in partnership with Food NI, Invest NI, local authorities and government departments.
In addition to setting a target to increase food-related visitor satisfaction by 5%, Tourism NI hopes the initiative will generate £10m of positive PR in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain and boost export sales of local food and drink.
Locals, visitors from across the world and global markets for Northern Ireland food and drink will be targeted through a series of branding, marketing and promotional activities. Each month has been allocated a particular agri-food focus and the Year will celebrate businesses of all sizes from small artisan producers to long-established businesses such as Tayto which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2016.
Year of Food & Drink has become a focus of significant funding from Tourism NI, explained the organisation’s chief executive, John McGrillen.
“Our focus this year is not on one big event but on a series of events that will take place over the course of the year,” he explains. “Some of it will be based around existing festivals but what we would like to see is an uplift in what those festivals might offer.”
From St George’s Market in Belfast to regional food and drink festivals and the Balmoral Show, “every local authority is looking at how they will either uplift and enhance events they have got, or create new events in order to take advantage of the opportunity that Year of Food & Drink presents,” he continues. “We’ve got a really interesting calendar developing.”
While Tourism NI received a number of applications to its events fund to expand existing festivals, McGrillen believes, “there will be a couple of large scale events that will emerge during the course of the year that will be new and will potentially be sustained into the future.” An announcement of a major coup for Belfast is expected this month.
FOOD & DRINK SECTOR GROWTH
Development of Northern Ireland Year of Food & Drink 2016 follows the success of a similar initiative in Scotland last year, as well as significant growth in the local sector.
While Northern Ireland is already renowned for its hospitality, recent years have seen its reputation as a supplier of safe, high quality food and drink grow with the Institute of Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast – and in particular its director Professor Chris Elliott – becoming an international authority on related issues.
An explosion in the number of artisan producers has emerged, in parallel with the Province outperforming the other regions of the UK and Republic of Ireland in the prestigious Great Taste awards.
Food and drink experiences have become increasingly important to tourism as they offer destinations an opportunity to differentiate and celebrate indigenous foods and educate visitors about heritage, landscape and culture.
While there are many more attractions beyond local produce to attract visitors to Northern Ireland, “it certainly adds to the proposition,” says McGrillen. “It’s further encouragement for people to come. We see it having the potential to draw in visitors.”
MARKETING PLANS FOR THE YEAR
As lead partner on the Year of Food & Drink 2016, Tourism NI is planning a rounded programme of PR activity, press trips, advertising, website and social media coverage, content creation and asset management, and support for relevant trade and consumer shows.
With a focus on telling stories about local food and drink, media events and consumer competitions will be held across the year around each monthly theme and other seasonal opportunities such as Shrove Tuesday, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, as well as further tourism opportunities around, for example, Game of Thrones.
With Year of Food & Drink a central part of the Northern Ireland marketing destination sell, local activity will be mirrored in the Republic of Ireland and supported in international markets by Tourism Ireland and Invest NI.
Specific plans in the Republic of Ireland include press trips, consumer shows, trade events, shopping centre promotions, branded EcoCabs and BugBikes in key Dublin locations in the summer and marketing at Connolly Station.
Tourism NI boasts an audience of 300,000 across its consumer website Discovernorthernireland.com and social media, and will target its database of 80,000 people across the island of Ireland with a monthly e-zine promoting Year of Food & Drink events.
“As and when the events come on stream, we will market those through our usual channels,” says McGrillen. “That’s part of our agenda here, to make as many people aware as we can about what’s going on right across the Province over the course of the Year, and hopefully encourage them to come and visit.”
Another aim of the Year will be to establish a template for future development and co-operation across the food and drink sector.
“We want to encourage those events to prosper,” says McGrillen. “We certainly see a legacy coming out of what is essentially a £2.75m investment from Government in the initiative.
“It’s looking like it could be an exciting year, and we’ve got off to a good start with the Bib Gourmands and two Michelin-starred restaurants. Northern Ireland is now starting to get a real reputation as a place of excellence for food and drink.”
Source:- Tourism Northern Ireland