NITB chairman and managing director of Hastings Hotels, Dr Howard Hastings, OBE has urged local firms to sell Larne as a place to do business.
Guest speaker Dr Hastings told guests at the 2014 Larne Business Awards: “At the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, our aim is to double the value of tourism from £500 million a year to £1 billion per annum by 2020. We want to increase visitor numbers to 4.5 million per year and create an extra 10,000 new jobs.
“And by the end of 2013 the value of tourism had grown to £750 million a year, so with seven years left we are already more than half way there.”
Dr Hastings praised the ‘signature projects’ which had taken place in the country since 2012 to attract international visitors. These included Derry/Londonderry City of Culture, Titanic Belfast, MTV music awards, Proms in the Park, All Ireland Schools Choir of the Year Finals, Motorsport and World Boxing Title Events and the new Causeway visitor centre.
Dr Hastings said he believed that these events had ‘persuaded people who had rejected Northern Ireland as a holiday destination to think again and take another look.’
The hotel group director also paid tribute to local events, including the Dalriada Festival in Glenarm, which attracted 30,000 people this year, including visitors from Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.
Turning to local produce, Dr Hastings remarked one a growing demand for Glenarm shorthorn beef, which he said was now sought after not only at home but also in ‘the prized London restaurant market.’
He also commended the estate’s pedigree lamb and Glenarm organic salmon, as well as the Glenarm Oyster Festival.
Recalling the positive impact of the 2012 Irish Open on tourism, Dr Hastings stated: “Irish Major Open champions Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, Graham McDowell and Rory McIlroy were joined by the best in the world from Europe and North America to highlight the challenges of our links courses.
“A third of the links courses in the world so highly prized by high-spending North Americans are in Ireland.
“And my favourite statistic of all is this: there are an estimated 60 million golfers in the world, and the best one lives here. What is not to be proud of in Northern Irish golf?”
Reflecting on the efforts which went into staging the Giro d’Italia earlier in the year, Dr Hastings continued: “This year we helped to showcase the Causeway Coastal Route in April when the Grande Partenza of the Giro D’Italia came through. Despite atrocious weather the route was festooned with people and objects wearing pink, and the civic response to the opportunity presented by he Giro left its Italian organisers awe-struck. The key moment of the whole three days took place on Carnlough beach.
“Hector McDonald from Glenarm had rinsed a beautiful white horse in beetroot juice, rendering it a delightful shade of pink.
“Helicopters with cameras on board panned away from the race to film it and riders paused to take in the spectacle.”
Dr Hastings also voiced his support for the £7 million Gobbins Coastal Path restoration. He commented: “The historic footpath in its former glory attracted more visitors than the Giant’s Causeway. Indeed, the Gobbins Coastal Experience has the potential to capitalise on Northern Ireland’s most prized natural asset, its coastline.
“Visitor forecasts for the restored footpath hope to realize 75,000 visitors per annum and to offer a unique stopping-off point on the Causeway Coastal Route.
“I congratulate Council chief executive Geraldine McGahey and Linda McCullough, director of development, on their part in the development of this magnificent addition to the borough’s assets.”
Dr Hastings also congratulated the council on the £2.5 million funding secured for public realm works in Larne town centre, which he said would be a ‘welcome addition for traders and visitors alike’, and commended Glenarm and Larne for their Ulster in Bloom wins. He concluded: “I hope that your successes tonight will allow you and Johnston Press to tell your stories, and to spread the word that Larne is a good borough in which to do business.”