We can’t be afraid to do business

DR Howard Hastings, OBE, Chairman of Visit Belfast and Managing Director of Hastings Hotels, said there are small, incremental steps that can be taken to ensure goals in tourism are achieved.

In terms of Brexit, he said he echoes sentiments expressed by an economist from Oxford Economics who concluded ‘Business will get over it… business always does’.

The influential hotelier told the Let’s Talk Tourism forum in Killarney that Tourism Ireland has done “a wonderful job” in Great Britain and overseas markets.

“In the face of falling budgets, they have taken an international leadership role in digital marketing and careful investment over many years has secured remarkable results.

“Without doubt, global tourism, the Brexit referendum and the US election result have made the world a more uncertain place. However, echoing FD Roosevelt in his inaugural address, I believe the only thing we have to fear is fear itself so let’s not be putting ‘Afraid to do business’ on our risk registers,” Dr Hastings stressed.

He said there still seems to be a reluctance be central government to invest as much as the industry would wish in overseas markets so hoteliers must ensure that every penny counts.

“We have an established brand and we have agreed that brand building and destination marketing are down to Tourism Ireland and that product development and the promotion of products, like golf and business tourism, should be down to the two domestic boards.

“The segmentation of the best prospects in the market and the brand architecture best suited to capturing these prospects has been painstakingly researched and developed and delivered cohesively by Tourism Ireland,” Dr Hastings maintained.

Posing a question to delegates, the influential hotelier wondered when did Dublin stop becoming a destination and redesignated as a product?

“What possesses Fáilte Ireland, together with industry, to launch what amounted to a ‘go it alone’ campaign in Britain last year and this, where the creative was devised outside the Tourism Ireland branch architecture, and where the call to action was to a separate website,” he asked.

“To me this is like aiming at a target with a double barrelled shotgun where the two bores are not aligned. In a world of joined-up tourism, we must do better than that,” Dr Hastings added.

He said joined-up tourism makes it easy for the customer to try and buy the product and he said separate promotional events, like Meithal in the south and Meet The Buyer in the north, should be amalgamated into one show.

He said themed trips are a good idea going forward and food and drink tourism was a big attraction.