Best International Experience Category – Winner: Titanic Belfast
NI Tourism Heritage Property of the Year – Winner: Crumlin Road Gaol
NI Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year – Winner: Chris Wilson (Streamvale Open Farm)
The Northern Ireland Tourism Awards have showcased the very best in local tourism for the fortieth time – at the venue where they first began.
The special anniversary event, organised by Tourism NI in association with Diageo NI, was held at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, where the inaugural awards first took place in 1978.
Former BBC newsreader and Belfast native Maxine Mawhinney presented the black-tie event now regarded as the highlight of the tourism calendar.
Titanic Belfast scooped the Best International Experience Award following its crowning as the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction.
Crumlin Road Gaol won in the NI Tourism Heritage Property of the Year Category. The visitor centre, which reopened following an extensive refurbishment in 2012, now provides an increased offering for community, education and business use, whilst also being a major tourist attraction.
Chris Wilson from East Belfast’s Streamvale Open Farm came out on top in the NI Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Category. Located in Dundonald, Streamvale Open Farm is much more than a farm, providing children with the opportunity to see a range of animals in ‘Pets’ Corner’, bottle feed goats and lambs as well as holding a range of festive events.
In the same category, the founder of Bespoke Belfast (a travel and leisure consultancy specialising in business tourism) Melita Williams was Highly Commended.
A number of other Belfast businesses were commended in a range of categories, including The Belfast Tattoo, who received Highly Commended in the Most Promising Authentic NI Event or Festival Experience Category.
The Merchant Hotel received Highly Commended in NI’s Best Stay – Hotel Category, with the Bullitt Hotel receiving Commended. The MAC, Belfast was also Commended in the Most Impactful Digital Innovation Award. In the Authentic NI Experience of the Year Category, Belfast Traditional Music Trail, An Droichead was Commended.
Originally titled the ‘British Airways Tourism Endeavour Awards,’ the annual event has recognised many hundreds of local businesses over the years for their inspirational contribution to the tourism industry.
Head of Beannchor Group and Merchant Hotel owner Bill Wolsey received the Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award while a Tourism Hero Award went to Caitriona Lavery from Hastings Hotels.
Celebrating the huge step changes in the industry over the last four decades, the anniversary event received a record number of entries spanning 11 different categories.
Speaking at the event, Tourism NI Chairman, Terence Brannigan, said: “Northern Ireland’s attractiveness as a tourist destination has come a long way in the last three or four decades. When you compare today with 1978, the step changes that have happened in our industry cannot be missed nor underestimated. In the last six years, in particular the sector has performed consistently well.
“Today we are Lonely Planet’s Best Region in the World to visit in 2018 and we are preparing to host The Open Championship in 2019, the most prestigious golf event on the planet.
“Tourism is now one of the largest, locally owned, internationally traded sectors of our economy, supporting 60,000 jobs either directly or indirectly and offering Northern Ireland one of its best opportunities for economic growth.
“Considering the challenges that the industry has faced over the last 40 years, the achievements have been nothing short of immense.”
Jorge Lopes, Country Director, Diageo NI said: “What a fantastic evening for the tourism and hospitality industry in Northern Ireland. The Awards really served to highlight the significant strides the industry has made over the last four decades and Diageo is very proud to be a part of that journey. Congratulations to all the winners, indeed to everyone shortlisted for awards. I think we can feel extremely positive and excited about the future of tourism in Northern Ireland.”
Authentic NI Experience of the Year [Sponsored by Diageo NI]
Winner: The Museum of Free Derry
Highly commended: Seamus Heaney Homeplace
Commended: ‘Artisans at Work’, Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust
Commended: Belfast Traditional Music Trail, An Droichead
Best International Experience [Sponsored by Tourism Ireland]
Winner: Titanic Belfast
Highly commended: Belleek Pottery Visitor Centre
NI Tourism Heritage Property of the Year
Winner: Crumlin Road Gaol
Highly commended: Antrim Castle Gardens, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council
Commended: Blessingbourne Manor and Country Estate
Most Impactful Digital Innovation Award
Winner: Night Ride to Armagh: A Digital Transformation, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
Highly commended: Motorhome Craic, Motorhome Parking Ireland
Commended: The MAC, Belfast
NI’s Best Stay – Hotel [Sponsored by First Trust Bank]
Winner: Bushmills Inn
Highly commended: Merchant Hotel
Commended: Bullitt Hotel
Commended: Galgorm Resort and Spa
NI’s Best Stay – Guesthouse / B&B
Winner: Water’s Edge, Glenarm
Highly commended: Blackrock House B&B
Commended: Ardtara Country House
NI’s Best Stay – Self Catering [Sponsored by Hoseasons]
Winner: Spice Cottages
Highly commended: Blessingbourne Country Estate
Commended: Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel and Lodges
Commended: Ballygally Holiday Apartments
Best NI Event or Festival Experience (International) [Sponsored by Tourism Ireland]
Winner: Derry Halloween, Derry City and Strabane District Council
Highly commended: Northern Ireland Open, Galgorm Castle
Commended: Ulster Grand Prix, Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club
Most Promising Authentic NI Event or Festival Experience
Winner: Armagh Georgian Festival 2017, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
Highly commended: The Belfast Tattoo, XO Events
Commended: Giant’s Causeway Coast Sportive, Outdoor Recreation NI
NI Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year [Sponsored by Ulster University Business School]
Winner: Chris Wilson – Streamvale Open Farm
Highly commended: Melita Williams – Bespoke Northern Ireland
Commended: Sean McLaughlin – Fullerton Arms Guest House
NI Food & Drink Experience of the Year [Sponsored by DWF]
Winner: Slow Food Festival, Derry City and Strabane District Council
Highly commended: Walled City Brewery
Commended: The Parson’s Nose, Balloo Inns Limited
Winner: Caitriona Lavery, Hastings Hotels
Outstanding Contribution to Tourism
Winner: Bill Wolsey, Beannchor Group