Northern Ireland is entering a period of significant opportunity for tourism, Minister Arlene Foster said today.
Looking ahead to 2012, the Tourism Minister said that the province was on the cusp of an unprecedented year with a range of high-profile events planned.
Arlene Foster said: "Throughout 2011 Northern Ireland has raised its profile as one of the places to visit through events such as the MTV Awards.
“I launched NI 2012 in Belfast and Dublin last year and excitement about what it can deliver for Northern Ireland has been building ever since. The major programme of events planned is about showcasing ‘our time, our place’ and it includes, among many others, the opening of the new iconic Titanic building in March. Tickets have already gone on sale and are selling fast.
“This is our year to change global perceptions of Northern Ireland and rebrand it as a place to live, work, invest, study and visit.
“In 2013, Londonderry will be the inaugural UK City of Culture and Belfast hosts the World Police & Fire Games. These events will help generate significant interest in Northern Ireland and why overseas visitors should choose to come here. Initial estimates are that collectively 2012 and 2013, and their legacies, could generate an additional 833,000 visitors, £140million spend and 3,570 jobs over the next four years.”
Turning to the economy, the Minister acknowledged that the last few years had been difficult for many people across the world but it was important to be optimistic.
The Minister continued: “I believe there are opportunities waiting to be exploited, deals to be won and untapped potential to be realised. In order to rebalance our economy we need to encourage Northern Ireland businesses to seek out new markets, particularly those outside Europe.
“Many local businesses are showing encouraging signs of growth and there have been a number of inward investment successes. A wide range of small and medium sized businesses are already exporting goods and services across the world, and we are working to encourage businesses to export to new markets.
“We are continuing to develop tools to help businesses that are facing challenges. Invest Northern Ireland recently launched the Boosting Business initiative to boost support for businesses, large and small. Within this initiative, the Jobs Fund has a budget of £19million to help businesses create job opportunities. It is already bearing fruit with a number of jobs announcements.”
Another important step aimed at improving the competitiveness of the local economy was the recent launch of the draft Economic Strategy which is currently out for consultation.
Concluding the Minister said: "The draft Economic Strategy emphasises the importance of devolving corporation tax to our Executive, and how this could help transform our economy. We have been absolutely clear with the Coalition Government that Northern Ireland wants these valuable powers.
"During 2012 we hope to see a positive outcome on corporation tax, an outcome similar to the one on Air Passenger Duty, which saw the tax reduced on international flights out of Northern Ireland.
"It has been a challenging year but, by government and business working together, we can ensure devolution delivers for the people of Northern Ireland and build towards a prosperous and dynamic economic future for everyone.”