Late Night Art Wins Tourism Award

Belfast City Council and CultureNorthernIreland joint initiative voted best new tourism project

Late Night Art, an initiative developed and organised by Belfast City Council and CultureNorthernIreland, has picked up the award for best new tourism project at the 2009 Northern Ireland Tourism Awards.

Late Night Art sees public galleries in Belfast open their doors until 9pm on the first Thursday of every month. As part of the initiative, art lovers are invited to take coach and walking tours of featured galleries - led by Belfast artists Susan McKeever and Rhonda Hunter - and chat about what they have seen at the regular afterparty's in the Black Box.

Late Night Art tours and gallery shows are promoted through CultureNorthernIreland's website and the Belfast Welcome Centre.

'With the coach and walking tours selling out fast, and feedback from galleries and tourists positive from the start, we've known for some time that Late Night Art was worth the effort,' comments Lee Henry, web editor of CultureNorthernIreland and 'This award goes to show that with a little bit of imagination, team work and endeavour, anything is possible.

'Without attractions like Late Night Art, Northern Ireland will struggle to compete with its neighbours in attracting the attention of tourists. It's our aim and our pleasure to provide visitors to Northern Ireland with all the information they need when it comes to filling their cultural diaries whilst visting our shores. Late Night Art is central to our plans in the years ahead, and we would like to thank everyone involved in helping to make it a success.'

Late Night Art is just one aspect of Belfast City Council's Cultural Tourism Initiative, which seeks to make specific areas of culture more accessible to visitors.

'We are unusually rich in the quality and variety of our artists and are a home to the finest practitioners who are receiving international awards and acclaim,' said Carolyn Mathers, Belfast City Council cultural tourism officer. 'Their skills, imagination, creativity and innovation are playing a crucial role in revitalising Belfast. We hope Late Night Art will continue to make it easier for locals and visitors to experience our vibrant cultural scene.'

Tourism minister Arlene Foster addressed 340 local tourism representatives at the awards ceremony in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Organised by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board in association with Diageo Northern Ireland, the NITA are now into their 31st year.

'It is very encouraging to see a growing number of visitors coming to Northern Ireland from our close to home markets,' commented Foster. 'In 2008, the level of holidaymakers arriving from the Republic of Ireland rose by 26%, with 367,000 trips being made. Tourism revenue in that year also increased, by 16%, to almost £50 million.'

Congratulating the winners of the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards the Minister added: 'As we all strive towards building Northern Ireland as a must-see world class destination, this evening is an opportunity to celebrate the success and achievements of our local tourism industry.

'Now is the time to build on our successes, and take advantage of the value for money, quality visitor experience that Northern Ireland offers our increasing numbers of visitors. We must ensure that those who choose to come to Northern Ireland for business or pleasure, will seek to return in the future. By working together to improve what we have on offer, we can constantly evolve as a destination and cater to meet the demands of our visitors from near and far.'

Winners celebrated their success across a variety of categories including Best Visitor Experience, PR Excellence and People Development, and were chosen from a record number of more than 130 entries.

Nicky Dunn, Chief Executive of the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, was recognised for her Outstanding Contribution to Tourism. Ms Dunn has worked with the Odyssey since it was established nine years ago, and has helped make it one of the busiest venues in Europe, attracting worldwide acts and events to Belfast.

Other winners included the Old Inn in Crawfordsburn, which won the Hotel Accommodation category, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, which won the Best Visitor Experience, and in the Event category, the City of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival was announced as the winner.

Speaking at the ceremony, NITB Chairman Howard Hastings said: 'I am proud of the ever increasing standards in tourism right across Northern Ireland and would like to extend my congratulations to all the winners here this evening.

'While this may have been a more challenging year economically right across the industry, our world class hospitality and visitor attractions are encouraging visitors to arrive. NITB has been supporting the industry by creating innovative and targeted campaigns to create maximum impact, both within the domestic and Republic of Ireland markets.'