Chefs Help Raise The Profile Of Our Food

It’s impossible to put a monetary value on endorsements by international publications of local restaurants to the hospitality industry here. But what is clear is that the sort of positive comments about our restaurants and food now appearing regularly in major magazines and newspapers exerts an important influence of people considering a trip to Northern Ireland.

Some 16 Northern Irish restaurants were listed among the best in Britain in the latest review of restaurants by the influential Good Food Guide from high-end retailer Waitrose.   Two, OX and EIPIC, both in Belfast were named among the top 50 in the UK. Quite an endorsement by the publication which celebrates quality eateries in local areas and showcases newcomers.

It was fantastic to see Bull and Ram in Ballynahinch included, a restaurant which is now moving to set up a new location in Belfast’s university area. Other publications have also recently lauded the food created at Saul McConnell’s first restaurant, Noble in Holywood…justifiably. And Ballyrobin House has also won praise from Jean-Christophe Novelli.

Food NI continues to invest time and staff resources on measures to raise Northern Ireland’s profile as a destination for great food in Britain and especially the Republic of Ireland. We continue to work with food writers, journalists and bloggers to achieve coverage for the hospitality industry here through introductions to local restaurants and their chefs.

In addition, we’ve also set up meetings with local producers, especially smaller businesses, to showcase the quality, provenance and outstanding taste of their products. It’s work which profiles the creative people behind our exceptional hospitality and food stories. Greater resources would enable us to do even more including following the contacts already made and expanding the base of influential people ready to help us promote Northern Ireland.

We need to intensify this work to build on the achievements over the past few years especially the hugely successful Year of Food and Drink. We have to keep our foot on the pedal. Both hospitality and food have immense potential to contribute more to the growth of the Northern Ireland economy and the wellbeing of rural communities especially in business starts, employment and skills.

Food NI continues to support Hospitality Ulster and the airports in their efforts to persuade government that action in areas such as VAT and Airport Passenger Duty would help to accelerate the growth in hospitality in particular.

The latest tourism figures are certainly immensely encouraging.  There was a record one million overnight trips taken in Northern Ireland during January to March 2017, an increase of six percent. Visitors from out of state markets, especially Great Britain and the Republic, spent £117 million (+15%) and visitors from all markets combined, including Northern Ireland, spent a record £170 million, a seven per cent increase on the same period in 2016.

Aided by a favourable currency rate, visitors from the Republic increased by 36 per cent. Hotels delivered a record level performance during the first half of the year with almost one million hotel rooms sold and average room occupancy reaching 70 per cent.  Events such as the fantastic Women’s Rugby World Cup final stages at the Kingspan in Belfast led to ‘booked out’ signs on hotels in the Greater Belfast area. According to Tourism NI’s latest industry barometer, more than three-fifths of attractions have reported increases in visitor numbers compared with January to June 2016.

The signs are promising, especially since they are matched by an increase in visitors perceptions about our food and drink, and it’s important to acknowledge the role of everyone involved in food and drink that have worked so hard to raise our reputation in hospitality.