INQUIRY INTO CULTURAL TOURISM AND THE ARTS
PUBLISHED BY AUTHORITY OF THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
BELFAST: THE STATIONERY OFFICE
SESSION 2001/2002 FIRST REPORT
Ordered by The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure to be printed 23 May 2002
Report: 01/01 R (Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure)
COMMITTEE FOR CULTURE, ARTS AND LEISURE
VOLUME 2 -MINUTES OF EVIDENCE RELATING TO THE REPORT
COMMITTEE FOR CULTURE, ARTS AND LEISURE:
MEMBERSHIP AND POWERS
The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Standing Order No 46 of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has power to:
- consider and advise on Departmental budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
- approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee Stage of relevant primary legislation;
- call for persons and papers;
- initiate inquiries and make reports;
- consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
The Committee was established on 29 November 1999 with 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of five.
The membership of the Committee is as follows:
- Mr Eamonn ONeill (Chairperson)
- Mrs Mary Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
- Dr Ian Adamson
- Mr Fraser Agnew
- Mr Ivan Davis
- Mr David Hilditch
- Mr John Kelly (replaced Mr Barry McElduff with effect from 4 February 2002)
- Mr Kieran McCarthy
- Mr Eugene McMenamin
- Mr Jim Shannon
- Mr Jim Wilson
The Report and Proceedings of the Committee have been published by the Stationery Office by order of the Committee. All publications of the Committee have been posted on the Northern Ireland Assembly website: www.ni-assembly.gov.uk
All correspondence should be addressed to the Clerk to the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland Assembly, Room 424, Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast BT4 3XX. Tel: (028) 9052 1574; Fax (028) 9052 1063; e-mail: email@example.com
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VOLUME 2 - Minutes of Evidence
Minutes of Evidence Page
Feile an Phobail
Antrim Borough Council
Independent Professional Theatre Group
Belfast City Council
Ards Borough Council
Lisburn Borough Council
Down District Council
Arts & Business for Northern Ireland
Ballymena Borough Council
Northern Ireland Hotels Federation
Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
The Nerve Centre
The Genealogy Centre
The University of Ulster
The North West Archaeological & Historical Society
Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Tuesday 19 June 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms M Brown )
Mr A McGrath ) Féile an Phobail
Ms C Ruane )
Ms C Jackson )
The Chairperson: Welcome everyone.
Ms Ruane: Féile an Phobail is a community festival which is celebrating its thirteenth anniversary and is going into its fourteenth year. It has moved into its new premises called Teach na Féile, which means festival house. It was opened on the Falls Road in 1997. We now have two premises. The Féile committee organises a year-round programme of events and has a full-time staff of 10 people. It is growing very fast.
Féile an Phobail organises a children's festival - the first ever children's festival in the North of Ireland, and it is one of the top five or six children's festivals on the island. We organise an August Féile, which is now one of the biggest community festivals in the world. Féile an Phobail also organises a local radio station, Féile FM. It broadcasts for two periods of 28 days in the build up to the St Patrick's carnival and our August flagship event.
Féile an Phobail is one of the seven members of the St Patrick's Carnival Consortium. We chair the consortium, and that is a day's work in itself. I will refer to the carnival today, but I will not go into it in detail. Perhaps we should bring the other representatives of the consortium to the Committee or make a submission about the carnival at a later date. The members of the consortium are Ardoyne Fleadh Cheoil, Féile an Phobail Lóiste Úir, Lower Ormeau Festival, Markets Festival, Newington Festival, Short Strand Festival and Féile an Phobail.
As well as organising events, Féile also organises training programmes. Initially they were informal, effective and popular training programmes. Children started when they were young and therefore some of the older volunteers in the radio station are 16-year-olds now. It is a dynamic programme, but the young people told us that they wanted accredited training. It is good to see us being led by our young people - sometimes they have more vision than we do. Ms Brown was instrumental in setting up the accredited training through our radio station. We did a pilot programme, which is now being used in other parts of the city and in the North of Ireland.
Féile is seen as one of the leading festivals. Not only does it provide cultural events in an area that has been severely disadvantaged but it also brings economic revenue and tourists to west Belfast and to the city. We attract headline artists from all over Ireland and all over the world. We have had artists such as Westlife and Samantha Mumba. This year we have Atomic Kitten and top international acts such as Afro-Cuban All-stars.
All of the events that Féile is involved in - whether directly as organiser or as part of a consortium - have a strong involvement of the Irish language. We are a signatory to the POBAL charter and we actively promote the Irish language. It does not mean we are all fluent speakers; it means that we have a Gaeilge-friendly or Irish-friendly policy. We encourage people to use the two words they have in Irish - or the ten.
There have been so many difficulties with funders and Government bodies since Féile was founded that we commissioned independent research on the economic impact of Féile an Phobail on west Belfast in 1994 and 1997. The most recent independent research in 2000 was funded by the Belfast Regeneration Office under the Department for Social Development.
The purpose of the research was to deal with some of the criticisms and prejudices against Féile an Phobail. We had to present arguments that were based on hard economic facts. The last study we commissioned was very successful. It was a tendering process, and the consultants carried out surveys of all our events and of 1,200 of our visitors. They also looked at our radio station, the children's festival and the OCN training programme. They started looking at the St Patrick's carnival but they felt that it merited a full study of its own. We received funding from the Belfast Regeneration Office to carry out that study from March this year but we had to change our St Patrick's Day celebrations because of the foot-and-mouth disease crisis. The study will now take place next year.
It is important to explain how, and why, Féile an Phobail was established. Prior to 1988, west Belfast went through a very difficult time during August with the commemorations of internment. There were bonfires and RUC men with plastic bullet guns. Often, there were young people who had taken drink. All of those factors combined to make quite a lethal cocktail. There were many casualties, rioting, and people being shot dead. It was a very traumatic time for people in west Belfast.
Féile slowly but surely replaced the commemoration of internment with a community development approach. Now, instead of having bonfires or militarised areas on 9 August there are big concerts, discussion and debate, dramas and exhibitions. That is a very important point regardless of whether you support Féile or not. Féile is showing the way to other communities in the North of Ireland. Other communities may do their own thing, but it is not coincidental that there is a growth of festivals in Nationalist areas, Republican areas, Loyalist areas and Unionist areas. Quietly, behind the scenes, many people from different areas are asking us for advice.
The August Féile 2000 brought in £3·3 million, and that is a conservative estimate by our consultants. It is £3·3 million in a week that follows the marching period, when there is a lack of visitors coming to the North of Ireland. Two thirds of the money was spent in west Belfast, and one third was spent in the city of Belfast.
The organising committee now employs 10 full-time workers and two part-time workers. Draíocht 2000 was the most successful children's festival held by Féile an Phobail. It attracted over 4,000 children to 20 events and activities. We are targeting social need areas. Féile has also developed a very proactive and dynamic disability programme called Oscailt, which is the Irish word for "open". It is so successful that we have just attracted funding from the Arts Lottery, and we are looking to match fund that. It is a three-year programme.
The St Patrick's carnival presents a positive image of the city on a day when the world celebrates what it means to be Irish. We are seeking to invite people from other cultures to join us in celebrating St Patrick's Day. Féile is at the vanguard of the community-led arts and cultural renaissance in Belfast and our work needs to be reflected, supported and respected at all levels of society. That has not happened to date, although there have been some changes. As we say, 'tús maith, leath na hoibre' - 'a good start is half the work'. However, it is only a very small start. Unfortunately St Patrick's carnival is currently in litigation with Belfast City Council. We hope that this is the last such case, because we do not want to waste time or resources going to court.
Féile is committed to inclusion, inclusivity and diversity. We have a very broad definition of diversity, which includes all ethnic minorities in the city, the state, and on the island of Ireland. Diversity is for people with disabilities, for gay and lesbian rights, for people who consider themselves British and for people who consider themselves Irish.
We view diversity as allowing everybody the right to display symbols, with nobody dictating to others about what they can or cannot display. We cannot have hypocrisy in our society, with one flag flying over a city hall. All languages, rights and nationalities must be respected.
Ms Jackson: We had over 4,000 children from all sections of the community taking part in Draíocht this year. We work with a broad range of schools; state maintained, Irish language, travellers and special needs schools. We hope that the project held this year between Vere Foster Primary School and Harberton Special School will continue. We are trying to increase awareness between children with disabilities and children with abilities so that they can see each other and see their differences.
We work with marginalised children. We work with the children of ex-prisoners, children in care, children in hospital, children from the travelling community and children who speak the Irish language. We work with primary and secondary schools. Many schools come along to our radio station. We offer the children a broad range of activities, not just cultural and arts events, but multimedia experiences, including broadcasting, in addition to computer and Internet access.
Mr McGrath: I have been the marketing officer for the past two years. Féile has been the main event that attracts people to west Belfast, and Belfast generally. We see Dublin as the gateway to the Irish tourism market. We also target the east and west coasts of Ireland, the border counties, the Six Counties and, of course, Belfast.
During the summer, when tourism struggles, Féile succeeds in attracting numbers of people to Belfast. That looks certain to continue. Our work to attract people to west Belfast is vital, as Ms Ruane highlighted, and it is also successful.
Ms Ruane: We will leave copies of our children's programme, our AGM report and our executive summaries with you, in addition to the material that you have already received.
The Chairperson: That was an impressive presentation - the scale and level of your activity is to be applauded. We have some questions that will expand one or two points.
Mr Davis: Can you give more detail on the linkages between the festival and the tourism industry, including the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB)?
How do you see those relationships being improved and, in putting packages together, would links with the travel and accommodation providers be helpful? How would you develop those packages? Finally, can you tell us how much you received from the Arts Lottery Fund?
Ms Ruane: We work very closely with the different tourism bodies. We work with the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau and are always seeking to develop our contacts. We disseminate 120,000 programmes and most of that work is done by ourselves, though some of it is done through Belfast City Council and the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau. Originally we worked with the NITB - it is one of our funders - and with Bord Fáilte, but that is all one tourism company now. We will be working closely with the new company and we see that as essential.
We had a very effective web site campaign recently. It is very much needed, as the North is not getting enough tourism. Mr McGrath referred to Dublin as the gateway to Irish tourism. In the South of Ireland, tourism is distributed more evenly than it would normally be in other European countries. This is unusual. Tourists visiting Prague, for example, might not get to the other cities in the Czech Republic. In the South of Ireland, places like Killarney and Mayo West - all the different parts of the island - have developed themselves into tourist areas.
We are only starting to achieve that here now, and it is essential that we get involved. We are looking very closely at our relationships. We are a founding member of the Fáilte Feirste Thiar group, which is the 'Welcome to West Belfast' group. In that group you would have representatives of all the different groups within west Belfast; elected councillors; representatives from the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau; the Belfast City Council and the NITB.
We are also working on a tourism product - I do not like using the term 'product' but it is the jargon now. Cultural tourism is one of the products that the North is looking to develop, and we need more discussion on that subject. The island has a population of approximately five million people, yet its image internationally is phenomenal when compared with much larger countries or areas. Those countries do not have the same profile as us when it comes to music, film, and language.
I have to pay tribute to Michael D Higgins who started something fresh and new a few years ago. I know that he organised a very useful conference, which people from here attended. We, in the North, have not even started yet. We have tremendous potential, but we now need to start developing it.
We have looked at tourism packages and we have identified lack of accommodation as a big problem. It constitutes the single biggest spend of any tourist. We have looked at packages for different types of tourists and have, for example, arranged a deal with the Children's Hospital on the Falls Road to provide £7-a-night accommodation in the nurses' homes. There is the Fáilte Feirste Thiar, a 'Welcome to West Belfast' tourism office, which is the first stop for tourists. We have a very good cultural, social and economic map of west Belfast, which contains all the different organisations. Fáilte Feirste Thiar has created a 'Welcome to West Belfast' tourism guide.
We need to work with the city in a more dynamic, creative and much less conflictual way. It means showing respect for us and meeting us halfway. I will give you an example. We recently met with the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau. They were very anxious that Féile join the Bureau and were looking to do a supplement in the 'The Irish Times'. We were exploring the possibility of launching our organisation there next week. There is a beautiful new sign of welcome in seven different languages - but not in Irish. What does that say to visitors? By doing things such as this we are further segmenting one of the target audiences that Mr McGrath talked about. The Irish language community comes to Féile because we provide a bilingual programme. The Irish language community is growing in the South of Ireland. It is a very committed community, which will go the extra mile to send its children to Irish-language schools. However, those people, walking into what is supposed to be the first stop for tourists, are welcomed in almost every language except Irish.
We are currently in negotiations about that matter. We want to work with everybody. We are open to working with everybody, but we need to meet each other halfway.
Mr Davis: What about funding?
Ms Ruane: We got £25,000 a year for three years from the Arts Lottery Fund. That is for a disability development worker. We have to find the other 25%.
Mr McMenamin: Thank you very much for your presentation and congratulations to you on all of your endeavours. I wish you well. As you said, a good start is half the work. Mr McGrath has already referred to marketing, but do you have a marketing plan and a budget specifically to target the tourist market? How do people from outside Northern Ireland find out about the festival? Do you have a web site? Finally, do you have much cross-community participation in the festival?
Ms Ruane: I will deal with the cross-community aspect, and then Mr McGrath can reply about marketing. Féile goes out of its way to encourage participation from all the different communities. Perhaps I have a broader definition of cross-community. We look at all the different communities that are in Belfast - indeed, that are throughout the North - and we go out of our way to make sure that they are actively included as spectators, attendees and also as participants.
For example, we have an event called 'West Belfast Talks Back', which happens on a Wednesday night of the Féile every year. It is very unusual because in the middle of the summer we get 800 to 1,000 people attending, and we have to turn people away from this event. It is a very open and honest debate. In the past, we have had on the platform people such as Gerry Adams, Dermot Nesbitt, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Bairbre de Brún and Bríd Rodgers. We had Rev David McIlveen participating last year. Community activists also take part, and we mix the panels. You can imagine the kind of debate that takes place - it is very healthy and interesting.
We also take a lot of affirmative action. For example, this year - and this is a bit of a sneak preview because our launch is not until next week - we are having a seminar on building "inclusivity" on the island. We have a variety of people speaking. We are having a young traveller who is coming from Derry. We have the editor of 'Metro Éireann', which is the multicultural newspaper in Ireland. He is a Nigerian who is doing some very interesting work in the South of Ireland. We have a representative from the equality authority in the South of Ireland, who is a lesbian activist. We have Gerry Adams, the MP for the area, and Dr Robbie McVeigh looking at the whole issue of equality.
We also do graveyard tours - Dr Adamson has been on a couple of them - in Belfast City Cemetery and Milltown Cemetery. They are not triumphalist in nature. The guide would perhaps say things such as "This is a grave from the 1800s when such-and-such was happening" and "There are the hunger strikers' graves" and so on. You can tell the history of what has happened here through the graves, and the tours respect all the different cultures and traditions. In fact, that is one of our most popular events. We have 100 to 150 people going on those tours.
We also have plays coming from all the different traditions. We have a play coming which has won a Fringe First award in Edinburgh, which is quite an achievement. It is a very provoking play that looks at the whole issue of ethnic minorities and crossing the different communities and boundaries. We are putting that on in St Dominic's High School. We go out of our way to have different events that attract people from all communities.
We have events that people from some communities will not choose to go to. For example, we will not be having a rush of people from the Shankill area to the Bobby Sands Cup football tournament. Able-bodied people occasionally go to the disability events, but it is normally people with disabilities, and their families, who attend them.
People go to the marquee events because they are popular. People will pick the different events. Somebody who likes comedy, regardless of where they come from, will go for the comedy. You will probably be lobbied by your children to go to see "Atomic Kitten", because it is the top British pop group.
When we had Westlife, people came from all communities. The majority of people who come to us are from the Twenty-six Counties, from Nationalist and Republican backgrounds and perhaps from the more liberal elements of the Protestant community. Our base is broadening, and more people are coming.
Mr McGrath: For every event in Féile we set up a marketing plan. That plan looks at various factors, including our own strengths and weaknesses. We then develop that to look at the opportunities and threats in relation to each event. We also look at the political, economic, social, and technological factors - all of which have an effect on our events. From that, we can identify the most appropriate marketing tools to attract our target markets.
We have had a web site for over a year. It is www.feilebelfast.com for anyone who wants to look at it. We recently found out that on Yahoo.com, which is a search engine on the Internet, we have been the number one hit festival over the last 12 months. That was extremely satisfying.
You asked how people outside the North hear about Féile. We set about attracting our target markets using our marketing plan. One of our main target areas is the people of the border counties. I am from Donegal, and I understand the views that people have of the North and Belfast. These are huge barriers to overcome when promoting Féile and our various events. We promoted Féile through various mediums. For example, we had interviews on local radio stations in the border areas, ticket giveaways and various other promotions. Interestingly, it was announced recently that traffic over the border has increased by a third during the last five years. The main bulk of that traffic is travelling from north to south. Féile is endeavouring to reverse that trend. It has been successful in the past, and it is certainly going to develop more in the future.
Ms Ruane: The distribution of 120,000 copies of our colour programme is one of our biggest marketing tools. Over the next week, we each go to a different part of Ireland, delivering the programmes to petrol stations, GAA clubs and tourist information centres. A survey, carried out by our consultants, found that this was how most people found out about us. The lowest percentage of people found out about us from the tourist boards, but we are hoping that that will change. We have already been in touch with them. There have been a lot of queries in Dublin, and we are going to have a display there.
The Chairperson: It is interesting that your specific targeting of the market that you are interested in is more effective than the central organisation's general targeting. You specifically know where you will get your response.
Dr Adamson: I found the tour of the cemeteries very instructive. It was very well done by Cllr Hartley. What is your estimation of the festival's potential to generate increasing numbers of visitors to Belfast and Northern Ireland? I am thinking particularly of the western isles of Scotland, which could be considered to be within the Gaelic diaspora. Do you know how many out-of-state visitors you get?
Ms Ruane: I do not think that we have even started in relation to attracting visitors. We are doing very well, and we attract thousands of visitors, but I do not think that we have even begun to reach our potential. Féile an Phobail has the potential to become the Rio de Janeiro or the New Orleans of this island. To do that we need to build slowly but surely. Over the last five years we identified some of the weaknesses in our infrastructure. We did not have the infrastructure to enable us to plan in advance. We should be booking the acts for next year now, and increasingly we are able to do that. We should be making bookings a couple of years in advance. I do not think that we have even begun to reach our potential.
In relation to cultural tourism, people are talking about the North of Ireland everywhere you go. I have worked in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and people talk about Belfast in the same way that they talk about Soweto. We have to capitalise on what people know about us, build on that and use any gateways that we have to attract tourists.
When I was in South Africa, I would not have dreamt of leaving Johannesburg without going to Soweto to see what it was like. It blows people's minds to have concerts, discussions and debates there, and they really enjoy the atmosphere. If we can work with the city in a creative way, we can turn this into a major event. That will require some hard thinking on everyone's part, but as a starting point we are asking for respect.
For example, the South of Ireland chose festivals from the South of Ireland for the millennium list, and the North chose festivals from the North. The list was then printed in all of the newspapers, and there were television advertisements and so on, but we were not included - the St Patrick's Carnival was not included. The St Patrick's Day festivals in Dublin, the Rose of Tralee and everywhere else were included, but we were not. The recent brochures from Bord Fáilte have a big colour advertisement giving the list of millennium festivals and their dates, but we are not in it. We must look into that. That will be the challenge for the next five years.
Four years ago we were bringing in 40,000 visitors - there were 400,000 participants but 40,000 visitors. Since that, in our last study, which was already very broad, we concentrated on visitor spend rather than the number of visitors. To have also covered the numbers aspect would have required a much bigger study. We do, however, need to have another study to examine visitor details. Over the last three years we have organised a huge publicity drive in the South, and it is paying off. Féile is starting to become known, but I cannot tell you the exact number of visitors.
Dr Adamson: I understand the interest in St Patrick, and I share that interest. However, I am also interested in St Columba and the missionary voyages to the western isles and St Columbanus's voyage to Europe. It would be good to follow that interest up in some way.
Ms Ruane: I am sorry - I missed that part of your question out. Scotland and France represent a huge market, and I think that the music here is attracting people from those countries at the moment. This year a GAA club, as part of Féile, is organising a week of shinty, GAA games and camogie and lots of people are coming over from Scotland. I accept that we need to develop that area.
Dr Adamson: Go raibh maith agat.
Mrs Nelis: Your comments have been an inspiration. I am not surprised that Board Fáilte leaves you off the list - it is scared that you might capture all their tourists in the South and bring them to the North. It does not want to compete with such a dynamic group as yourselves.
You have answered some of the questions that I was going to ask, but I still have several. Like Dr Adamson, I went on the cemetery tour. It was very inspiring, aside even from the information about Belfast as a city, the origins of Belfast, and the culture and traditions of the people. There were French, German, American, and Japanese people on the tour with me. People from all over the world went on that tour of the City Cemetery in Belfast, and it was great. It is a very different experience, but it is also an indication of the potential for attracting international tours. International visitors to Belfast who want to learn about the city do not do so through the Belfast tourist centre or city hall. They can, however, learn about Belfast and its very rich history by walking through a cemetery.
You mentioned that the festival takes place during the marching season, when it is very difficult to attract people to the North because of its image. Everybody seems to leave, but this festival has really bucked the trend and stopped people leaving. People are not only staying as a result of the festival but visitors are coming to see it.
You have replaced the traditional, tribal way of celebrating various cultures - through bonfires and all sorts of destructive things - with this very successful festival in west Belfast. That is something that we are trying to copy in Derry - although we have not yet been as successful as you have been. In Nationalist areas of Derry we have nearly put paid to the very destructive tradition of cutting down trees and burning them. As a child in days gone by, I quite enjoyed that, but I have grown up now, and we are putting more creative things in its place. That has great potential.
Féile only lasts a week, and the week always seems too short. I hear the visitors saying "There was so much to do, and we would love the festival to have been longer". There are questions about developing a broad programme of events during the summer. Given that most of the traditional theatres and places close down during that period, could your festival contribute to a development of that nature?
I do not believe that there is an organisation out there to touch yours. It is quite unique. However, are there any groups in the South, England or the UK that would share the broad cultural and tourism potential of your organisation, and do you have any connections with such groups?
Ms Ruane: Although we may have bucked the trend, the Drumcree factor and the marching season still affect us hugely. For example, we do our marketing in two tranches. We will get our programme this Thursday. From then, we have about eight days when it is safe for our people to deliver programmes. We start at the places that are furthest away and then move in towards Belfast.
We run our media advertising campaigns prior to 1 July. From 1 July to 18 July is dead time. It is a good time for us to organise. We can do event management work, but those two weeks are the most valuable from a marketing point of view. Galway Arts Festival will not just be advertising for two full weeks, three weeks before the festival there.
The marching season therefore has a huge impact on us. We still manage to get visitors in because of our strategies. However, if it were not for the marching season, we could triple our visitors.
The second tranche of our advertising begins in the last two weeks in July, when we carry out a blitz. That is when most of our advertising takes place.
People can make up their minds now and say "Atomic Kitten is playing at the festival. We will go to see them with the family. There will be a few events taking place". Then the marching season begins, the images hit them and they decide to go to Kilkenny instead, which has a festival the week after. Perhaps they decide to go to Clare, where they have the beach as well. That is what we are up against.
We are not the only group who experiences this - everybody in the North of Ireland does. That issue must be resolved soon if we are to take tourism seriously. If not, there will be no economic growth. Tourism in the South of Ireland is second only to agriculture. We must examine tourism seriously.
In relation to extending our events, the secret of our current success is that it is a short, sharp festival, with hundreds of events happening.
Given funding, I think that we could expand, because we now have the staff in place to organise weekly events throughout the year. For example, Carol Jackson could be organising African dance for children, music workshops or radio editing workshops. We have, as yet, no performance space in west Belfast, but every week we would be able to fill theatre space with touring productions such as the ones they have in Letterkenny. We should develop that area.
We have created two big festivals per year: one is St Patrick's carnival in March, in conjunction with other festivals, when we have the radio station and the children's festival - Draíocht; the other one is in August - August Féile.
In the South there is an interesting phenomenon. It is exactly opposite to the way festivals have happened here. Festivals here come from the community and then link with the commercial aspect - for example, in Sandy Row, Ballymacarret, Ardoyne and Strabane. Féile an Phobail is another example.
In the South of Ireland, communities are often quite ethical, and they are careful about selling their souls. For example, a drinks company funds our festival - but we are very careful about children and drink. The festivals in the South were started by the chambers of commerce and commercial people. There, the community was an afterthought. I do not mean to belittle them, because some of them are brilliant. However, we are a member of the Association of Irish Festival Events (AOIFE), and the South is beginning to incorporate our model of community into their commercial festivals. Some of the biggest workshops held during the AOIFE conference are on commercialism and how it can destroy a festival. Some sponsors want their names to appear in association with our festival name, but we will not allow it. That can cause difficulties. The negotiations at Stormont are nothing in comparison.
Mrs Nelis: You see yourselves as being in the vanguard of community-led arts. In your presentation you said that you look forward to being part of the bid for Belfast European City of Culture 2008. How do you see that developing?
Ms Ruane: We have contacted Belfast City of Festivals, although at present we are not part of it.
Mrs Nelis: Why is that?
Ms Ruane: We are currently taking one of the institutions, a major pusher of the European City of Festivals, to court. On 20 June I have a meeting with Imagine Belfast 2008 to explain that we would like to be part of the bid, but that there needs to be respect and inclusiveness. We need to be treated fairly and not discriminated against.
The Chairperson: Your launch is next week. Please accept our apologies, because the Committee will be out of the country on the day in question. Thank you for your contribution to our inquiry. You have made many valuable points. We will consider these in drawing up our report and recommendations.
Tuesday 19 June 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms D Forbes ) National Trust
Ms R Laird )
Mr P Mullan )
The Chairperson: You are very welcome. You will have a few minutes to make your presentation and then we will ask questions to tease out various issues.
Ms Laird: The National Trust welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee on such an important topic. We commend you on this initiative. It is a particularly important time as our community emerges, one hopes, from conflict into peace. We want to give you a brief introduction to the National Trust. We will keep it short and, I hope, informative, and then we will address whatever issues the Committee wishes to raise.
The National Trust was formed in 1895. We have a blessedly simple purpose, which is to keep beautiful places for you, your children, and your children's children, forever for everyone. We do this for the benefit of the entire nation, and we pride ourselves in providing access for all. We are a registered charity, entirely independent of Government and we are a non-profit seeking organisation. We are non-political, and access is open to all, whether that is in relation to disability, gender or community background. We do not see any barriers to people using and enjoying our properties.
We protect and provide access to coast, countryside, houses and gardens. Northern Ireland is blessed with a very rich tapestry of cultural and physical heritage. We have 2·7 million members nationwide, and 34,000 in Northern Ireland. Many of your colleagues would be proud of that kind of constituency. Something that not many people know about the National Trust is that we declare all of our properties inalienable, which means that it would take an Act of Parliament to change that designation. Once properties are preserved and given inalienability they are kept forever for everyone. That is really crucial if you think about the progressive development that is taking place along our coasts.
In Northern Ireland the National Trust has over 40 square miles of countryside, 60 miles of coastline, and we are adding to that as we speak. We own 15 major countryside estates - and the titles roll off the tongue - for example, the Giant's Causeway, Slieve Donard, Strangford Lough, the wonderful Murlough nature reserve in south Down, Whitepark Bay and many more. We have nine mansion properties, eight gardens and the wonderful Mount Stewart, where we are currently investing £1·3 million for new visitor facilities. We are also very proud of our industrial heritage, which is celebrated at three sites for linen, spade making and printing, and some of you may be familiar with those.
I will give you some key facts and figures. We employ about 170 to 180 permanent staff, but as you can see, we expand to almost double that number with seasonal staff from St Patrick's Day through to Halloween. We invest about £5 million each year in the Northern Ireland economy. There is also a hidden cost, because properties such as the wonderful Mount Stewart or the Giant's Causeway have generous endowment sums behind them, which are not included in that £5 million figure. When we start to acquire any property our figures must be extraordinarily cautious because we have to be assured of keeping the property forever for everyone.
We have just commissioned an economic impact study, which will start in late September or early October, to examine our contribution to Northern Ireland's economy and well-being. We hope that it will provide some statistics. For example, for every one job we provide we support nine others in the economy. Those types of figures are likely to come through in the study. Naturally, cultural tourism is our raison d'être, which is why it is so important for us to talk to you this morning.
At least 1·5 million visitors come into Northern Ireland each year to explore it and to visit National Trust properties. Over 500,000 people come to the Giant's Causeway. It is a hot topic of debate at the moment, and one that we are working hard on. Carrick-a-Rede receives 120,000 visitors per year - and I hope that many of you have been across the bridge. More than 175,000 people go to Portstewart Strand, and 200,000 people visit our houses, gardens and industrial sites.
Cultural tourism is the key to Northern Ireland's tourism potential. In many ways it is Northern Ireland's unique selling point. International visitors know about places such as the Giant's Causeway, Strangford Lough and Slieve Donard - they are worldwide icons. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) and other bodies use them to promote Northern Ireland plc.
However, what about the arts? Everywhere you look in National Trust properties you can see evidence of history, archaeology, architecture and art-related activities. There is major potential for the future. We have artists-in-residence projects, music, and other arts events already underway, and you will know about the Castleward Opera, which takes place at one of our prime sites. We are committed to developing a broad-based living-arts policy. We are talking with organisations such as the Arts Council and Arts in Business and are already setting up in partnership with them.
How can we realise the cultural tourism potential? The answer is that we must respect the principles of sustainable tourism; otherwise we will undermine the asset that Northern Ireland has. We believe that the relationships between the cultural and tourism sectors must be strengthened, particularly at a strategic thinking level and with an international dimension.
A stronger strategic framework is needed to integrate these activities. Dr Alan Gillespie, the chairman of the IDB, talked to me recently about the future of the Giant's Causeway visitor facility and the fact that it was a Northern Ireland plc issue. I was reminded just how much we should be talking to this super economic agency, going forward and targeting the Irish diaspora throughout the world who are interested in the culture and heritage of their homeland.
We believe that a stronger strategic framework needs to be put in place urgently. We believe that major investment needs to go into research to confirm the economic and social impact of arts and cultural tourism and therefore develop the capacity of those sectors in terms of resources and money.
We are saying that the National Trust makes a major contribution to the life and well-being of the country that we all love. We will go on protecting and caring for the lovely places we have forever for everyone. We invite the Committee as a group or as individuals to visit any of our places, to enjoy them or to find out more about them, and we are happy to take your questions.
The Chairperson: Thank you. We may well take up your generous offer to come along and visit some of the sights you have and see the work that you are doing.
Mr Davis: How can the relationship between the NITB and the National Trust be improved? In paragraph 2.7 of your submission you state that
"It is high on our agenda to ensure that we find ways to engage with people and communities for whom we have had little perceived relevance in the past."
Is that underway yet?
Ms Laird: Yes.
Mr Mullan: We have a very good relationship with the NITB, which is built on relationships that have been developed over some years. However, their internal structure is not so well set up such that an organisation such as ours could develop the most productive relationship possible. I understand that they are looking at their internal structures to reflect perhaps a more account-handling approach which, given the nature of the National Trust, would be more beneficial.
Mr Davis: Is the NITB taking its time on that?
Mr Mullan: Their time is taken up in trying to define their purpose given the emergence of Tourism Ireland Limited, but we would welcome a speedy resolution of their new internal structures.
Ms Laird: Relationships on a one-to-one basis are good. The cultural tourism project and group has not met at a strategic level for about a year. Therefore we have no strategic network through which to input our thoughts especially at a time when peace could offer us such a broad opportunity.
Mr Davis: Is engaging with people high on your agenda?
Ms Laird: It is extremely high on our agenda. We are carrying out interesting marketing studies on our 34,500 members and non-members at the moment. We are asking them to tell us where they are, who they are, what interests they have, and why they might not engage with us. There could be a variety of reasons. They may not see the National Trust as being relevant to their lives; they may see it as looking after houses and gardens and not as the huge environmental agency that it is. We look after Strangford Lough - which is potentially the next Northern Ireland nomination for world heritage status - almost single-handed. People may not engage with the National Trust for a variety of reasons; there may even be some political reasons.
In the past the National Trust may have been seen as middle class and middle-aged. As the profile of our membership shows, nothing could be further from the truth. However, perception is real and we have put significant moneys in our own marketing strategy to overcome it. Communities own the properties; the National Trust only looks after them for their benefit. Therefore, there is a lot to be said for engaging people to look after, for example, Murlough Bay on the north coast, Fair Head, south Down or the lovely Derrymore House in Newry. I am not sure that the National Trust has been sufficiently pro-active in doing that.
Mr McMenamin: I agree that the Giants Causeway is the jewel in the crown, but we have Gray's Printing Press in Strabane, which the National Trust also looks after. Is heritage based cultural tourism promoted enough at home and abroad? What would improve the promotion? How can people from Northern Ireland and abroad find out about National Trust properties? Is there a web site? Do you have a plan and budget specifically to target out-of-state tourists? Finally, I am interested in the artist-in-residence scheme. Could you expand on that?
Mr Mullan: The National Trust has a web site that is currently being developed for Northern Ireland. It hopes to make it as active and as interesting as possible for the people of Northern Ireland.
Cultural heritage is basically what people come here for. They want to do interesting things and visit interesting places. Many people come to explore their background, given their family history, or because they want to visit a place that engages them intellectually. That is the greatest strength of the Northern Ireland tourism market, and perhaps it has not been well exploited in the past. Cultural heritage extends from prehistoric times through the early Christian period to the modern industrial era.
In the past, Northern Ireland tourism focused too much on the promotion of geographical regions. Until recently there were 11 regional tourism organisations. Now there are five. However that is not what people come to Northern Ireland for. They come to the north coast and the Mournes, but we must be much better at promoting the real essence of our culture to really make a greater impact on potential visitors.
Ms Laird: I am not sure that people understand the concept of cultural tourism easily. It is up to people such as ourselves and the Committee to define cultural tourism and to make it a unique selling point. For example, people do not understand the post-war significance of the airport that the Londonderry family set up at Mount Stewart. In essence it was like us travelling to Heathrow on the red-eye. There are lovely stories such as that. There are also stories of great sensitivity. The Nazi foreign minister, Von Ribbentrop, flew to the Mount Stewart airport during the war. Those stories need to be told and they must be told in a neutral environment in order to inform people.
Those are some examples, but there are others everywhere. Whitepark Bay on the north coast is probably one of the most important and interesting archaeological and ecological sites in Ireland. However, the stories concerning the many layers of civilisation there are not told. That is what cultural tourism is about. I want to target communities of interest, at home and abroad. There are people who are interested in all of those aspects of our country.
I want to speak briefly about the artists-in-residence project. Because we paint on such a wide canvas, we can have people such as sand sculptors, oil painters or dry stone wall builders. We can bring skills, crafts and arts anywhere, and because we are blessed with so many nooks and crannies in our properties we can literally offer these on an in-residence basis. We can often offer bed and breakfast accommodation, and stretch to a very wide audience because of the variety of visitors who reach us.
Dr Adamson: I want to ask a couple of questions concerning development. Do you work with other organisations such as the Environment and Heritage Service, the Museums and Art Galleries of Northern Ireland (MAGNI) and district councils to promote cultural tourism in Northern Ireland? Do you provide information for visitors about attractions owned by other organisations? Do they do the same for your properties?
Ms Forbes: It is fair to say that forming partnerships and forging effective links across Northern Ireland is an important part of our strategy. We always work on the basis that if you bring visitors into an area and give them information about other attractions - whether it be Environment and Heritage Service or local authority attractions - you are keeping them in the area. That benefits the local economy, which is very important. We have good working relationships with all of the organisations you mentioned.
I will give you some examples. We work closely with Down District Council on events, activities and marketing at Castle Ward. We have a very close relationship with Newry and Mourne District Council concerning Derrymore House, Bessbrook - without the council's support we would find it difficult to open the property. We work closely with the Environment and Heritage Service at different levels, in joint marketing and at a much more strategic level, because we deliver many of their strategic aims. We also have good links with MAGNI, although that is an area where we can probably develop stronger relationships in the future.
Ms Laird: Numerically, we probably have more registered sites with the Northern Ireland Museum's Council than many people, just by the nature of our portfolio. We also have a growing and fruitful relationship with Belfast City Council. People are often not aware of the little sites and properties that we care for, love and look after in the Greater Belfast area, from Colin Glen to Minnowburn. It is no secret that the Environment and Heritage Service is approaching us about the great icon, Divis Mountain, and thus we will have a strategic foothold in the Belfast hills. We are therefore talking to Tom Hartley and other people who know and love that area well. You can imagine the close links we have on the Antrim coast with Coleraine and Moyle councils because we have so many properties from Portstewart through to Ballintoy, Fair Head and beyond.
Mrs Nelis: I commend you for your work. You are definitely underrated and not appreciated to the extent that you should be. Preserving our natural and historical heritage is essential, not just because of what we learn from the past or for tourism, but for our understanding of where we are at present. It covers everything.
Your presentation touched on your difficulties in resourcing and supporting your organisation; you have a different way of approaching that. What do you think about the pressures on museums and heritage centres, many of which are a product of the 1980s and which are now under increasing pressure? I am sure that you have read the Committee's concerns on the closure of the Navan Centre. What is your opinion on that? Have you any views to offer the Committee on how we can utilise the best of our museum and heritage centres to promote cultural tourism as you have done?
Ms Laird: The National Trust is committed to live interpretation and education. We have an award-winning cross-community education programme that caters for 40,000 young people per year. When we talk about education, we do not just mean curriculum-based education - we mean lifelong learning, and we want to expand into that. All museums, centres and sites should offer such facilities because people are crying out for knowledge and the ability to love the places in this country that are important to them.
It takes time, resources, expertise, and the ability to reach out and put in place curriculum-based and informal learning opportunities. The National Trust has just sent a lifelong learning strategy to consultants, and we are prepared to pour money into that to extend it.
I would like to mention Navan. We were distraught to hear of its closure. The site is probably one of the most important in Europe because of its relationship to the kings and queens of Ulster. We have therefore let Government Departments know that if they need to talk to us about Navan, they must feel free to do so. We would be the organisation to talk to in the first or last instance.
The splendid visitor facility at Navan has not been linked to the real jewel, which is of course the fort itself. If you go there, there is no lovely animated guide taking you up the hill to the fort and telling you the story that could make you understand the history of this troubled country. Navan is therefore a good example of lifelong learning.
The National Trust exists on the moneys from membership, legacies and endowments. That makes up approximately 80% of our income. Bodies such as the Trustees of Navan have a less well-endowed organisation to call upon. The National Trust is well placed to endow such organisations, but it would never have taken over a property such as Navan and not funded it. That goes back to something that I said earlier. We would probably have endowed Navan to the order of £5 million to £6 million per year forever, because then it could never have been closed and brought to the unfortunate position that it currently finds itself in.
Mr Mullan: Many visitor centres were set up as economy generating opportunities. They were not set up as cultural institutions with resonance and importance for everybody in Northern Ireland. They are failing on the economic side, but that should not mean that they are failing on the culture side. It is important that everyone recognises that those assets are for the people of Northern Ireland, whether they be the Navan Centre, the Ulster History Park, or the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre complex.
Ms Laird: We have a strategy to go beyond those communities of interest and promote and share everything that we have with the Irish diaspora.
Mrs Nelis: I see that Moyle District Council is about to sell its interest in the Giant's Causeway. That is almost as serious as the closure of Navan because it could precipitate a trend. It is obvious from what you say that councils are not recognising the value of sites and are offloading them for economic reasons.
Ms Laird: The National Trust has already stepped in on that issue, and we are having high-level national talks. We could not possibly pass over such a potential opportunity. The Giant's Causeway is currently being advertised as a type of leisure development complex. This is our only world heritage site. We cannot turn one of the few wild, open world heritage sites into Disneyland.
The chairman of the IDB has asked me to examine setting up a consortium to ensure we are well positioned on this matter. The National Trust cannot bid against international entrepreneurs, but we will do our best to get a partnership together to save that fantastic site.
The Chairperson: That is excellent; I am very interested in your comment. I am also especially interested in what you said about the Navan Centre and the attention you are giving to it. It goes some way towards reassuring the Committee that someone might catch the ball before it falls out of our grasp. I was particularly interested in your point about making use of the site as opposed to the centre. I have some information about visitor numbers. According to some of my contacts, 90% of the people who went to the centre also visited the fort itself. I understand that it has been claimed that that figure was greatly exaggerated. Do you have a view on that?
Mr Mullan: Only 10% of the people who go to the Navan Centre also visit the site.
The Chairperson: How did you come to that figure?
Mr Mullan: The figures were properly researched in the early days following the opening of the Navan Centre.
The Chairperson: Perhaps I might give you an example of the information I have. Since the Navan Centre was set up, 65% of the visitors have been on school trips, and all of them visit the fort.
Mr Mullan: You have made a very valid point. The original figures were based on paying visitors during the summer months when there were no school visits.
The Chairperson: Perhaps it is an area of concern. A considerable number of questions remain to be answered about the project and the way it has been handled. Leaving that aside, how suitable are you as an organisation to run a centre such as that at Navan? How would it be managed? Would it be run the same way as Castle Ward? My point is that the site has a very large educational role to play.
Ms Laird: The National Trust's credentials in such matters are impeccable. We run sites such as Stonehenge and Sutton Hoo in Great Britain, and we have sites of archaeological interest in Northern Ireland also. Navan should be opened up through education, interpretation and enjoyment of the site. We would wish to link the site through to the 300 acres which are also of interest - the King's Stables, and the lough. It would be a long-term development project, and the National Trust would not be in a hurry in that sense. We would take our time to develop such a site.
I could guarantee that there would be international visitors within the first year if Navan were in the ownership and protective care of the National Trust. It is of international importance, and we would market it to interested groups on that basis. An idea well worth exploring would be combining the site with some of the other wonderful sites in Ireland, such as Tara, to have a joint world heritage site linking the historical epochs across the island. We would probably proceed in that fashion.
The Chairperson: There is a great deal of potential. I can envisage tremendous results in joint management.
Mr Mullan: Brú na Bóinne, or Newgrange, is 35 miles away. It receives 140,000 visitors annually. We are not suggesting that the Navan Centre would meet its ridiculous objective of 170,000 visitors per year under National Trust ownership, but we can develop a business plan that will be a good deal more modest, achieving economic and cultural sustainability.
Ms Laird: The Committee should note that we would only assess Navan if we were invited to do so.
The Chairperson: My apologies; I understand. Perhaps we are dipping our toes into the water prematurely. Thank you for your presentation and for answering our questions. It has helped us a great deal, and you have made many important points that will help us in drawing our conclusions. Thank you.
Mrs Nelis: You said that you are sustained by membership. Do you have a brochure informing people how they can become members?
Ms Laird: We do, and we are on the Internet as well. I will leave a copy for the Committee together with a copy of our strategic plan.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much.
Tuesday 19 June 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms K Wimpress ) Antrim Borough Council
The Chairperson: Good afternoon. You are very welcome.
Please take a few minutes to amplify your presentation and to make any points that you feel are appropriate. We will then have a few questions to help tease out some of the issues.
Ms Wimpress: I thank you, on behalf of Antrim Borough Council, for inviting me here this afternoon to expand on my very brief response. We are very encouraged that you are staging this inquiry. The Council is looking forward to the outcome of it.
I have a very informal presentation comprising four bullet points. I have brought copies for each member. I am speaking on behalf of Antrim Borough Council and on behalf of myself. I am studying for a master's degree in European Cultural Planning, and that has been quite informative for this presentation. There may be several issues that you will want to pick up on.
I suggest that the most important aspect of cultural tourism is to build on existing strengths. Myerscough in his report suggested that archaeology in Northern Ireland was something of a sleeping giant. We could pick up on that. There is an incredible range of built heritage in the Antrim area. There is no need, therefore, to recreate or to create new attractions. We already have a very rich culture. For example, literary festivals already take place. The John Hewitt School and the William Carleton Summer School could be invested in and developed. Several years ago, the report by the Tourist Board and the Arts Council on cultural tourism involved an audit of the potential events and attractions that could be developed. I suggest that you look at that.
There is a need to encourage both weekly and annual consistency. During the tourist season it is important that small events are run consistently on a weekly basis so that a tourist can tap in to an event at any time.
On an annual basis, events need time to build. For example, Barcelona instituted an end of summer festival, held on 28 September every year. Over the past seven or eight years it has developed into a tradition. People now think of it is a regular thing that happens every year - almost as if it has always taken place.
In the publication 'Rebranding Britain' the point is made that you have to be strategic and you have to repeat events. It takes quite a long time to change perceptions, so it is important, when investing in an event, to look on it in the longer term and to give it five or 10 years to really bed in.
My third point is that I favour mediation over recreation. This links into my first point. I do not feel that we have any need to create or invent a new culture - we have culture already. We just have to mediate it to our audience and make the most of what we have got. I have a couple of examples of that from around Europe and America. In the Ruhr Valley, which is obviously a very industrialised zone, there is a 10-mile stretch similar to the Laganside development. Instead of clearing out the existing industrial heritage, it has been used in a very innovative and exciting way. There is a light show every evening that illuminates the fantastic structures that have been left by industry, and one of the silos has been changed - [Interruption]
The Chairperson: That is probably a Division bell. We may have to go and vote, but we will await confirmation. Please continue.
Ms Wimpress: One of the large silos has been turned into a photographic museum because the ceiling allowed it to act as a kind of kaleidoscope. The people there did not take everything away and start again; they looked at what they had, and they built upon it.
On a much smaller scale, in Chicago there are architectural tours run by volunteers. People are very proud of their city and of their architecture, and they share that enthusiasm with visitors. I know that Belfast has a very rich architectural history, and that kind of work could be picked up on.
Sautes Creus, a monastery 80 km outside Barcelona, used to have approximately 15,000 visitors. Over the last four years they have worked on it and have a small audio-visual display that mediates the story of the monastery and tells people about the importance of the architecture. As a result, visitor numbers have risen to 100,000 a year - for quite a low investment.
Those three things have worked because they have not underestimated the intelligence of the visitor, and they have not manufactured something. They have just told the story of what is there. My final point is that it is vital to link with your residents. Shall I go on?
The Chairperson: Unfortunately, I am going to have to ask you to bear with us and wait, because I am going to have to suspend the meeting so that members can be present for this Division. It will take approximately 15 minutes. We will try to get back as soon as possible and complete your very interesting contribution.
Suspended at 12.14 pm
Resumed at 12.32 pm
The Chairperson: I apologise for the delay. Please continue, Ms Wimpress.
Ms Wimpress: When Barcelona initially decided to set itself up as a city of culture, the people felt that they wanted to make small interventions before the 1992 Olympics and similar major developments took place. They set themselves up as a city of parks. They examined all of the squares in the city and made small interventions that encouraged the residents to feel that they were being cared for whilst encouraging tourists to come to the squares to see what was going on.
By contrast, there are places such as the Liverpool docklands and the Bilbao Guggenheim, where there is a fear that tourist ghettos are being created. There can be conflict between the needs of tourists and the needs of residents, and that is an important point to consider.
To summarise, I paraphrase from 'Rebranding Britain' by Mark Leonard; "you have to go with the grain but also tackle the negatives". The tourism literature sent out over the last four or five years has been almost too positive and has not told everyone's story. There are a number of stories in Northern Ireland, and we have to aim to tell these stories with integrity and innovation. If we can do that then we may be on to a worthwhile initiative.
Mr Davis: Would you elaborate on the relationship between Antrim Borough Council and the tourism industry? How do you see the relationships between the different sectors being improved?
Ms Wimpress: My council had a tourism sector, but it has now been incorporated under economic development. The arts and culture service works with the tourism sector on a very small scale. Our relationship with the NITB is one in which they would disseminate information to us. As NITB's funding structures have changed over the past number of years to encourage out-of-state advertising as opposed to event promotion I have not received any direct funding from them.
In a Northern Ireland-wide Government, the tourist board, the Arts Council and economic development bodies should work together in a partnership that would feed down to the local level. We, at local level, can make very small inroads. However, we are not party to the investment needed to make a major difference.
Mr McMenamin: Is cultural tourism well promoted at home and abroad, and what would improve our image? Do you have a web site?
Ms Wimpress: We do have a web site. We have not made any major inroads into promoting cultural tourism for the Antrim borough area - primarily because of the budget that the Arts and Heritage Service are working with. I cannot speak for the tourism officer, but I know the budgets they are working with. I would only be able to run one or two events during the summer, which is not a worthwhile investment because it is not consistent enough to address the needs of the tourists coming into the borough.
My view is that in the Antrim borough area, little by little, we should make more of, and mediate, the built heritage I mentioned earlier. That is always there. It could be done through audio/visual presentations or in print in a number of different languages, which can always be given to tourists. The one small step that we have made is that we have a town trail twice weekly, which is set up in partnership with the Antrim Towns Development Company. That is starting to reap benefits because it stops at our centre also.
Dr Adamson: How does Antrim Borough Council work with other councils to promote cultural tourism in Northern Ireland as a whole, and do you provide information for visitors about attractions in other districts?
Ms Wimpress: We have not worked with other councils on cultural tourism as a whole because we do not have the investment yet to make any great inroads into it. In our borough we are looking to redevelop certain key areas and until that work is done I do not feel we can present it as a cultural tourist destination.
The main vehicle for distributing information about cultural events is the "art.ie" magazine run by the arts councils in the north and south of Ireland and its associated web site. This is a very good vehicle, and there is room to expand that. The primary reason for it is to inform residents, which is good, but it could be expanded more in the summertime. It is working because it is a one-stop shop for cultural events.
Dr Adamson: I am thinking about the connection between Lisburn and Antrim councils. We talked earlier about Emania and Navan Fort, but there is also Rathmore in Antrim and Lissue in Lisburn, which were ancient palaces. There was the inauguration place of the old kings of Ulster at Coohill. Those are the type of aspects that could be developed in the future.
Ms Wimpress: I know that the defunct "Visitors Attraction of Northern Ireland" created a map that worked across all the district councils. There is no reason why that could not be created for particular periods of history so that if you are particularly interested in a certain period you could find out what exists across Northern Ireland regardless of district area. That would be worthwhile.
Mrs Nelis: In your submission you mention the need to ensure that tourism, and how it develops, should enhance the quality of life for local people. You explained that very well, which reflects innovative thinking on behalf of Antrim Borough Council. You talked about the small events not being ignored, which is very important, and the creative use of resources in various places.
The links with residents are of great importance. How can you ensure that your approach, which is certainly innovative, can be adapted to Northern Ireland?
Ms Wimpress: We must consult; fundamentally we are trying to tell a story, and I do not feel it is fair to tell one which flies in the face of the beliefs, hopes and dreams of local people. If you start with a transparent process that involves consultation with local residents and demonstrates the benefits for an area, including the general job-creation potential, it will go much further than small committees deciding on a huge scheme which is suddenly unveiled. You must get local residents on board. It is a difficult and time-consuming process, but it is important.
Mrs Nelis: How would you extend the main summer season?
Ms Wimpress: The good thing about cultural tourism is that it does not primarily depend on the weather, and that is why it could be very useful for Northern Ireland. You could pick up on the Guild Hall fireworks event in October. That is the shoulder season for tourism, but it could very easily become an international draw; it probably is that already in a small way.
Perhaps I might return to what I said about Barcelona. It has the largest collection of contemporary art in Europe. People will go to see that collection at any time of year. It does not necessarily have to be sunny outside, although they are fortunate in getting a great deal of sunshine. That type of event can happen at any time. The Belfast Festival is in November, and the weather does not affect that.
The Chairperson: I apologise for the disruption today, which did not help our focus of thought. I hope you had the opportunity to put your points across. If you feel that there are areas, ideas or interests we somehow missed I would be very grateful if you could put them to us in writing so that we might take them on board.
Ms Wimpress: Thank you. Perhaps I might make some brief final comments. Sometimes you need an overall vision and someone at a very high level to drive that vision forward. The Eden Project in Devon is a good example of that. If you have a strong vision and investment, you cannot go wrong. Thank you very much.
The Chairperson: Thank you.
Tuesday 3 July 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Mr S Magill )
Mr D McFarlane )
Ms P McFetridge ) The Independent Professional
Mr P McErlean ) Theatre Lobby
Mr T Loane )
The Chairperson: Good morning. You are very welcome.
Mr McErlean: Thank you for inviting us. We have met the Chairperson before, and he said that we should come and give the Committee some of our thoughts.
I am speaking as an amateur. I am a member of the board of Tinderbox Theatre Company. I am not a professional theatre practitioner, but I take a very deep interest in theatre in Northern Ireland. We have a product that is extremely valuable to the whole cultural tourism concept, and something that we ought to be proud of.
Tim Loane, besides being a freelance writer and director, is the chairman of Tinderbox Theatre Company, and probably best known as the Oscar-nominated director of 'Dance Lexie Dance'. He has recently written and created the very successful series 'Teachers' on Channel 4, and is working on a new series.
Drew McFarlane is the Northern Ireland secretary of Equity, and we are very glad to have him here today to put forward his professional point of view.
Paula McFetridge, freelance actor and director, is currently artistic advisor to the Lyric Theatre. As artistic director of 'Convictions', which was staged in the Crumlin Road Courthouse, she proudly accepted the award for best production in this year's 'Irish Times' theatre awards in Dublin.
Simon Magill is another award-winner. He is currently the full-time artistic director of Tinderbox Theatre Company, and his role in the Lyric Theatre also helped win it a "best company" award in 1999.
Independent professional theatre in Northern Ireland is of a high quality. 'Stones in his Pockets' was written and first performed in Belfast. It is now playing in the West End, in New York - where it has been nominated for Tony awards - and in a number of different countries. That is a tremendous achievement. Gary Mitchell, one of our brilliant playwrights, has just won a prestigious UK-wide award for most promising playwright. Tinderbox won the 'Irish Times' "best production" award for 'Convictions', surpassing the Abbey Theatre and other high-quality productions. Likewise, the Lyric won "best company" for its full season during the previous year. Replay Theatre Company performs to over 15,000 schoolchildren every year, so there is an important educational element to professional theatre in Northern Ireland. We have serious issues to discuss.
Mr McFarlane: I would like to reorientate people's thinking. For too long the cultural industries have been seen as poor relations, when they could be some of Northern Ireland's largest economic generators. We have an opportunity in the devolved Assembly and in this Committee to put culture among the rest of the economic "big boys". Theatre is the scion of that, but has often been seen as something that is just good for the spirit and the soul. I want to demolish that idea, because theatre primes the pump for the rest of the industries. Unfortunately, for the last six years we have seen chronic underfunding of professional theatre.
In Northern Ireland, emphasis is put on community theatre, and the professional theatre has almost withered on the vine. Theatre wages are low. A professional performer is lucky to earn £4,500 a year. The average wage is £275 a week - before the agent's commission and national insurance et cetera have been deducted - and a performer is lucky to get four months' work a year. I would like the Committee to address the chronic underfunding of professional theatre if Northern Ireland, and Belfast in particular, is to be the cultural capital of Europe in 2008. England has injected £25 million into professional theatre - production, actors, technicians, wages and so on. Northern Ireland should take the lead from England and redress the balance.
Ms McFetridge: Funding of the arts in Northern Ireland has been at a standstill for the past five years. We need to look at new sources of funding for professional theatre. We do not have the same avenues through which we can seek funding. We appreciate the refocusing of the arts regarding targeting social need, access, and the need to get young people through the doors to look at education and outreach, but we can only achieve such things if we have core funding, which means that we can plan strategically for the long term.
Constant crisis management means that we cannot develop audiences; we cannot reach young people to tell them that there will be a show next year that may be on their syllabus or that may entertain them. It is impossible for us to plan on a three-year basis - we must have core funding.
Professional independent theatre is being directed towards lottery funding. I am sure that you can understand how apprehensive we are, especially in view of recent announcements of a £5 billion shortfall. That means that good causes - which is what theatre seems to be called now - will no longer get funding from it. We must address that before it happens, or else we shall lose the money that we have invested in the theatre over the years.
There is an employment crisis in the theatre, because if we do not have long-term planning we cannot guarantee jobs. We have a very strong arts base here, but we must trust those people and give them employment guarantees if we can. We are delighted that the number of regional venues has increased, but there is an "edifice complex": we have numerous venues but nothing to put in them. We need professional touring regional theatre, produced by the independent companies, providing balanced programmes for the regions. We can have magicians and variety acts, but we must balance them with professional theatre. However, the regions must programme far in advance, and we cannot let them know what we will be doing in two or three years' time.
That directly affects the choice of our product, because we do not know how much money we have. For example, companies that used to produce four shows per year now only produce two, which means that there are not enough shows to fill the venues. Financial restrictions also mean that companies that used to stage six-handers now stage two-handers. They should be choosing plays to produce their best work; they should be choosing plays that have relevance to our society and to our changing political landscape. However, they cannot do that because we are so restricted. We must look at long-term strategic planning to identify the role of the arts and their importance.
Mr Magill: I agree that we must consider the long-term implications. I want to talk about our research and development. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has launched the 'Unlocking Creativity' document, and efforts are being made in education at GCSE and A level, with Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education (BIFHE), national diplomas and Queen's University. We train people in the theatre and in the arts in general, but when they graduate they do not have jobs to go to. We are training them for jobs that, unfortunately, are not there. If we invest in it now, we can deliver.
Theatre articulates and celebrates the distinct regional voice that the North of Ireland has, both within the island of Ireland and within the UK, and that is something that we should cherish. If we do not support it, we reduce the capacity for cultural tourism on the island of Ireland and beyond. If we want to be the capital of culture in 2008 we must invest in our companies now. Otherwise we may not be here in 2008 to perform for you, as we only receive one-year grants. It is very difficult to plan ahead to engage actively in the city of culture bid. Standstill funding and lack of strategic planning make it very difficult for us to plan ahead.
Mr Loane: We are asking you to recognise the value of our industry and the crisis that it faces. We are asking you to do something about it. First and foremost, we would benefit from an economic impact analysis to define our situation in the language of business and spread the message. The Arts Council has collected information over the years that will feed this study, but has yet to do anything with it. We need that information to be fully interrogated and collated.
The professional arts, and professional theatre in particular, are vital at this time with the changing political landscape. The arts have a vital role to play in articulating, interrogating and analysing our culture. Professional theatre has a specific perspective that it can bring to bear in analysing and representing our culture. Our industry has fostered the talents of Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, Graham Reid - there is a very impressive list of international stars, but it is also the industry which nurtures us. It comprises people who are working for very little in a difficult situation. We want a healthy culture and healthy art, and to have healthy art we need healthy artists. The professional artists are in crisis at present and the theatre is in big trouble.
You have an opportunity like never before to make a major impact on the Northern Ireland economy, and the cultural industry has a vital role to play within that remit. For years the Department of Education funded the arts, and professional theatre within that was left to wither. In the new devolved political structures, Northern Ireland is the only region to have a Minister for culture, and we see that as a vital opportunity to redress the balance in the professional arts in total, but in particular, professional theatre.
Mr McCarthy: I have a couple of questions about the relationship between arts and tourism. How would you describe the linkages between your sector and the tourist industry? What actions do you think the two sectors need to take to allow them to work together more effectively? For example, should the Northern Ireland Tourist Board be encouraged to bring film and drama commissioning editors across to Northern Ireland to look at the locations?
Mr McFarlane: Yes, the two go hand in hand. You do not need a better example than the Edinburgh International Festival, which is almost entirely made up of professional theatre. That in itself generates money for the local economy, far more than any other industry. Therefore, to impact on tourism and culture Northern Ireland can take a leaf out of the book of the organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival.
Like my home country - Scotland - Northern Ireland suffers from the vagaries of the weather, so when considering it as a location base, it has to go hand in hand with a production facility. The links are clearly there for tourism. I am sure the Committee will take on board any research done into other international tourist centres, such as Barcelona or Paris. It is professional theatre that is the mainstay and professional theatre that has the big pulling power and attraction for tourism. In terms of location, yes, but because of the weather you need to consider that in tandem with a designated infrastructure.
Mr McErlean: We are making the strong point that even before you get to that stage, you have to consider the state of professional theatre. Unless we put our house in order there, there is hardly any point in talking about the links between culture and the cultural tourism industry. Going back to what Mr Loane said, we need to recognise that problem.
To blow our own trumpet a little bit, we recently innovated a production of Ms McFetridge's great work 'Convictions' in the Crumlin Road Courthouse during the Belfast Festival. That production ran for an extra week and was sold out every night. People came from Dublin and Britain to see it. It was reviewed by the BBC, 'The Guardian' and Radio 4. It was superb. Using an innovative idea, that production helped home-grown talent, brought people in and got people talking about it outside Northern Ireland. That was done through the help of a private company. Using private sector contacts of mine, we managed to get the use of the Courthouse and picked up that production. We are trying to plan something again for this year's festival.
To get back to first principles, we need you to have very clear in your minds that unless we do something about theatre we are not going to have a cultural tourism product.
Mr McMenamin: I would like to congratulate you on your individual successes. Last week I mentioned 'Dance Lexie Dance' at a presentation in France. Perhaps I could talk to you about that another time.
The economic impacts of programmes such as 'Ballykissangel' and 'Heartbeat' have been enormous in terms of tourism in their respective areas. What would we need to do to secure a major television series in Northern Ireland? What type of support do you consider is most needed to allow the sector to develop, and who is best placed to give that support? Finally, is there something unique about Northern Ireland that would differentiate a production here from anything on offer in the Republic of Ireland or in GB?
Mr Loane: Regarding the success of 'Ballykissangel' - which I wrote for at one stage - it is not accurate to suggest that we should try and create something like that, and that that would bring tourists in. We need to be a long way down the road before broadcasters will have confidence in doing that.
We need to have faith in what we can do for ourselves. To achieve what you are suggesting would involve particular broadcasters. I do not know if anybody has influence with the BBC that they could use. When we consider what we can do with respect to tourism we should think of the likes of 'Stones in his Pockets', or Gary Mitchell's plays, which are still on in London and packing them in. People are going to see them because they are interested in the unique voice coming from here. You talk about finding that voice: that voice is there, it just does not have adequate opportunity to be vented at the moment. Curiously, it has more opportunity to be vented in London than it does in Belfast; but the voice is alive and well.
Mr McFarlane: Broadcasting is a hoary old chestnut of mine, particularly because of the lack of it here. I know that broadcasting is not within the Assembly's remit; it is not a devolved matter. However, it could be another asset to Northern Ireland's desire to become an economic weight-puller in the sense that it is a highly skilled, high-tech industry. I am sure that the Committee and the Assembly could put pressure on the broadcasters, particularly public service broadcasters like the BBC, because a lot of revenue is being gleaned by the BBC from the Northern Ireland licence payer. Part of that revenue should be used to nurture the talent base in Northern Ireland, and if you do that it will have a multiplier effect on every other service industry.
Many folk think that working in our industry is "sexy". However, if you do not have the jobs in the industry then you are negating the aspirations of young people. What is unique about Northern Ireland is its people, and I think that the BBC could easily do a returning drama series based on the Northern Irish people.
Mr Davis: The production industry should carry some responsibility for programmes and films made about Northern Ireland that portrayed a negative image of life here. Does the perception of Northern Ireland as a difficult and violent place still persist in the commissioning networks? How do you think that barrier can be realistically removed?
Mr McFarlane: It can be done in many ways, and part of that is the responsibility of this Committee. Glasgow had a similar image problem in that every sitcom that was produced about Glasgow concerned drunken razor gangs. Glasgow is not like that. I have been coming to Northern Ireland, and particularly Belfast, for the last 11 years, and I know that Northern Ireland is not like that either. We all have a job to do in trying to reorientate the rest of the people in the UK and internationally about the essential nature of Northern Ireland and the wealth, not just of its talent, but of its resources, including the landscape and tourism.
We fall down in the commissioning process. If that could be influenced by the Committee - and by ourselves, as we have no small part to play - I am sure that the negative viewpoint would ebb away, and we would start to get the quality drama that could be produced here.
Ms McFetridge: Looking at our recent successes, 'Stones in his Pockets' did not deal with the troubled history here; 'Convictions' was very forward-looking and was not trying to harp back to the past. The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang are a huge success because they talk in the vernacular and do not harp on about the bombs and bullets, which we have had for a long time. The scene is changing as regards the writing voices that are emerging here.
Mr Loane: Broadcasting is, by its very nature, fed by professional theatre. It is professional theatre that creates writers like myself and also actors and directors who now work in television - not that television or film is seen as the ultimate success, but they are part of the same thing. To create healthy broadcasting you must have healthy professional theatre. That is the absolute start point, and if it is not rock solid we cannot talk about a broadcasting industry.
Mrs Nelis: It is a pity that we are short of time, because there is so much that we would like to discuss with you. This inquiry is dealing with cultural tourism, but independent of that your presentation should stand alone. Perhaps you will come back to the Committee and we can try to influence the Department. I agree that you are in crisis, and am concerned that we are training and exploiting the talent of our young actors, actresses and writers. I was in London recently and I met many young Irish men and women who are doing well for themselves, but there is nothing for them here.
Ms McFetridge: They are practically running the English National Theatre at the minute.
Mrs Nelis: That is right, and that is where I was. Aside from the crisis and the lack of funding, do you think that live performances are well enough promoted here? In Derry last year we were sending busloads to Galway to see Martin McDonagh's 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane', but are productions being well promoted? 'Stones in his Pockets' was well promoted, but what improvements would you like to see? What do you need help with? How can we build on the successes? 'Dance Lexie Dance' was phenomenal. Who would have thought that it would get as far as Los Angeles and the Oscars? If you had sufficient resources and money, what would be your key priority for the profession so that we could attract bus- and planeloads of people into Northern Ireland to see you all?
Mr Loane: It is hard for the key priority not to be funding. With regard to marketing and promotion, we need to go back to the very centre of the administrative infrastructure, for instance, touring around the whole of the North. There are new buildings with people running them, but they are in crisis management already, even though the buildings are brand new. They have very tight purse strings, and have specific agendas to work within. Often those agendas are at cross-purposes with indigenous professional art, and we need to look at that. We have good promoters, but there are plenty who are not.
Mr McErlean: I work in the private sector and from that perspective, I attend board meetings in Tinderbox and I see the work of our three full-time employees. Mr Magill is our artistic director. The general manager Eamon Quinn, who is not here today, works his socks off putting posters up all over the place and writing letters when we are running a production. We have been relatively innovative in bringing in private-sector funding.
One of the points that Mr Loane made is that we need to sell to the private sector, which brings money in, and that means better advertising and promotion. Without funding we cannot have good productions, and if you have a good production people will come. That has been proved time and again.
We need to show the private sector what it will get out of it, and that has to be professionally done. While we are doing that very well, we need some support to create an economic impact analysis that tells people about all the good things that happen in theatre, but which also produces facts and figures that are easy to understand.
Marketing is about serving the customer, and today we have tried to project ourselves and our profession in language to suit you. The private sector is the customer the next day. We have to reach out to the tourist industry, whether in the Republic of Ireland, Britain or wherever. Brilliant productions bring people in, but good promotion using private-sector money along with Government money helps in a professional way.
Given the resources that exist amongst the four or five independent professional theatre companies in Northern Ireland, the people who work there are doing an incredible job getting posters done cheaply, pulling favours, making phone calls, twisting arms and just getting the whole thing out there.
Ms McFetridge: It is also tied into each project, whereas long-term funding makes it possible to develop an audience and build up loyalty, which is vital when we are touring the regions. We would love to do that - each company has a specific style and audience, we know our audience and we can then build on that. The problem is that at present the resources available to us for audience development are short-term, because we do not know what we will be doing in two years' time.
Mrs Nelis: So you cannot plan for 2008?
Mr McErlean: No.
Mr McFarlane: There is a greater need for synergy between the agencies that do the promotion and those that do the production. The fundamental problem is that you cannot promote what is not there. If there is no product, all the promotion in the world will not bring people across, unless there is a flourishing, vibrant, professional arts community. There is always the one-off, the theatre company that rises above because of its determination and the work of the people, but you cannot promote what is not there.
The Chairperson: I have two more questions, but we may have to curtail the answers. If there is additional information that you wish to give, you can write to the Committee.
Mr Hilditch: How do you assess the potential for a quality product for summer schools to offer young people from home and abroad to develop and perform creative skills? What could Northern Ireland offer that would not be available in Glasgow or Dublin?
Mr McElduff: How important are tax breaks for film-makers in order to attract professional arts to the rest of Ireland? With regard to Ms McFetridge's point about an "edifice complex", is there undue emphasis on buildings to the detriment of artists?
Ms McFetridge: If we have the buildings we have to have long-term planning and quality product. I would hate to see any of the theatres close in the regions, but we have to consider the two things equally.
Mr Magill: The summer school is a good idea, and we could definitely get it off the ground. It would be a fantastic thing to bring together people from around the world. Given the rich theatrical history in the North of Ireland, it could easily cross-fertilise with poetry, visual art, or painting.
Ms McFetridge: We could have links with the John Hewitt summer school, the Yeats summer school and the various festivals that are held in the Abbey. We have been trying to look into that for some time, but we do not have the planning time.
Mr McFarlane: I want to quickly touch on summer schools. Summer schools, and what is happening in further education colleges and other centres of learning, are well and good. However, I must return to the earlier point that if you do not nurture the professional talent base, then the aspirations that you build up in young people will never be fulfilled.
I want also to return to the point about tax breaks that Barry McElduff brought up. Anything that Governments can do to promote this industry will enhance it. When Michael D Higgins brought in tax breaks in the Republic of Ireland, it created a huge influx of film producers and film production. It almost single-handedly regenerated the economy there.
The present Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has put in a number of measures that have almost done the same thing, but it has not quite happened. The days of just giving tax breaks and those financial incentives are no longer enough. You must do much more, and you must create the infrastructure. The Republic was lucky in the sense that the infrastructure grew up with the tax breaks, but we are finding in Northern Ireland that you can bring in those measures, but without the infrastructure it is not going to happen. You must look at it in terms of investment, as well as legislative measures. Local authorities have a part to play in this because they, through the Assembly, could be given their own financial targets to meet in terms of investment in professional arts.
Mr Loane: Something must be done. I have written a film that looks like it is going to be produced. The budget is between £4 and £5 million. I am from here; I live here. The producer and the crew are from here. Where are we going to make it? Dublin. That is £4 to £5 million gone.
Ms McFetridge: That keeps happening over and over. We watch it happening, and it is so depressing.
Mr McElduff: I have to say from my standpoint that it is not depressing, because it is in the island of Ireland.
Ms McFetridge: Fair enough. I understand that.
The Chairperson: We have had very little time. I invite you to forward any views that you want to send in writing to us later, because we would be very pleased to receive those from you and incorporate them into our recommendations. Thank you very much.
Tuesday 3 July 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Cllr Tom Hartley )
Mr B Toland ) Belfast City Council
Ms S McCay )
The Chairperson: I apologise for keeping you waiting. Our time schedule is very tight because there are many things happening today. We want to give you the opportunity to present your views and then members will ask questions.
Ms McCay: Thank you for inviting Belfast City Council to give evidence. Cllr Hartley is the current chairman of our tourism sub-committee and was the previous chairman of our arts sub-committee. Brendan Toland is our tourism development manager. I am the head of economic initiatives, and that includes responsibility for tourism and arts. We have prepared supplementary information for the Committee, which has been distributed. I will go through the 'Summary of key points' document.
Last Thursday Cllr Hartley, on behalf of Belfast City Council, launched the leaflet 'On the Hoof - A walking guide to the City's culture'. It represents the council's endeavours into cultural tourism and is particularly hot on the heels of previous publications that also embody cultural tourism. We have provided the Committee with a selection of them: 'Historic Belfast - A guide to the City's landmark buildings', 'Walking Tours of Belfast', and 'Historic Pub Tours of Belfast'.
Belfast City Council is already well down the cultural tourism road. Today we want to outline our present position and highlight some of the key issues that we feel are important for the Committee to consider.
The 'Summary of key points' shows that two sub-committees look after cultural tourism and the arts; the tourism and promotion of Belfast sub-committee and the arts sub-committee. These committees are linked via the development committee, and they sit alongside the economic development sub-committee. Overall, Belfast City Council regards tourism and the arts as tools of economic regeneration and development.
A year ago, the council launched its renaissance city strategy. The development strategy document 'Renaissance City' contains five core themes: mapping the city; moving the city; increasing prosperity; enhancing learning and education; and promoting identity. We want to highlight the final theme to you today.
Promoting the identity or cultural rebirth of Belfast embodies our efforts in cultural tourism and the arts. We have discovered that Belfast's history, civic pride, and identity are very closely linked. The council is working actively to show how our heritage and histories have shaped the city and are shaping its future.
In promoting cultural tourism we have identified that it is necessary to identify a locality's unique selling points and what makes it culturally special. For example, we are particularly proud of Belfast's built heritage. Belfast is a Victorian and Edwardian city and there are many prime buildings that actually underline the history of the city.
We have taken this matter very seriously as a council and we have appointed a heritage officer. We have a heritage strategy, which falls under the remit of development. We are working very hard to bring together the heritage lobby and developers because we realise that there is an inherent dilemma: when you are trying to modernise and regenerate a city you have to be careful not to destroy any of its unique assets. As such we now have a growing alliance between the developers and the heritage bodies that are seeking to preserve what is best in the city.
Tourism continues to grow in Belfast, and in our submission we have outlined some of the recent statistics. More than 1·5 million visitors came to Belfast in 1999. That brought in an estimated £114 million to the economy and was responsible for sustaining approximately 12,000 jobs. We are still waiting for the full results of our tourism monitoring for the year 2000, but we already have some very positive indications.
Seventeen percent of the visitors to Belfast came because they regarded it as somewhere new to visit, and as a culturally rich location. A quarter of them came to Belfast because of historical interest, and three quarters came as part of a cultural tour - they were already touring other venues and cities in Ireland and included Belfast as part of their cultural itinerary.
The connection between tourism and the arts is very important and it is an area that we feel needs greater attention. From our survey carried out in 2000 we discovered that 84% of visitors to Belfast rated theatres as good or very good. This information highlights the fact that visiting theatres or attending performances is part of a tourist's itinerary. Festivals and large-scale events, such as the World Irish Dancing Championships or the World Amateur Boxing Championships are also responsible for attracting a large number of out-of-state visitors. One statistic that we are very proud of is that when we held the World Irish Dancing Championships in Belfast last year, we attracted over £4 million of additional revenue to the Belfast economy.
The council is very aware that there is still untapped potential to develop the arts as a tourist product. The arts still tends to be promoted to local audiences or considered as a means of expressing local identity. We need to integrate the arts into tourism more fully so as to benefit local people and visitors.
A key example of where we feel the linkage between arts and tourism works well is in relation to 'Imagine Belfast 2008'. Hopefully you all are aware of Belfast's bid to be the European capital of culture in 2008. We are working very hard to submit our bid, which has to be in by next March. We are very grateful for the Assembly's support to date, and we look forward to continuing support. We have established an independent company to take forward our bid. Early consultations have made us aware that people regard Belfast as a revelation; somewhere relatively undiscovered and needing to be explored further; somewhere that is culturally rich.
Other council activities in this area include the consideration of a "must see" international visitor attraction to embody Belfast's heritage and to celebrate our links with the Titanic. Next year will see the 90th anniversary of the launch of the Titanic from Belfast, and we have planned a large international festival to mark that link.
The council annually awards £800,000 to the arts community through a series of grant regimes. We are actively involved in developing and packaging the key events in Belfast city, such as our summer, Halloween, Christmas and New Year's Eve programmes to out-of-state visitors. We are working with the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau to help develop that.
In conclusion I want to highlight some of the issues that we regard as important and that should be addressed in the inquiry. First, there is recognition of the significance of the economic potential of cultural tourism and the arts. That recognition needs to be realised through policy and financial support packages.
Secondly, product development and infrastructure needs to be supported to match the growth in tourist numbers. We are aware that there has been a slight downturn in figures this year due to foot-and-mouth disease throughout the island, but we are confident that we can achieve continued growth in years to come. We are looking for 100% growth within five years.
Cultural tourism is also an opportunity for local communities to express their identity positively, and it is a way of distributing wealth across a city. The arts have an untapped potential to become better integrated with cultural tourism. The arts need to be seen and developed as a product for tourists as well as a commodity for local audiences. Cultural tourism depends on the preservation of the unique culture of a particular locality. We are saying that the built heritage of Belfast needs to be preserved so that we do not destroy the very reasons why visitors choose to come to our city.
The Chairperson: Thank you. That was an excellent presentation.
Mr McCarthy: You spoke about the council's relationship with the tourism industry. How would you describe the linkages between the local government sector and the tourism industry, particularly with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board? How could the relationship between the sectors be improved? Thirdly, would links with travel and accommodation providers be helpful in packaging cultural tourism, and how could you develop these?
Cllr Hartley: Belfast City Council has been central in the development of a tourist strategy for Belfast. Of course, to do that we need to have a partnership with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. One of the outcomes of that partnership is that we are beginning to understand that there needs to be a development of what we call urban tourism. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board, by and large, concentrates on rural tourism; it does not focus enough on urban tourism. We want to engage with them in that area.
We are looking to develop strong links with our communities. Mapping Belfast has been mentioned - that was the result of a partnership between the council and the different partnership boards. There are a number of local tourist organisations in which the Belfast City Council and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board participate. We see the way forward as a partnership between the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, local government and the community, which is essential to the development of an urban tourism project.
Ms McCay: Belfast City Council's relationship with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is very positive. As Cllr Hartley stated, we have met with them to elevate the importance of urban tourism. We are also a partner with them in our Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau and in the recently opened Belfast Welcome Centre. We do enjoy a good relationship.
Cllr Hartley: Local government has a key role in terms of the partnerships that can be created. The days of a stand-alone institution doing what it wants in terms of tourism and the arts are over. You need partnerships, and local government is central to creating those partnerships. It has a very important role.
Mr Toland: In relation to your question about accommodation and transport providers, Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau, which has been going now for two years, is an excellent working example of private and public sector organisations coming together. Accommodation providers, transport bodies, bed-and- breakfasts, tourist attractions, and events organisers are working across the board towards the common goal of increasing visitor numbers and bed-nights within the Greater Belfast area.
Mr Davis: Does the council work with other councils to promote cultural tourism in Northern Ireland generally? Do you provide information for visitors about other district council areas?
Cllr Hartley: The focal point for information is our welcome centre, in Donegall Place, which has just been opened. The centre provides information about all parts of the region. We see ourselves as a gateway. However, we are not the only gateway for people coming into Belfast - people may also be going to Antrim, Omagh, Donegal, Fermanagh or Lisburn. That is a very important point. We must create partnerships in what would be called Greater Belfast. We have already done that, for example, with respect to Belfast Lough and there is a lot of scope for the development of Lough Neagh. It seems to me that a partnership with Lisburn Borough Council would be a natural development. It is crucial that we have a broader and a bigger view that takes in more than just Belfast city centre.
Mr McMenamin: First, is cultural tourism promoted well enough at home and abroad, and how would you improve that situation? Secondly, do you, as a council, have a marketing plan specifically targeted at out-of-state tourists? Thirdly, we have just returned from France and Barcelona where we noticed that there were posters on almost every pole telling people about upcoming artistic events. Do you envisage that happening in Belfast?
Cllr Hartley: The prime objective of the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau is to market Belfast overseas, so that it regularly attracts visitors and journalists. The bureau has lots of information that it sends out to those who are interested. We also have a web site, and we are forming international links.
Ms McCay: The Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau has a marketing plan for the city that carefully outlines its target markets and segmented audiences. The bureau is the channel through which Belfast City Council works. We also are involved with a number of the key players in Belfast for promoting Belfast to citizens - citizen-marketing. We certainly promote all of our key events in Belfast to local audiences. One of our objectives is to ensure that the community has a sense of wellbeing - the feel-good factor. We want people to feel that they are citizens of Belfast, and that it is good to live here.
Recently the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau has been investigating domestic marketing and trying to encourage people throughout Northern Ireland to visit Belfast and possibly stay overnight. People could come to Belfast to see a show, stay overnight and spend some money in the city next day. That is a departure into a new area, and greater effort needs to be made there.
As regards your experience of street dressing and the important impact it makes, there have been successful attempts to do that in Belfast. When the World Amateur Boxing Champions were here, we put up banners on the street lamps. We were particularly successful at promoting Irish dancing. We involved all of the shops and pubs - they put flyers in their windows saying they supported the fact that the event was in the city.
However, we need to pay attention to infrastructure. A key problems is the capability of street lamps to hold banners, and we have had some interesting discussions about the type of brackets that need to be fixed to lampposts to allow banners to be flown successfully. We have had a lot of communication with the Department of the Environment about that issue in order to try to get their support to make it feasible. It is very important that there is a lively, vibrant atmosphere throughout the city.
Cllr Hartley: There have been some difficulties with the Department of the Environment concerning this issue. The Department is sometimes reluctant to permit banners to be hung. It needs to be convinced of the importance of branding and of towns and cities being able to put up all types of banners and posters to advertise and promote their product.
The Chairperson: That is a very good point, and I am glad that we have talked about it.
Mrs Nelis: I commend the council on its literature - it looks really good.
You have been promoting and marketing Belfast as the place to be. Partnerships and relationships with other providers of cultural products in Belfast are important if we are to be inclusive. How closely does the council work with the organisers of festival events, such as the Belfast Festival at Queen's and the west Belfast Féile, and how do you encourage and develop those events?
We have recently had submissions from the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau and they said that there are welcome signs in the Belfast Welcome Centre in many languages, but not in the Gaelic/Irish language or in Ulster-Scots.
Cllr Hartley: That matter has already been raised with the Belfast Welcome Centre and they are going to do something about it.
Belfast City Council has a strategic view of developing the arts and ensuring that arts organisations are properly funded and that there is a sustainable element to the arts in Belfast. To that end, our budget for the arts in Belfast is increasing - it is about £1 million per year. We have the Ulster Orchestra, the Queen's Festival, the west Belfast Festival, the Ulster-Scots festival and other festivals. That arts activity is very important for tourism.
We want to develop arts and give our communities the skills to involve themselves in arts. To that end, we have a strategy aimed at community arts. We are taking the arts from their lowest level in the city, and ensuring that they are developed and are accessible. We have some way to go, but we see the different festivals and community activity as crucially important.
Creating awareness of these events is also very important. A product, such as a festival, should be promoted by the city. We feel that it is up to the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau to promote such festivals - regardless of whether they are at Queen's, in west Belfast, or relating to Ulster-Scots. Festivals should be promoted in the city and elsewhere so that visitors are made aware of how accessible they are. Festivals can become part of a package. We do not see any art activity nowadays as stand-alone - such activity should be used as an economic regenerator and recognised as a part of tourism. Ultimately, the city has to be able to help develop that aspect.
Mr Toland: There are five partnership boards in Belfast. A perfect example of how they work together is the launch of 'On the Hoof', which involved the boards under the auspices of Belfast City Council. That is a real success story that has just come to fruition over the past week.
Cllr Hartley: One thing we are finding out through the partnerships is that local people know their product. There are two problems once a product has been identified. First, there is difficulty in getting local people to see the value of the product. There could be a big church on their doorstep, yet no one thinks of bringing visitors to it, or running a regular tour of the church or locality. We need to focus on raising awareness of tourism products.
Secondly, the development of the product and the infrastructure that goes with it - signage, bed and breakfast, hotels and transport - is essential.
In Belfast there is a gap in tourism development, as we tend to see that in terms of the big products such as the Odyssey or the Waterfront. We are missing all of the other products that need to be developed in our city. The key to trying to develop these is by raising awareness.
The Chairperson: You should be complimented on your graveyard tour - exactly the type of thing that you are talking about.
Mr McElduff: I am interested in the ability of mega events to attract returning visitors. We saw that as regards Barcelona and the Olympic Games. People who visited Barcelona at that time have made a habit of returning there. I hope that the World Irish Dancing Championships, the World Amateur Boxing Championships, and similar events will have that effect for Belfast. Do you think that such things will provide a positive legacy?
We saw a banner in Paris which read, 'Oui Paris, 2008'. We thought it was a bid by that city to be the European capital of culture but it seems to be advertising a bid for the Olympic Games.
Ms McCay: All of the key events that we run have an accompanying economic impact analysis. Therefore we are able to get an early indication of the immediate return on direct and indirect expenditure.
It is more difficult to monitor the numbers of repeat visitors but we are confident that it is possible to achieve. We have examples of visitors that have returned, particularly after the World Irish Dancing Championships. The majority of visitors to our city still come to visit friends and relatives; there still is that family connection linkage. We see that as very positive and we are developing a comprehensive database of all contacts through the visitor and convention bureau. The database will comprise all people who have made general enquiries to the welcome centre; those who have been to one of our events; and those who have asked for particular literature through the post. We are building up a direct mail database, and we will continue to use that as part of our campaigns.
The council has concentrated on using large scale events as citizen events, but we are now very aware that we need to turn the tables and make such events attractions in their own right. Halloween, for example, is a very big festival in Belfast and other cities in the region. It is capable of attracting a large number of visitors. Our research shows that people from Scotland would be particularly interested in it. Therefore we are going to be marketing our festivals out-of-state for the first time. Thereafter we will have to have a particular campaign to encourage repeat visitors.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your presentation and for your valuable comments to our questions. The time barrier is descending on us like a guillotine. We could easily have spent another hour or more on this subject. We must recognise that there is a considerable degree of jealousy in other district councils as they look to the success of Belfast as regards tourism. I know that you have a lot more to do; we all have. Your contribution will be very useful to our inquiry.
Thursday 5 July 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Ms E Ó Baoill ) Ards Borough Council
Mr C Webster )
The Chairperson: Welcome. This is an opportunity to record your evidence for our inquiry. Please make an introductory statement, and members will then ask a few questions.
Ms Ó'Baoill: Thank you, you are most welcome to visit Kircubbin at any time. My name is Eilís Ó'Baoill, and I am Ards Borough Council's arts officer. I have worked with the council for five years, but I was involved in the arts sector for a considerable time before that. My colleague, Chris Webster, is the assistant tourism development officer. He has been with us for the past six months, but previously worked in a similar role with Lisburn Borough Council.
Thank you for allowing us to address the Committee. I will try to speak primarily on the topics you raised in your initial request for information. I would like to acknowledge that our tourism officer, Sharon Mahaffey, was the co-contributor on the document you previously received from us. I will speak first on the current status of the sectors, moving on to examining those areas of the arts that are right for tourism product promotion. We shall be looking at the support required to enhance heritage, including languages, after which we might come up with a few recommendations.
The current status of the sectors has been quite informal, varying from district to district. However, as far as Ards is concerned, the relationship has been informal, developing through briefings into mutually beneficial combined projects. The arts have benefited by broadening their audiences. The development of tourism has brought benefits by providing added value for tourists coming to Ards. At a macro level, the Arts Council for Northern Ireland and the NITB took a significant step in 1998 by creating a cultural tourism officer following the report on mutual opportunities. Since then one might say there has been a great deal of discussion rather than action, and we should like to see more of the latter.
In Ards, there has been a great deal of activity. We have created quite a few different projects, and I shall talk about those now. The aspects of the arts I believe are prime for product promotion with the watchwords of "quality" and "uniqueness" cover all art forms. The Ards Guitar Festival is ideal for target marketing aimed at that segment of tourism interested in music. It is already drawing tourists from as far away as the USA and Israel. We have the quality, but we also have the unique advantage of having the Lowden guitar factory right on our doorstep, so we take advantage of such events where possible.
In the broader picture, Citybus tours and walking tours can be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of an artistic element. In Ards we have walking tours based around the history of Newtownards which are enhanced by talented storytellers in costume who fill out the whole picture. It does not merely consist of large amounts of information; it is actually very enjoyable. We must remember that tourists ultimately come here to enjoy themselves.
We also have some pilot projects with great potential. In June 2001 we tried the Ards Puppet Festival. We targeted the guitar festival and the puppet festival at what is called the "shoulder" or off-peak season, a subject I shall return to later. The puppet festival was targeted at children, an audience we do not target very often. However, it is as much an attraction for local audiences as for tourists. If you can combine all art forms, as you do in puppetry - through visual arts, drama, music and storytelling - you get many hits for the price of one.
Northern Ireland has a very strong culture of contemporary visual arts, which is perhaps even better recognised in Europe than it is locally. Willie Doherty, for example, was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Mark Francis, who is very well regarded in contemporary arts circles, happens to come from Newtownards originally; his work has been purchased by Tony Blair and people further afield. That art work is prime and ready to be seen, but for them to be seen more widely we need better engagement with the media to provide international coverage and exposure. We have a large number of working partnerships in Ards, and I am sure there is room for more development, but strongest among them has been between the regional tourism office and the arts service.
We have Ards Crafts in the same building as the tourism office. That adds to the quality of the experience for the visitors who just come in for a map: they get the opportunity to see a vibrant craft life in the same building.
I want to cover the other art forms in a broader way. We have walking tours with historical and heritage influence, and those could be replicated across literature, poetry, and film location walks. We could have music heritage walks, and all types of different products. The potential and the skills are there, but it must be well planned in advance, and that is the key. We should have long-term events planned in advance, and repeated year on year, so that the tour operators can have confidence in our products. We need support to enhance that heritage, and all of our cultural activities.
The art sectors have previously looked at a nine-month calendar starting in September and ending in May. We are told that the peak season for tourists is from May to September, so it is completely the opposite. Instead of seeing that as a disadvantage, we should be looking at it as an opportunity. We may not be targeting our local audiences during that period, but that is when we could be targeting the tourists. I am thinking particularly about the theatre, when most of our actors are resting during that period.
From September to May we have a very dynamic contemporary drama product across Northern Ireland - not just in the Ards area - but particularly visible in Belfast. We have theatres that want to produce new works, and are encouraged to do so by funding bodies like the Arts Council. The perennial tourist favourites are perhaps Shakespeare, Brian Friel, and Sean O'Casey. Actors and companies could be encouraged by you and the tourist board to fill that gap when they are resting.
We would like to develop many other partnerships, and we want to look at broadening beyond the narrow sectors. The arts are very divided: you are literature or music; the arts or heritage. There is a huge heritage potential, particularly in the Ards borough where we have about 40 significant archaeological sites all wrapped round a designated area of outstanding natural beauty. That is a fantastic asset and we would like to make more of it.
I will pass over to Mr Webster to talk about the Christian heritage.
Mr Webster: Ms Ó'Baoill used the words partnership and working together. In promoting the cultural sector, Ards Borough Council works closely with the regional tourism organisation (RTO) of the area 'The Kingdoms of Down', which is one of five RTOs. The direction behind 'The Kingdoms of Down' is to promote the County Down area as a tourism destination out-of-state. It does that through promoting a number of products. One of our strongest products is the cultural and Christian heritage that exists in the area.
At this stage 'The Kingdoms of Down' have identified, in partnership with the Environment and Heritage Service, approximately 50 sites of interest to visitors in and around County Down. That product is then marketed in North America, Europe, Great Britain, and the Republic of Ireland. This year for the first time we have noticed that the North American and Canadian market have found this of particular interest: attending shows and exhibitions, and talking to tour operators - it is probably the key product they are interested in. We can take from that and exploit it to the good of the area. We have also developed packages with local tour operators. That enables people from the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain to come across in an inclusive package, whether that is ferry deals, aircraft, car hire and hotels, and access these historical sites.
We would like to package this further and we intend to do that in the coming years. We know that there is interest in places such as North America and Canada. However, that is only one aspect of the cultural product in County Down and in the Ards area. We are hoping that we will have enough support to be able to extend it. As Ms Ó'Baoill has said, there are a number of very good products available for us to develop in the future.
Ms Ó'Baoill: There is a range of recommendations on strengthening the links between culture and tourism that we would like to make to the Department. Raising awareness is simplest to say but perhaps the most difficult to do. We need to raise awareness of those quality products that we have been talking about, not only to the overseas tourist market, but also to our local inhabitants. We need to tell them about the wonderful things that we are doing.
One way that we could begin to raise awareness between the two sectors is to create a cultural tourism partnership, with power to initiate pilot projects and schemes, initiatives and actions to test our ideas. It would be advantageous to both sectors if it was made up of knowledgeable arts and tourism professionals from a wide range of cultural activities and organisations, rather than individuals from other spheres who might have a more limited understanding of the practicalities that we face.
We want to encourage projects that learn from other European countries, but we would discourage mimicry, or duplication. We do not want to take a great idea from Finland or elsewhere and try and apply it like a plaster to Northern Ireland. We want to enhance our own unique skills and product.
We want to support the existing physical infrastructure; everything from the basics of road signage that is understood by visitors from outside, through to the built environment and the architectural heritage that we have. It is about supporting what we already have, rather than building something that is potentially a great white elephant. We want to see physical and intellectual access for people, but we would also like to preserve the architecture that is part of the character of this place.
Finally, I would like to examine the potential for looking into the distance. Very often tourism and the arts have been hampered by short-termism, looking at one year's funding, or doing a project within a year and having to have results then. Tourism is a long game, and that is the way I would like to play it. As an illustration, I will pass over to Mr Webster to talk about our idea for a peninsula festival.
Mr Webster: The idea of the festival is to tie together the Ards Peninsula with the Dumfries and Galloway Peninsula in Scotland, and the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. These peninsulas are very similar geographically and culturally. It is about developing the existing link between Portpatrick and Donaghadee.
For the last number of years the communities have been working very closely together to help promote each other's interests. It is envisaged that any links would start at a local authority level and with local groups. We are going to target the areas of music, folklore, language, history and culture.
At this stage, discussion has taken place between the officers of the three areas, and agreement has been given in principle to starting a festival. It is hoped that the initial stages will begin around September 2002 with a series of events in the Ards area. At this stage a number of artists have been identified, as well as locations.
We have also contacted Co-operation Ireland and the Ulster-Scots Agency, as we feel that our objective of increasing linkages north, south, east and west are within the remit of these organisations. It is hoped that they will come on board with technical and financial support to help this idea to grow.
At this stage we are waiting for a response from those organisations, but the early indications are that it will be supported and will bring benefit to our area and to the other areas as well.
Ms Ó'Baoill: That concludes our presentation. I will submit my notes in case we rambled off the point too much.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much. The peninsulas festival is a very inspiring idea. I am sure that INTERREG funding is a possibility as well.
Mr McCarthy: Thank you for your presentation. You presented your case so well that there is very little room for asking questions. Nevertheless I have a couple here anyway.
How would you describe the linkages between the local government sector and the tourism industry, particularly the NITB? How could the relationship between the sectors be improved? Would links with travel and accommodation providers be helpful in packaging cultural tourism products, and how would you develop these? You mentioned heritage trails and I have always anticipated that there is a great potential for a heritage trail through North Down, Ards and down through the Betsy Gray heritage trail. That has not surfaced so far. Would you agree that there is great potential there? Also, Scrabo Tower is an enormous heritage attraction. We, in Ards Borough Council have been trying to have it illuminated at night and there has been a negative response. Would you support that initiative? We have just come back from a trip to Paris and one of the highlights was having lunch in the Eiffel Tower. We are not going to equate Scrabo Tower with the Eiffel Tower, but there is something to be learned there.
The Chairperson: I ask members to restrict themselves because we have a tight time schedule. The first three questions are the ones we need for the inquiry.
Mr Webster: The Ards tourism forum meets every six months and incorporates everyone in the tourism industry, accommodation, attractions, activities and anyone else who feels that they can contribute to the tourism industry. In that forum we discuss various issues pertinent to our area and Northern Ireland. Any problem we have would be taken to the NITB. We have a very good working relationship with the people there and we find that they are able to help us with any enquiries we might have.
We also use our membership of the 'Kingdoms of Down' and the direct contact that we have through the officers there and their remit. Generally, we find that the tourism industry in Ards is very supportive of what we do. We tend to involve them in a lot of our activities, bring them on board and try to keep the communication channels open.
You can always improve on communication, and we try to encourage communication between ourselves in the local tourism office and the local tourism industry. That is going to be a key factor in trying to grow the business. The industry must learn to work together and promote each others' interests because they have to realise that when a tourist comes to the area it is about the whole experience, not just going to a visitor attraction or staying in a hotel. It is everything that they encounter when they are in the area.
Ms Ó'Baoill: I have already mentioned the familiarisation visit for accommodation providers. The political heritage trail perhaps has been avoided because of its potential contentiousness, but there is a huge interest there. People will come to look at murals whether those tours are organised by us or not. Scrabo Tower's best feature is its visibility during the daytime and the potential to see so far from it, and I certainly think we can enhance that as we have already tried with our midsummer tours. I do not know about illuminating the tower. That is a difficult question.
Mrs Nelis: Thank you very much for your presentation. Is cultural tourism promoted well enough at home and abroad? If not, what would improve the situation? You said that in time your tourist market would be from September to May: why does it stop at May? Have you carried out an audit to get information on your visitors from out of state? Why do they come to Ards and how do they find out about you? You have already said that you get some visitors from the United States, Israel, the Republic of Ireland and Canada. How have you garnered that type of information? Does the council have a marketing plan? Do you have a budget and is that budget targeted at the out-of-country market?
What interest is there in the Christian heritage and the peninsula? It is a great idea especially given the 1798 rebellion and Wolfe Tone's associations with Buncrana and Rathmullan. You are on to a winner there.
Ms Ó'Baoill: Thank you. The blunt answer is that there is not enough cultural tourism promotion. We could do a considerable amount to improve that. With vision, the NITB could commission art works to represent the Ards borough at trade fairs rather than the usual display stands from everywhere else that show a beautiful sunset over the local landscape. We could do the same for Northern Ireland, whether by commissioning a theatre company to do mini pieces of theatre or by exhibiting visual arts and crafts that people could take away with them. That is just one idea; there are many of them.
Stopping events in May is historical. It is partly to do with the arts being focussed at audiences that are here. People start to go on holiday at that time and schools end around at that time also. Therefore people stop attending arts classes and courses in May or June. However the opportunity to lay on courses is there. A few catchphrases are translated into Ulster-Scots for tourists, but we could do some training for the accommodation providers or the arts sectors so that they can pass on those little gems of local culture to the tourists. We could also hold a plate-glazing workshop at Eden Pottery.
There are many opportunities to extend the programme into the summer time that we have not previously exploited. However, we do not have the necessary money. That is pretty basic, and I am not here with cap in hand, but money that is stretched over nine months cannot be stretched to the same extent over 12 months.
Mr Webster: Any marketing for out-of-state tourism that Ards Borough Council carries out is generally done through the 'Kingdoms of Down' organisation. It has identified six key products: Christian heritage, golf, equestrianism, homes and gardens, sailing and the general touring product. Those are seen as the Kingdoms of Down's key strengths because they are the most developed products in the area.
As I mentioned in the presentation, Christian heritage has proved to be a popular product in places such as North America where there is a strong ethnic Irish appeal. Therefore we do market research through the Kingdoms of Down organisation on an annual basis. Ards Borough Council also taps into quarterly research that identifies the visitors who come to the Ards area and their reasons for doing so. Those reasons are because of its natural environment and its peace and quiet. Those are the strengths that we are playing on at the minute.
It links back to what we said earlier. Cultural tourism is perhaps not being marketed abroad. Therefore, if people do not know about it, they are not necessarily coming here for that reason. Perhaps, if that were taken on board, and cultural tourism was something that we were actively going out to promote to target markets, it might be another reason why people would come. It is a chicken and egg situation.
Market research shows that the over fifty-fives, and families, are the two main target groups for the Ards area. They identify with the peace and quiet associated with Newtownards and the Ards borough.
Ms Ó'Baoill: The arts service, through the arts centre in Newtownards, has created a database to continually expand its mailing list. Each time people come to the guitar festival, they can send us reply slips giving their names and addresses. The target market for the guitar festival is slightly younger than the main target group of over fifty-fives; the guitar festival targets people in their thirties.
Mrs Nelis: Do you have a budget specifically directed at the tourist market, or is that just part of it? Do you have a budget for the out-of-state tourist market?
Mr Webster: The Kingdoms of Down has an annual operating budget of just under £500,000 per year. The marketing aspect of that is about £350,000. That covers everything from brochure production, attendance at exhibitions through to direct mail, hosting press activity, et cetera.
Mr McMenamin: Thank you for your presentation. I have some questions relating to development. How does Ards Borough Council work with other councils to promote cultural tourism generally in Northern Ireland? Secondly, do you provide information for visitors about attractions in other districts? Thirdly, are all your tourist facilities open on Sundays?
Ms Ó'Baoill: Chris Webster will talk about the Kingdoms of Down. In terms of development of the arts, we work in partnership with our immediate neighbours - North Down Borough Council, Castlereagh Borough Council and Down District Council. We do so not only to ensure that we are not taking the same events as them and competing over audiences, but we occasionally share projects. For example, potentially in 2002, we will be bringing the European Chamber Orchestra to Northern Ireland, which we could not afford to do individually.
Our arts centre is not open on a Sunday; we have only opened it once a year on a Sunday on the heritage open days. As far as I am aware that is council policy.
Mr Webster: I have already mentioned the relationship that exists with Kingdoms of Down and the three other member councils. We are currently working with Armagh District Council, Craigavon Borough Council and Banbridge District Council to promote angling as a product.
We have two tourist information centres, one based in Newtownards and the other in Portaferry. They are both part of the Northern Ireland network service. As part of that agreement, we carry information on other parts of Northern Ireland as well as other parts of Ireland.
As far as I am aware, the majority of the facilities in the Ards area are open on a Sunday.
Mr Davis: Cultural tourism is now recognised as one of the main reasons why people come to Northern Ireland. Did you find that there is little cohesion between local authorities and the NITB in promoting Northern Ireland?
Ms Ó'Baoill: That would have been the case until recently. It is changing not least because of best value, clustering and regional partnerships. It has been fairly uncoordinated until the past couple of years. There were discussions on individual visitor attractions with the NITB through the offices of Fergal Kearney, when he was the cultural tourism officer there. That helped, but there is a long way to go.
Mr Davis: Is the NITB paying more attention to it? I understand, for example, that it needs to reinstate its cultural tourism officer up to a higher level.
Ms Ó'Baoill: It is paying more attention. We have been told on a number of occasions that cultural tourism is forming one of the three legs of the stool of the Northern Ireland tourist product. I would like to see us putting the necessary money there to show we mean that.
Mr Shannon: Thank you for your presentation. I am already familiar with some of the points. You talked about the day-trip market, and that that could be developed more. How do you see that developing? There are different angles on it. One issue I am particularly concerned with is Ulster-Scots. The council has been very proactive in promoting Ulster-Scots music, culture, et cetera.
How do you see that developing to the advantage of our council and further afield? How do you see it bringing more people from the UK, Europe and the United States? How do you bring all the attractions together? There are a lot of attractions in the Ards Borough Council area, which, of course, we would like to point up today. How do you promote them collectively and equally?
Ms Ó'Baoill: I will take those points in reverse order. Links are already developing and continuing internally between different attractions. For example, we have put on performances that have been co-ordinated by Ards Arts, but have been showcased in Exploris. It is not a cultural tourism venue, but it is a tourist attraction, and we would like to develop those kinds of partnerships with other attractions in the area. However, there is only so much time and resources available to us.
In relation to Ulster-Scots, I believe that the answer is packages - bite-sized pieces. It is applicable to day-trippers and also to visitors from further afield. If you have one-day events that are easily accessible, they are easier to plan in the short-term. You may have notices with facts along our walking trails or tours that have references to other opportunities like Ulster-Scots. That is probably the best and easiest way of doing it - tying it to what already exists, and making it marketable in neat, small packages.
The Chairperson: You have covered some very valuable territory, which has been very helpful to us in drawing together our recommendations. Our purpose is to come up with a number of recommendations to the Department, to try to influence it for the benefit of us all. I hope that by the end of the year, if we are all still here, we might be in a position to produce a report with those recommendations. You have played a valuable part in that. Thank you.
Thursday 5 July 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr B Mackey )
Ms S Orr ) Lisburn Borough
Ms S Stewart ) Council
Cllr P O'Hagan )
The Chairperson: You are very welcome to today's Committee session. After you have made your presentation Committee members will ask some questions.
Mr Mackey: I would like to introduce our team. Peter O'Hagan is chairman of Lisburn Borough Council's economic development committee, which manages tourism. Susie Orr is the tourism development officer within the economic development unit that was established in 1997. Siobhán Stewart is the arts manager responsible for the new Island Arts Centre. I am Brian Mackey and I am assistant director of leisure services, responsible for cultural and community services, with a specialist background in cultural heritage. I have been curator of the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum for some 20 years.
We have divided our presentation into three sections plus a conclusion. Susie Orr will begin by giving a profile of Lisburn, its people and its visitors.
Ms Orr: The borough of Lisburn is perceived as being one of the most prosperous in Northern Ireland. At the last count it had a population of over 111,000, with only 4·3% classified as being unemployed. The borough has a large percentage of people between 20 years of age and 40 years of age. Through our local tourism market we have found that most of the market has money to spend and is particularly interested in cultural events.
The tourism industry in the borough of Lisburn has grown significantly over the past few years. In 1999 tourism equated to £11·2 million of the local economy in Lisburn. The visitor market has a relatively old age profile with nearly three times as many visitors aged 45 years or over (57%) than aged between 15 and 34 years (20%). Almost two thirds of visitors to the area are in the ABC1 social classes (64%) with just over one fifth of visitors being families (22%). Fourteen per cent are young independents and about half are categorised as "empty nesters" (48%).
Some interesting facts emerge as to why people visit Lisburn borough: 47% of those asked cited touring and sightseeing at places such as Hillsborough village; 22% came to visit a museum; 20% came to visit craft centres or craft shops; and 7% came for an event. Research has shown that the majority of visitors to the Lisburn borough come for cultural events. They are classified as "cultural tourists". Those visitors spend more per day per visitor than the Northern Ireland average, and they stay longer in the borough of Lisburn than in other local council areas.
The main cultural attractions in the borough include Hillsborough village (the castle and the fort), the linen product, Down Royal racecourse, historical villages (many of which have won awards for floral displays), the arts centre and a number of cultural events.
Lisburn Borough Council recognises the economic and social benefits that tourism brings to the borough. It is dedicated to tourism development and spends £450,000 a year directly on tourism. This includes: development of the industry; the organisation and marketing of various events; the marketing of the borough through council activity as well as through the regional tourism organisation, the Kingdoms of Down; and also visitor servicing, running two tourist information centres (TICs). In 2000 the Hillsborough centre won the British Airways Tourism Centre of the Year.
I will now pass you over to my colleague Siobhán Stewart, who will give a brief overview of the arts in the borough.
Ms Stewart: Lisburn Borough Council recognises that when culture and tourism are jointly promoted they can be used to enhance the attractiveness of the destination and make a visitor's stay more fulfilling. An example of this recognition is the council's recent investment in a purpose-built arts venue at Lagan Valley Island in Lisburn, with the main aim of using the arts to tackle urban regeneration within the area. The capital project received over £1·3 million from the National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
The council fully acknowledges that arts activities encourage people to come back into cities and towns, making streets safer by increasing their use and by revitalising the evening economy, which in turn boosts rents and property values. With this in mind the council has recently expanded its annual arts festival from one week in May to a three-month period from June to August. The aim of this expansion into the summer season is to capitalise on the unique location of Lagan Valley Island as a local community resource, helping to enhance greater community cohesion, and as a high-profile tourist attraction for the area.
It is anticipated that the council will establish greater strategic links with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to promote the festival co-operatively as a cultural product, since the festival's main focus is as a platform for local products and the celebration of indigenous culture. That is the main draw for visitors to Northern Ireland.
This is a clear expression of the council's commitment to developing the arts as a catalyst for the enhancement of local economic development initiatives such as tourism. It is further highlighted by the council's annual revenue investment in the arts, which is now an estimated £500,000.
Mr Mackey: Given that the Committee's inquiry is into cultural tourism and the arts, we have somewhat neglected the significance of cultural heritage in our submission. I want to take this brief opportunity to state how important it is for Northern Ireland to protect and interpret its heritage for the development of tourism.
The Irish Linen Centre in Lisburn Museum has been a great success story. The footfall through the building facilities, museum, café, shop and tourist information centre is over 400,000 people, albeit with a high percentage of repeat visits, with some one tenth visiting our exhibitions. Our highly regarded linen exhibition is undoubtedly a major tourist attraction. Our shop has the largest turnover of any cultural facility in Northern Ireland. Museums are labour intensive and expensive to run, but they reveal the heart and soul of a community and are a much undervalued asset in the development of cultural tourism.
In Lisburn an appreciation of cultural heritage is not only confined to the museum. There have been recent council-led initiatives with other partners, the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded a grant of £750,000 and an anticipated £1·5 million will be spent in restoring and regenerating Bridge Street, which is currently very run-down but is an important eighteenth-century street approaching the town centre.
A wider historic quarter plan will underpin the town centre conservation area and regenerate it through conservation and sympathetic investment in town centre living and other schemes.
There is a forthcoming bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a £1 million-plus scheme to renovate the historic Castle Gardens and its long-hidden seventeenth- century garden terraces. The council's Lagan corridor initiative, one of whose principal aims is to promote the restoration of the Lagan navigation, has taken the lead and £1·5 million will be spent in the restoration of the locks and canal at the Island, the site of the new council headquarters.
These are just some of the major projects that will enhance cultural heritage in the Lisburn borough. However, there are also smaller schemes in place that are too numerous to mention.
In conclusion I would like to refer the Committee to the suggestions in the development section (page 8) of our submission. Regarding point 1, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has recently reinstated its cultural tourism officer, and we welcome this. Regarding point 2, we stress the need for joined-up government in relation to cultural heritage, tourism and the arts.
In addition to the points we have listed, we emphasise the significance of large projects acting as catalysts. For example, if Belfast were to be named European City of Culture, there would be enormous spin-offs for Northern Ireland as a whole. An annual festival calendar for collective promotion across Northern Ireland would be important and would help to market our product.
Legislation to create town centre improvement zones and an increase in the business rate in order to fund town centre regeneration could target heritage issues and address the chronic underfunding of conservation areas in Northern Ireland.
Our wish list for Lisburn would include the removal of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's 10-mile embargo around Belfast, which would allow hotel grant aid and the much-needed development of hotels in the Lisburn borough. We would like to see funding for waterway development, in particular the Lagan Canal. Our recent lock construction at the Island and associated works cost the council £1·5 million. That project was undertaken to demonstrate the council's determination to see the restoration of the Lagan Canal with appropriate canal, riverbank, industrial heritage and mills development, all of which will be attractive to tourists. We would also like to see development money made available for smaller projects.
Above all, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board should not overplay consortia or overcentralise its role. Lisburn Borough Council has local knowledge and its voice should still be listened to in determining a much-needed, overarching government strategy to develop cultural tourism and the arts.
Mrs Nelis: Thank you for your interesting presentation. I have read your excellent literature and how you are enthusiastic about bringing Lisburn to the forefront of tourism development. You referred to marketing and promotion in your presentation. Do you think that cultural tourism is promoted enough at home and abroad? Have you any suggestions for improving it, perhaps with a marketing strategy?
You also mentioned the development of Lisburn in the context of its proximity to Belfast, for example, the removal of the 10-mile embargo on hotel development. Do you think that Lisburn's proximity to Belfast is an advantage or a disadvantage? You have, in fact, almost answered that question. Do you have to refocus your marketing campaigns because of that proximity, or do you market the area as a whole?
You spoke about the attractions of Lisburn, Hillsborough and the surrounding villages. Have you carried out an audit on the visitors to the borough to find out where they come from, why they come and how they found out about your area? You mentioned that you have spent a considerable amount of money in improving your tourist product. Do you have a forward marketing plan and a specific budget for attracting visitors?
Mr Mackey: There are a lot of questions there. Lisburn's proximity to Belfast is both an advantage and a disadvantage, for some of the reasons already stated.
Ms Orr: We market Lisburn as a stand-alone destination and also through the Kingdoms of Down, the regional tourism organisation set up by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Our domestic marketing is mostly stand alone, although the Kingdoms of Down has a domestic marketing plan. Our international marketing is done entirely through the Kingdoms of Down. It has a significant number of cultural tourism products, for example, its excellent 'Christian Heritage' brochure. However, we see a need to develop more cultural tourism marketing tools. For example, since Christmas I have carried out two promotions in Canada, where people were very interested in St Patrick and the establishment of Christianity. The 'Christian Heritage' brochure does not go into that in much depth. We need to develop specific products for specific markets and we need to get our segmentation right.
Lisburn Borough Council put £50,000 into the Kingdoms of Down with our three other local authority partners, Ards, Down and North Down. The budget is between £400,000 and £500,000 a year to market the Kingdoms of Down internationally. Joint marketing has worked quite well, but specific events that are our key strengths are still marketed directly. We must find the right key to turn the lock. The arts festival and the Northern Ireland Festival of Racing at Down Royal racecourse are stand-alone events, as is the linen product. The historical village of Hillsborough is also a stand-alone attraction.
Lisburn's proximity to Belfast has been a godsend in certain ways. For example, if a cruise ship comes in to Belfast, the passengers want to know about linen, so they are taken to the Irish Linen Centre because it is close to Belfast. The 10-mile embargo on hotel development has had a negative impact on Lisburn. The infrastructure in the Lisburn borough has not been developed to allow us to hold on to tourists for long. We have only 33 accommodation establishments, most of which are bed and breakfasts. The lack of a hotel is a disadvantage which will become more noticeable with the development of the arts and civic centre. Twenty-three million pounds has been spent on the building, but we will not be in a position to attract large numbers of cultural tourists.
We would like to run a festival like the Belfast Festival at Queen's, but we cannot do so in the arts centre because we cannot provide accommodation for visitors. We cannot hold conferences because we cannot accommodate delegates. People want accommodation on the doorstep and are not prepared to travel from Belfast. Unless one or two hotels are developed in the Lisburn borough, tourism can only be developed to a certain point.
We must ask ourselves whether it is worth putting resources into tourism, because we are losing the economic benefit to neighbouring council areas because of the lack of accommodation. The Northern Ireland Festival of Racing, for example, brought 11,000 people in over two days, but most of those people stayed in Belfast or even Dundalk. So it is both an advantage and a disadvantage being so close to Belfast. We are currently trying to fight the embargo on grant aid for hotel development.
Last year we commissioned research through System Three on where the tourists come from. Most visitors come from the UK and Republic of Ireland markets, although 7% of visitors are North American, which is quite a large percentage compared to our neighbouring council areas. That is probably linked to the historic significance between Hillsborough and the establishment of America, as well as the linen product. Those are two of our key strengths in the borough.
Mr McCarthy: What are the linkages between local government and the tourism industry, particularly the Northern Ireland Tourist Board? How could those relationships be improved? Would links with travel and accommodation providers be helpful in packaging cultural tourism products? How would you develop these?
Ms Orr: Lisburn Borough Council has a tourism project team, a Lagan corridor project team and an arts project team. The tourism project team is a select group that meets once a month. Members include bed and breakfast owners, hoteliers, activity providers, a publican, event organisers, and the town centre manager. We discuss what we want to do as a council, and they tell us, from the industry's point of view, whether it will work, and also what they want us to do.
Through the Kingdoms of Down we work with the four other council areas. That tends to be our only link with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. We go directly to the Tourist Board if we have specific projects. For example, we are trying to get new brown signage in the village of Hillsborough. The people who look after the brown signage at the Tourist Board have been very helpful. They are using us as a pilot project for brown signage for historical and cultural sites. That will be something new for the borough. However, that is our only link to the Tourist Board; they ask us to attend events through the Kingdoms of Down.
Yesterday I had a discussion with Tourist Board officials about the Northern Ireland Festival of Racing, which is taking place soon and is one of our main cultural events. I was disappointed that the officials did not see that event as a main attraction; they would rather have discussed cycling with me. They also said that they did not want to work directly with local councils. They want to work through the regional tourism organisations. We believe that there is still a place for direct communication with local councils, and I would be worried if that did not continue.
The Kingdoms of Down does the marketing, but it does not undertake development work. We do that, so we would like to have better links with the Tourist Board and to have a say in what it does. That might mean that the board needs to invest more resources and staff time in the projects, and it is severely understaffed at the moment. It is difficult to get hold of a member of staff. I do not want to slate the Tourist Board too much, but I worry that we have to do a lot of work through the regional tourism organisations. It is good to work with the regional tourism organisations where appropriate, but we have concerns that are purely Lisburn-related and we need the Tourist Board's help with those.
Mr McCarthy: What about the travel and accommodation providers, and the packaging of cultural tourism products?
Ms Orr: We work with those people to provide packages. For example, for the Northern Ireland Festival of Racing, we work with two ground handlers from Northern Ireland, one from Scotland and one from England. If we are organising special events, our accommodation providers give us special rates, and we also work with activity providers. We have that area covered. If the packages are big enough, the Kingdoms of Down will sell them for us. However, we do most of the work, and our accommodation providers are very good at giving us special rates to sell through tour operators.
Mr McMenamin: Thank you for your comprehensive presentation. With regard to development, how do you work with other councils to promote cultural tourism generally in Northern Ireland? Do you provide information to visitors about attractions in other districts? What role do you see the new Island Arts Centre playing in attracting cultural tourists? Are all tourist facilities open on Sundays? I ask all councils that question.
Ms Orr: We work closely with other councils, not only through the Kingdoms of Down on marketing but also with our neighbouring councils on development issues such as cycling paths. We used to work quite closely with Banbridge Council on the linen trail, but unfortunately that was not as successful as we hoped it would be. Our assistant director of economic development sits on various boards with other councils. We work closely with other councils on the development and marketing of cultural tourism. However, we still have a long way to go in that area. In addition to the development of the cultural product we also need to establish the infrastructure, which involves organising accommodation, train stops, road systems and putting the packages together.
Our tourist information centres provide information about the entire TIC network. All centres provide the same literature throughout Northern Ireland. The tourist information centres' first job is to keep people in the borough, but their second job is to keep people in Northern Ireland and to service the visitors. Staff can provide information about every location and attraction in Northern Ireland; they go on familiarisation trips throughout Northern Ireland so that they know each other's products.
The tourist information centres work well as a network - they help each other out, communicate well and sell each other's products. Northern Ireland is a very small place and we recognise that we are not going to keep visitors in the Lisburn borough all the time. However, our main aim is to keep people happy and make sure that they come back to Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, in the Lisburn borough many facilities are not open on Sundays because the demand is not great enough.
Mr McMenamin: Are those facilities open on Sundays at the peak of the tourist season?
Mr Mackey: We opened the Irish Linen Centre on Sundays for six summer months in its first three years. Seven-day opening is demanding for any facility. We regrettably took the decision to close the centre on Sundays, because it was the least busy day of the week. That has made management of the facility easier. We found that Sundays in winter could be just as busy as Sundays in summer, but that was the nature of that indoor facility in Lisburn town centre.
Ms Orr: Hillsborough courthouse, which houses our tourist information centre, is open seven days a week during the summer. That is difficult for the management and staff, who become exhausted. That facility is busy and many people stop there, probably because Hillsborough is on the main Dublin to Belfast corridor. Other facilities in the Lisburn borough are not open on Sundays.
The management of Down Royal would love to open the racecourse on Sundays, and I believe that representatives have been to the Assembly to try to facilitate Sunday opening.
Ms Stewart: The Island Arts Centre was launched on 9 June this year. We relocated from the existing arts centre at Harmony Hill, and I am sure that you heard in the news that that building is no longer standing.
We launched the centre with a three-month arts festival, to which I have already referred. The location of the centre at Lagan Valley Island is proving to be successful because it makes the arts venue more accessible not only to the local community but also to visitors. They come to a location that is unique because it is on an island. It has additional resources - a café, theatre space and so forth.
We run a programme for 50 weeks of the year. We are open six days a week, from 9.00 am to 10.00 pm. We are not open on Sundays, although we have run a few events on Sundays to test the market. There may be further development in that area.
The council has a significant commitment to the centre because it wants to see it as a cultural resource for tourists when they come into Lisburn town. Apart from the Irish Linen Centre in Lisburn Museum, Lisburn town centre lacks other cultural amenities. We are in the early stages of development, and we hope to see progress. We have seen significant increases in revenue funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Our audience figures for events and the throughput of visitors to the exhibition have been considerable. We are using those figures as benchmarks against other venues to monitor our progress.
Mr Shannon: Thank you for your presentation. How closely does your council work with festival organisers to promote similar events in the borough?
Ms Stewart: All arts officers from all local authority areas belong to an organisation called the Arts Managers' Group for Northern Ireland. That group discusses programming and different festivals that are being planned. Individuals can promote those, or we can get together as cluster groups to promote different kinds of product more effectively.
Additionally, we try to share programming costs, so if we want to bring a particular product from outside the country, we share the costs by touring the product around different venues. We have not discussed promoting different festivals as a reason for attracting visitors, because the festivals happen at different times of the year. That would therefore be difficult. Apart from that, there has not been close contact with other organisers.
Mr Agnew: Is it possible to sustain a market for cultural tourism products that might allow for the extension of the summer season?
Ms Orr: As far as I am concerned, everything that we sell is cultural tourism. The people, our arts festivals, the built heritage and so on - they are all part of the cultural tourism package that we are selling.
The development of additional products within that sector will make tourists enjoy their visit and stay longer. Those tourists are the most likely of all to become repeat visitors.
It would be easier for us to segment and sell our market if we recognised that tourism and cultural products are one and the same thing. We could encourage people to come here if, for example, they are specifically interested in one segment. It would be easier to attract them here - regardless of whether peace holds or there are troubles - because they are focused on that individual segment and are not as worried about general events.
On the other hand, attracting visitors here for a general holiday is quite difficult because they are easily swayed by what they see and hear on the news. Without peace it would be very difficult to sustain tourism in Northern Ireland. However, the development of the cultural sector will attract a new type of visitor who, from our experience, spends more and stays longer. That is the type of visitor we should be trying to attract. Such visitors will extend their stay and come back time and time again, which can only benefit everyone in the North. What we are selling is a cultural product.
Mr Mackey: I would like to comment on the issue of extending our season. We have a break in our season because of our political difficulties. Anyone who manages cultural facilities is aware of the huge fall-off in visitor numbers in the month of July. It is very difficult for the season to pick up again in August.
Dr Adamson: Do you have any plans to commemorate the millennium of the first great battle of Crew Hill in 2004, and if not, why not?
Mr Mackey: We anticipated this question. I cannot say that we have any great commemorative plans. Crew Hill has an important place in history and we have examined the issue of access to the site in order to make people more aware of its historical significance.
Dr Adamson: I will keep working on my colleagues in Lisburn.
The Chairperson: On behalf of the Committee I thank you all very much for your valuable contribution this morning. We are in the process of collecting as much evidence as we can under the broad remit of cultural tourism. We are going through a distillation process and trying to put together a number of recommendations which I hope, if we are all still here, will be ready towards the end of the year. Your submission will play a part in that. Thank you.
Thursday 5 July 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Mr J McGrillen ) Down District Council
Ms S O'Connor )
The Chairperson: I extend a very warm welcome to you. As you are aware, we are in the process of collecting as much evidence we can about the whole area of our inquiry. Thank you for coming along. I invite you to make a short submission, and then Committee members will ask some questions to tease out as much information as possible.
Mr McGrillen: Thank you for the invitation. As you will be aware, Mr Chairman, this issue is very important for Down District Council, and culture, arts and leisure form a significant proportion of the economic development strategy for the district.
Almost two years ago the council identified the potential for economic development by linking culture, arts and leisure with the economic development activities of the council, and it created a directorate of cultural and economic development to reflect the interaction of those two functions.
Ms Sharon O'Connor is the director of culture and economic development, and she will highlight the key points of the submission, which includes a response to the initial document. In trying to develop the economic potential of our culture, arts and leisure, we encountered the problem of limited resource. Our economic development activities are capped at 5p in the pound, so legislation dictates how much we can spend on some of that activity. We therefore seek to identify alternative methods of creating partnerships to resource some of the events and ideas that we would like to take forward.
We envisage a partnership with the Department, the various functions within the Department, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Significant linkages need to be developed with those bodies as well as other local authorities and, indeed, the private sector and the community and voluntary sector who are engaged in the development of the creative capital of Northern Ireland.
There also needs to be a connection in that regard with the new cross-border tourist promotion body, as there is an opportunity to increase the number of people who visit our shores to attend such events, based on the experiences of the Republic of Ireland and other parts of the British Isles.
Ms O'Connor: Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about what we are doing for cultural tourism.
Our fundamental belief is that, for cultural tourism to make any sense at all, it must be grounded in the truth of the place; that must be the starting point. There is no point in our trying to be somewhere else dealing with someone else's culture - mid Atlantic, for example. We must start with where and who we are. Events which have developed from that starting point are the sustainable ones which live, breathe and have a resonance down the decades.
From the presentation we originally made to you, the following are the key points we felt were important in enabling us to play a full role supporting the development of cultural tourism in Northern Ireland. Our first proposition is that there is a significant need to examine the concept of developing a challenge fund to support cultural tourism, particularly innovative cultural products from Northern Ireland. We certainly need to look at the partnership arrangements which support that and examine the mechanisms whereby we can afford technical, financial and human support to make the best of what we have. To that end, there must be a research-and-development function to investigate this potential area of growth and development, comprising the key partners of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and particularly local government.
It is important to recognise that only the truth and resources of the local area will create cultural tourism with the potential to interest and engage outside visitors. We must start from where we are, which is at the local level, and examine how we support those networked approaches to tourism development where culture is the mainstay of what we have to offer both international and local visitors.
Our assets in Down need hardly be overplayed, but our heritage is very important. We have a very significant artistic base to the local folk culture and tradition. The language, the cultural practices, the food and drink, the existing festivals, the visual and performing arts and the music are of a very high standard indeed - something I am sure you all recognise.
You would be surprised if we did not blow our own trumpet a little about our pedigree, for we were the first council actively to link culture and economic development. My job and directorate do so in a very fundamental sense, for we have recognised that culture and economic development offer key economic opportunities, and we configured our internal resources to realise them. I understand we are also to be the first council in Northern Ireland to produce a cultural development strategy, which is, I am sure you know, an ongoing development of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. We were the first council in Northern Ireland to have a council-funded arts centre and theatre space. I put a question mark at the next point, for there is some debate about it, but if we were not the first Northern Ireland council to have a registered museum, we were certainly among the first few.
Our vision relates to the quality and diversity of cultural services, creating quality environments, facilities and services and flagship events, one or two of which we have already, our St Patrick's festival being significant in that regard. We also believe in learning from others, for example, Kilkenny, with which we have very strong similarities in terms of our county town. In cultural resources, we can learn a great deal from what they have done to realise the opportunity that exists. Our fishing villages are currently in dire crisis, but we can look at places such as Kinsale and see that there are opportunities for us to turn round economic disadvantage.
I shall come to natural resources. I am sure everyone here is very familiar with Down district and the coastal area. We have a wealth of beauty, and our historic locations are there for everyone to see - the castles and monastic sites and our steam railway. We have all sorts of very significant attributes which other areas would envy. There are of course also the Mountains of Mourne, an area of outstanding natural beauty, not to mention Strangford Lough.
I now come to our built resources. There is the Down County Museum, the Downpatrick Railway Museum, Downpatrick Arts Centre, the Great Hall development at Downshire Hospital, the new St Patrick's Centre, which I hope you have all been to see. The heritage sites at Inch Abbey, Castleward and Saul speak for themselves.
Essentially what we are trying to do is to create visitor experiences and reasons for people to come and stay, and to put some economic benefit back into the local community. To that end, we are trying to develop significant cultural happenings. Some of them already exist; some of them are new. We are putting a big effort into presenting the Viking story to the local community and, it is hoped, to international visitors this year. We have a visible and intact Viking legacy for all to see.
We need to develop the story of Patrick and his associations with the district. That has international and global appeal. Our landscapes and landmarks are intact. You can go and see them, and the history is revealed by their presence.
In terms of our people and our place, Down has the highest concentration of arts practitioners in Northern Ireland. We have sporting prowess and thriving communities of musicians, artists, and historians. We have a big academic community that contributes directly to our museum services.
Our seafood and venison production has a story of its own. It has great cultural significance, which we will seek to develop further.
We should do more with St Patrick's story and build it up. Our approach to developing our culture is one of explanation and interpretation of our traditions. Christmas is one example of that. Also, we are trying to work with other district council areas to develop an internationally relevant seafood festival. Music too is a strong and vibrant part of what we seek to do in terms of cultural tourism.
There are constraints, however. It has to be recognised that a district council has limited resources for the international level of marketing that is required. That is where we need assistance and support. Currently the promotional focus of our regional tourism organisations (RTOs) is an inhibitor - for example, the Kingdoms of Down does not have product development in its remit, nor is it resourced to take on that vital role. There is a need to look at that area and see how that can be grown and supported.
The interventions that we would suggest would be in the areas of research and product development. Marketing is not just glossy brochures and advertising. It is about getting out there and developing cultural events, and finding the accommodation providers to make the best economic opportunities from that. It needs the active participation of a wide range of partners, of which we are key members.
We also need more regional input into the cultural tourism concept. There is a real danger that if you generalise cultural tourism, you lose the unique local truths that the international visitors want to come and experience. We need to keep that regional perspective.
We propose that you strongly consider the concept of the challenge fund - a competitive process that challenges local communities to produce innovation and high quality cultural tourism offerings. While recognising what you have, there is a danger that you run to invent new things and fail to appreciate the value of what is already there - for example, the St Patrick's story and all of the traditions associated with that.
Fundamentally we need to stretch the tourism season from January to December and keep that throughput of people there so that our tourism providers can make a living and sustain it. In order to do that, we need to create the right environment. That means regenerating our towns and villages and supporting communities that are not currently getting the benefit of tourism.
In order to raise the quality of what we do, it is important to look at our ability to create inward investment. International players can raise the level of what we currently have available. That is something in which the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment can have a leading role.
Our number one economic development strategic approach is about cultural tourism. To that end, we are looking at developing international quality events. There are a range of them, from an international music event through to Vikings, cultural weekends and building up our racing provision. Some of these events already exist and have international appeal - for example, Castleward Opera, which is hugely successful. Surely we could develop that in the way that Wexford has developed its event for the tourism industry to great economic benefit.
With regard to priority actions, product and event development need to be considered, with financial and technical support to make these things happen. We need to look at town regeneration schemes which come from other Departments and that link in to our endeavours on the tourism front. There is also a need to set up joined-up task teams. We cannot do this on our own, and we are keen to join in partnership with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and other local government agencies to turn these schemes into a reality.
Our presentation is detailed in the pack which you received. I have highlighted only some of it as there was a delay at the start, and I did not want to use up any more of your valuable time than was necessary. We are pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you and thank you for your interest.
The Chairperson: You gave an interesting presentation of excellent quality. We will go ahead if you do not mind - we have had enough parochialism this morning.
Mr McCarthy: I agree that the presentation was excellent. It was almost as good as the presentation from the representatives of Ards Borough Council.
How would you describe the relationship between the council and the tourism industry, in particular with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board? How can that relationship be improved? Would links with travel and accommodation providers be helpful in packaging cultural tourism products and how would these be developed?
Ms O'Connor: There are quite a few questions there. With regard to the relationship between the councils and the Tourist Board, we need to recognise that the regional tourism organisations are essentially promotional vehicles. They are not involved in marketing. Marketing is about the tourism providers starting with the concepts and then developing those. The regional tourism organisations are not tasked or resourced to get involved in that.
We need to consider the development of project teams which will look at cultural tourism opportunities and bring the relevant partners together, led by the Tourist Board and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. That would be extremely productive. We recognise that the Tourist Board is in a little bit of a hiatus at the moment because of internal changes. A more direct partnership with the local effort would be beneficial.
Mr McCarthy: What about the links with travel and accommodation providers?
Ms O'Connor: They would be linked through the task teams. In our area we have got them involved in focused, project-related activity.
Mrs Nelis: Thank you for an interesting presentation. Your written presentation is one of the best - though Derry City Council's would probably be the best.
Mr McGrillen: I am glad we can take a regional approach.
Mrs Nelis: You emphasised the necessity to market what is available. Is cultural tourism well enough promoted both here and abroad? Can we improve that situation? Also, has an audit been carried out on what made visitors come to Down to find out if it was due to your own marketing strategy or to that of the regional tourism organisations or, I hesitate to say, to that of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board? My last question relates to a marketing plan. How does that fit in with your budget, and is part of that budget specifically directed to bringing in tourists from abroad?
Ms O'Connor: Perhaps I shall let Mr McGrillen deal with the budgetary aspects. There is clearly a great deal of international marketing going on. Regional training organisations from across Northern Ireland conduct a very significant level of international marketing, as does the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and the new Tourism Ireland organisation will also be conducting high-volume international marketing.
There is, however, a specific need to target key aspects of what we have on offer in Northern Ireland, for there is a real danger that, by producing such a generic approach, you lose the focus of presenting the reality of particular stories, opportunities or visitor experiences. A more sophisticated development of what we are attempting is required. Speaking as a marketer, I see a dilution producing a generic message which is not necessarily coherent to an international observer.
We must become more sophisticated, for some generic messages, such as destination marketing, are important, but other important messages must be brought up above that, probably with such things as flagship events. In our own area, there are particular messages about the St Patrick story. Those are things with which we must break the surface. It is a matter of layering one's marketing, and we all hope that the new systems in place in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland will produce some of those more sophisticated approaches.
Mr McGrillen: My personal view is that we must look at this as a business. We have a number of products in Northern Ireland as a whole. In business terms, you would look at the better products which people are most likely to buy. You must then conduct your market research and try to identify what people want.
Let us take the St Patrick's festival at Downpatrick. People will not come to Downpatrick simply to see a festival, and they will not stay overnight or for a few days simply because we have a parade. We must build a product around that in a similar way as has been done in Dublin, providing a reason for people to stay for a number of days. As with any other business, you must invest in the marketing and development of the products, taking a view over four or five years. You cannot expect to make an economic gain in the first or second year. You must invest heavily, and to some degree you are taking a risk. However, it is to be hoped that the research conducted at the outset will negate the risks by identifying the greatest potential. We must be pragmatic and examine such things from a business perspective.
Many of you are either councillors or former councillors and will realise that the council sets the budget. We make significant financial contributions to all our cultural efforts in Down district, including the museum. I have been in Poland for the last four days, but I believe that the museums review has just arrived. It will be interesting to see what is in it. We shall probably have to underwrite the St Patrick's Centre until we have developed it into an international tourist attraction. We also make a significant contribution to the events of which Ms O'Connor has spoken. Indeed, the St Patrick's Day event itself probably costs somewhere in the region of £30,000 to stage, though we receive support from the Community Relations Council.
On the subject of spending priorities, we obviously have statutory obligations to fulfil, and it is there that our money goes first. Beyond that, however, we make a significant contribution to the development of culture, the main reason being that it is positive, bringing people together and creating inclusion. However, we also see it as having the potential to develop economic gain in the longer term.
Mr McMenamin: Thank you very much for an excellent and very informative presentation. I have one or two questions on development. How does the council work with other councils to promote cultural tourism generally in Northern Ireland? Do you provide information for visitors about other council areas? Are your facilities open on Sundays?
Ms O'Connor: Our facilities are open on Sundays. We promote other district council areas. We have two Northern Ireland Tourist Board tourism information centres in the district through which we promote all Northern Ireland's resources. We develop cultural tourism through our partnerships with the Kingdoms of Down, and projects grow out of that. To give a recent example, we worked with Ards Borough Council and Newry and Mourne District Council to try to develop a regional event on seafood for the district called "Feast of Fish". It has been difficult getting the relationships with other councils to work. Ards Borough Council was enormously helpful and supportive in the development of the project, but it did not work as well with Newry and Mourne District Council - perhaps it was timing, I do not know. We still need other agencies to support us in that. Organisations such as Northern Ireland Seafood have a role to play, as does the Tourist Board. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development can assist with the fishing villages aspect of the project.
We are doing that on our own in this year in Ardglass, but we intend to work with the other council partners next year to make that a broader regional event - you saw the artwork with Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel. We are meeting with the Kingdoms of Down on Friday and with other statutory partners to look at Celtic Fusion. That is an international traditional and contemporary music event that is planned for Castlewellan in 2002. We work extensively with other partners to try not to be parochial in our approach to bigger events.
Mr McGrillen: We also try to encourage the private sector or the providers of the visitor attractions to work together. We do that in co-operation with the councils. If we take Strangford Lough and the surrounding area as an example, we have Castleward, Delamont Country Park and Exploris in Portaferry. We are keen to try to get those organisations to work together so that we have something similar to a key to the lough, where one person buys a ticket that gives access to the six facilities. Our problem is that those facilities all charge differently. Some charge by the car, some by the person, some charge for children and some do not, and the providers need to co-operate and understand that by working together it is necessary to have changes that may not suit in the short term but that may bring long-term gains.
Mr Davis: You said in your submission that Down Racecourse is key to the local cultural tourism product. How much money do you put into Down Racecourse?
Ms O'Connor: We do not give it revenue funding, but we made a significant contribution to the development of the new stand. We have an input in the marketing of the racecourse because we see that that is where our most appropriate support is focused - in fact, I had a meeting with the race club people yesterday. We try to bring in private sector sponsorship, and we did that successfully this year. We will support the racecourse in developing the quality of the race meetings - for example, my team is focused on trying to improve the quality of Ladies' Day in August. We do not give the racecourse revenue funding, but we give it funding in kind, in that we support its marketing effort.
Mr Davis: Down Racecourse is one of the gems of that area.
Ms O'Connor: It probably suffers a little from my bias, as I am an enthusiastic racegoer. It is part of our package of resources - it is a beautiful little racecourse with great potential. The people from Downpatrick and the district are enthusiastic racegoers, as racing is culturally and traditionally a local leisure and recreation activity. We are keen to see that that is an important part of what we do.
Mr J Wilson: Focusing on the council's relationship with other providers in the council area, I recollect that when I was on my local council there tended at times to be a feeling of "them and us". The council promoted, sponsored and funded certain events - the high-wire stuff - and then there were housing estates and villages doing their little thing. They sometimes felt that the council's door was not open to them. The council did not approach them in a positive manner and ask how it could help. Is that how things are done in Down District Council, or do you try to bring the whole thing together?
Mr McGrillen: The smaller events that are run in council estates, villages and towns must be looked at separately from those that can be developed as a brand that will attract people from far and wide. Those events are different and the funding that the council provides reflects that. However, both have an important role to play. The larger events have got a major economic contribution to make if they are successful. The smaller events have an impact at a micro level but, more importantly, they are about social inclusion and adding value and quality to the lives of the people who live in those areas.
Down District Council funds both those activities, but it bases the resource allocations on the benefits that can be derived. Therefore the council supports both types of events but a greater proportion of funding is directed towards the projects that are likely to be more economically beneficial.
Mr J Wilson: You said earlier that it is unreasonable to expect people to come and stay in Downpatrick for a parade and that a bigger and better package would have to be provided for those visitors. Do you see satellite events as being part of that package?
Mr McGrillen: Nobody is going to stay overnight for a village fête. We need to package, for instance, a racing event alongside the St Patrick's Day parade plus a concert in the leisure centre or at Delamont Park so that there will be enough happening over three days to attract people to stay. Local people will go to the event in Downpatrick, and possibly the next day they will head off to Drumaness, Ballynahinch or wherever an event is taking place. However, I do not think that people will travel into the district to make an overnight stay for the smaller events. It has to be something that is attractive.
Ms O'Connor: Down District Council does both. We fund local community festivals, and very few fail to meet the criteria which entitles them to money. At the other end, however, they are getting the same level of contribution from the council that we would be offered by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to put on an international event. Clearly if there is a deficiency it is at that level and not at local government level.
Mr Shannon: In your document you refer to your corporate plan and to the development of a new vehicle for cultural tourism in such towns as Saintfield, Ballynahinch, Castlewellan and Newcastle. Killyleagh is not mentioned. I represent that area and believe that it is an area that is rich in culture. There is a very strong Ulster-Scots influence in Killyleagh. I know that you are trying to promote the fuller and greater picture of cultural tourism. What steps is the council taking to bring the Ulster-Scots tourism and culture into the frame, especially in Killyleagh?
Ms O'Connor: We have a cultural issues working party at which we have discussed how best to develop and support cultural events in areas where there is not a lot of activity. As part of that, the Ulster-Scots agency talked to us about ways in which we could get information out to the district to encourage and support some of that local activity.
The council recognises that in approaching those issues there is no point in our deciding to run an event which is about the Ulster-Scots tradition because we are not the people to do it. However, we provide an open door for the local community to approach us with a project, and it would be treated in the same way as all other community-based events that are currently supported and funded.
Mr Shannon: People in Killyleagh are keen to promote Ulster-Scots street names, which is all part of the culture. Have you been able to offer support to them? I accept that it is up to the community to come forward with ideas, but it needs encouragement to do so. That is why it is important to be proactive and include it in the forward plan. That shows that you are thinking ahead.
Mr McGrillen: The council has a policy with regard to street names in second languages. If over 70% of the people in a street support the erection of a sign in a second language, then the council will support it. There is an active policy to promote that, although it is not used as extensively as it could be.
The issue of the Ulster-Scots language is interesting. It could be considered for Killyleagh. The language is a niche in itself, and a niche product could fit in well in a small town like Killyleagh, with an annual event, such as conferencing, based around the language.
Mr Shannon: I believe that we have opportunities there.
Ms O'Connor: We sent out a lot of information and floated the idea of something like the Scottish Mòd, or Scottish Games, which could be held in Delamont Country Park, if there was interest in that. Again, we expect the community to come forward with suggestions.
The Chairperson: We must come to a close. Thank you very much. I am confident that many of your points will make a valuable contribution to our recommendations. The process should be completed by the end of the year, when we will make our recommendations to the Department and the Minister.
Dr Adamson: I have one question. Do you think St Patrick is buried in Downpatrick or, more probably, Armagh?
Ms O'Connor: I must be diplomatic and ask "Who knows?". People in Downpatrick absolutely believe that he is buried beside the cathedral. That is good enough for me.
Mr Shannon: Many people in Armagh probably believe that he is buried in Armagh.
Ms O'Connor: St Patrick's story could take in the Slemish route, through the Lecale district, to Armagh. There is no reason why it should be exclusive to one area. We have some big claims.
Mr Davis: He is buried in Strangford.
The Chairperson: Again, Ms O'Connor and Mr McGrillen, thank you very much.
Thursday 13 September 2001
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr A Mac Póilin ) Ultach Trust
The Deputy Chairperson: You are welcome to this morning's Committee session. Mr Mac Póilin will begin with a short presentation.
Dr Adamson: I would like to record an interest in this evidence session, as I am a founder member of the Ultach Trust.
Mr Mac Póilin: Last night I spoke to four Gaelic speakers from Scotland who are involved in the Columba Initiative - a Scottish/Irish Gaelic initiative to try to build links between the Gaelic communities in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. Through the Columba Initiative those four men have become very familiar with Northern Ireland and its Irish language scene. They come to Northern Ireland as often as they can, and the meeting that they are attending this afternoon will be followed by a weekend of Scottish Gaelic song and Irish song in south Armagh.
They will spend approximately £1,300 over the weekend. That does not include the cost of car hire, airport tax and refreshments. Friends also come with them.
Scottish Gaelic speakers have tended to locate their interests in Ireland, particularly in the Gaeltachts in the Republic. More and more of them are now coming to Northern Ireland, and there is potential for development. I have prepared a written submission and will go through the main points in this presentation.
Northern Ireland does not have a competitive climate. Nobody comes here for the sun. Some people come here for the scenery, but you cannot always manage to see it, and people will not come back if the weather is bad unless they have had enriching experiences. Those experiences will have to be cultural ones, and I will talk about the role of language.
The issue of internal tourism should be noted. I have only recently discovered the Sperrins, how big and beautiful they are when the sun shines, and I am going back. Northern Ireland has a similar climate, similar scenery and similar cultures to our main competitors, Scotland and the Republic.
How can we compete in attracting people, when they could go to Scotland or the Republic for something similar? We have to offer something special, or something equal to what is being offered elsewhere. Tourism is concentrating increasingly on niche markets, and we have identified many niche markets for language development. I am not talking only about Irish, but also Ulster Scots, which faces different challenges.
Cultural tourists come here because Northern Ireland has something unique and different on offer. Our current image is based mainly on the troubles. I hope there will be nothing for revolutionary tourists in the future, and we will have to offer something else. The challenge is in attracting visitors with specific niche interests, develop those interests and develop new areas to visit in Northern Ireland. There are many beautiful places that people do not know about, and we should find a way to motivate Northern Irish people to stay here. A large amount of money is lost when people go elsewhere.
How do we provide a rich and satisfying experience for people when the sun is not shining? How do we attract people? Language-based cultural tourism has something to offer and it works on a number of levels. There is language-based cultural tourism based on the language itself, knowledge of the language, learning the language, being engaged with the language. You do not necessarily have to be able to speak the language. You can learn a lot in Greece without having a knowledge of Greek - not as much as if you did know Greek, but you learn something because of the richness of the culture, which is not just the material culture of the place.
How do we expose people who come as casual visitors to the richness of the linguistic culture that exists in this part of the world when they do not have knowledge of the language? Song and literature may be the natural answer, the literature possibly in translation.
In my submission I have given a list of ways to draw attention to that. Northern Ireland is a palimpsest, a named landscape that echoes with three different cultures. There are Irish, English and Scots place names.
Language tourism used to involve finding funny place names like "Moneymeaney". People would pick out weird names like "Ballyflubbery", and that was fun. However, there is a different kind of interest in finding out what the names mean. English-language names are easy to understand, but it is not always easy to find the meaning of Ulster Scots and Irish place names. Awareness could be developed in this area. In our situation that must be done in a non-confrontational way, and I suggest looking at strategies that do not use that knowledge for political reasons. There are several ways of doing that. We could have audio guides and explanatory plaques on buildings. Such things could be cost-effective and would enrich the experience of visitors here who are not directly engaged in language.
With regard to cultural heritage tourism, I give talks on surnames with Gaelic roots. That is one of the areas where I pretend to have expertise. About five or six times a year I talk to groups of Americans who come here to look for their roots and want to find out what their name might mean and where they came from. Those people come here as part of a cultural package which has a linguistic element. That could be worth developing.
There are also 40 million minority-language speakers in Europe. Most of those people are interested in other minority languages and in exchanging ideas and experiences. I have guided study visits of minority-language groups. About half the people from the three groups that I guided have seen and liked the place, have told their friends about it and have come back. Irish and Ulster Scots can both attract minority-language tourism. There is an Ulster Scots community in Donegal and an Irish language community in the South. It is claimed that there are about 1.5 million Irish speakers in the South although there are actually about 500,000 fluent Irish speakers. However, we could tap into that market.
Scottish Gaelic and Ulster Gaelic are very close. Northern Ireland is a transitional zone. Donegal Irish is the closest in the living Gaelteachts to Scottish Gaelic. However, the language spoken on Rathlin Island was more Scottish Gaelic than Irish Gaelic. Antrim was in between the two and by the time you reached the Sperrins, the language was shifting towards Donegal Irish. People are interested in that. I have shown songs collected from Rathlin Island and the Glens of Antrim to (Scottish) Gaelic speakers and they understood them. They did not have a linguistic barrier; they understood almost every word. That attracts more and more Scottish Gaelic speakers.
The development of Ulster Scots minority-language tourism is a challenge; I have never yet heard Ulster Scots spoken in its densest and strongest form. That is because when Ulster Scots speakers are in the company of strangers they move along the spectrum towards standard English. I know that the language exists in that dense form because I have friends who have heard it. However, it is very hard to find; it is not in the public arena. The museum in Ballymena might be a good place to create an awareness and expose people to Ulster Scots in its most intense and strongest form.
With regard to song, my experience of Scotland shows that a high-quality product is needed. A song tradition in a different language must be really good for it be accessible, and that could be worked on.
An advantage of Ulster Scots is that, compared to Irish, it is relatively accessible to an English speaker. People can gain a good awareness of the language because Ulster Scots and English share the same roots.
We should try to co-ordinate services in the tourism sector - cultural centres, museums, community development groups, language organisations and third-level education institutions. We should also co-operate with Bord Fáilte and the Scottish Tourist Board, who are both moving towards cultural tourism.
We should seek support and advice from those with expertise. Again, such expertise will come from people in Scotland and the South, for example, Údarás na Gaeltachta in the South and the Columba Initiative, which has started some interesting work but has so far had little success.
Last night I spoke to the director of the Gaelic Arts Agency in Scotland, who asked me to remind the Committee of the Thistle Award. This award was initiated by the Scottish Tourist Board eight years ago and it is an award for excellence in the promotion of cultural tourism in underdeveloped areas. Three of the eight awards were given to Gaelic projects. There is a lot of creativity around and those Gaelic projects are not only focused on Gaelic speakers but also on a wider English-speaking - and sometimes non-English-speaking - public.
I will leave some copies of Malcolm MacLean's article with you, which has several references to cultural tourism.
Like Greece, our heritage contains a massive amount of traditional lore, stories and poetry that are related directly to the landscape. I have taken Newcastle as an example. The town is not particularly attractive - it used to be, but it is now rather run-down. The beach that runs from Newcastle up to St John's Point was known as Tonn Rúraí in old Irish. It was named after the Clann Rúraí, which is another name for the Ulaidh, the people of Ulster. Dr Adamson will know all about that.
In the legends the waves roared when a king was crowned, was in danger, or died. I have found five stories from old Irish literature that relate to Tonn Rúraí, ranging from the seventh century to the fifteenth century. Such stories could potentially attract visitors to Newcastle who are different from the traditional type of visitor; from mods and rockers - and I am showing my age now - to whoever goes there now on a sunny day. There is enormous potential to encourage cultural tourism and to look at the landscape through the eyes of history.
The Deputy Chairperson: Go raibh míle maith agat, Aodán. The Committee would like to ask some questions.
Mr McMenamin: Thank you for a very interesting presentation. I am sure with your extensive research into surnames you have worked out by now what all our roots are.
How would you describe the links between the Ultach Trust and the tourism industry, particularly with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board? How could the relationship between the sectors be improved? Would links with travel and accommodation providers be helpful in packaging cultural tourism products, and how would you develop these?
Mr Mac Póilin: We are a small organisation and we only have an indirect relationship with the Tourist Board. We are anxious to talk to the board about this issue.
Our Columba Initiative officer, Malcolm Scott, who was formerly the Irish-language officer of Newry and Mourne District Council, had some contact with the board at one stage. He found the board was good when it came to thinking about developing those links. We could offer ideas and expertise about where it would be worth looking. For example, if you were trying to develop the Irish language, I could point out several places to you where such elements could be developed in a truly creative fashion. However, I am not quite sure how that would be done, because I am not a tourism expert.
Mr Shannon: You mentioned mods and rockers; I am afraid that was before my time. But of course the Chairman is not here. I am sure he would take exception to the comments about Newcastle.
Mr Mac Póilin: He is from Castlewellan.
Mr Shannon: Thank you for your presentation, which was most illuminating. My questions relate to marketing. We are all trying to achieve and promote cultural tourism. If there were one method to promote it in an active and positive fashion and improve it almost overnight, what would you suggest?
Mr Mac Póilin: I would say visibility, although I feel its impact would be cumulative rather than immediate. The process I am talking about is not a quick fix; it cannot be done with one measure. It requires a sophisticated pattern of development which attracts new visitors and enriches their experience when they come here.
Initially, tourism in Northern Ireland will be built up reasonably slowly, after which it may develop so fast that it will do us damage. Northern Ireland could become a big tourist venue, something I am not sure I particularly want, except for its economic implications. Excess tourism can damage societies and communities. However, I do not see it as a single measure. You must develop as many niche markets as possible and find out what is working and also what is not working. I see it as a process rather than a quick fix.
Mr Shannon: Does the Ultach Trust have its own plan in relation to how it views cultural tourism? You have given us an outline in your presentation today. Do you have a marketing plan and a budget to accompany it?
Mr Mac Póilin: No. Through the Columba Initiative we have instigated a series of conferences about how to develop linguistic tourism. The first instance of such tourism in Europe of which I am aware, other than people travelling to France to polish up their French, were the Gaeltacht colleges in the Republic. It was not expressed in such terms at the time, but there were massive numbers - 30,000 children a year - going to the Gaeltacht colleges to learn Irish.
That was cultural tourism, and it kept those communities alive; communities survived on the income they received over the two summer months. It was quite extraordinary. Without that income, Rannafast in west Donegal would not have survived.
It has been done before, and something similar could be done, perhaps inside Northern Ireland. It is easier for beginners to pick up the language in a non-Irish-speaking area where they are surrounded by people who have learnt it as a second language and understand the experience. When it comes to people who have Irish as their first language, learners must have a certain level of competence before they can develop further.
There is the potential for developing courses. The Gleann Cholmcille college, which is extremely effective, is in a Gaeltacht area where very few people speak Irish. Irish speakers could not be found to run the café attached to the college. It is not an environment that is rich in the language, but the right atmosphere was created around the building and the courses. So the college is very successful, and students come from as far away as America, Australia and Japan. One reason for this is that the college has a dedicated and talented director.
So it can be done here. To a modest extent it has been done for children in Garron Tower over the past ten years. Weekend courses have been organised in youth hostels, hotels and various other places. The trust has also been involved in such courses and has funded groups to attend intensive language courses over weekends.
That is another form of cultural tourism. We tend to look for the cheapest possible option, which is usually at home. We put what little money there is into local areas. This is being developed in parts of the North where the language is comparatively strong in a "learner" community and a second generation. We now have native speakers who are native speakers of "learner" Irish.
If the right kind of personality could be found, something similar could be done with Ulster Scots. I would love to be in a community where people are at ease in speaking Ulster Scots and are not speaking English simply because I am there. A friend of mine, a fiddler, told me once about a session he was at in Comber. He is a Belfast man married to a local girl. He told me that at the end of a night he could not understand what his wife was saying because he did not know that she spoke Ulster Scots after the fourth whiskey. Something like that could be organised in a better way. There could be a home market. These are simply small ideas. I do not have an overarching single plan, but things can be done.
Dr Adamson: First of all I would like to offer a word of personal appreciation to you for all the work you have done to promote the Irish language in general, and Ulster Gaelic in particular. You deserve every support throughout the whole community.
My question relates to development and you have probably given appropriate answers already. What does Northern Ireland offer that is unique, enabling it to compete effectively with the Republic and Scotland, both of which have well-developed cultural tourism sectors? Are there any parallels to be drawn with the Welsh language movement?
Mr Mac Póilin: Scotland has a large Gaeltacht, or ex-Gaelic, block, and a large Scots block. In the context of Northern Ireland, Donegal could come into this category. If you take that broad band across the northern part of Ireland from Donegal, including the tip of Monaghan, there is an extraordinary mixture - a patchwork of linguistic traditions. Spatially, we have that patchwork, and the different historic overlays, to a greater extent than Scotland does. For people interested in languages in general, people who do not specialise in one or the other, a joint project could easily be undertaken, including Donegal and north Monaghan in the Republic, which I do not think can be done in Scotland at present. Package deals selling linguistics in that way is a possibility.
We also have the best-developed mythology. More mythology relating to Ulster has survived than in the rest of Ireland or Scotland. It is earlier than Scotland's and is the largest in Ireland. Armagh is a good example. These stories are not confined to Armagh; they can go to Newcastle and Dunseverick, for example.
Mr McElduff: Go raibh maith agat. We have heard your views on the way forward. There has been talk about competition, and to be perfectly honest I am uncomfortable with that. I do not see it as being competition between the Six Counties and what I would call the rest of Ireland. I see it as complementarity.
Equally - and you have not suggested it - there should not be competition between the Irish language movement and the Ulster Scots movement. I share your enthusiasm for wanting to hear Ulster Scots being spoken with ease. That would be an enriching experience. The difficulty with cultural politics here is that there is competition. For example, if something happens in Glencolumbkille, it has an uplifting effect on me in County Tyrone, and I see no political entity there. You have recently discovered that the Sperrins have potential. Potential has been exploited in Glencolumbkille. Until the 1940s and 1950s there were first-generation native Irish speakers in the Sperrins. Gaelic games and céilí house sessions also have huge potential for cultural tourism, because they are unique.
Can you tell us about the organisation of the Columba Initiative and the Ultach Trust? What is the objective of the Columba Initiative, and what is it essentially aiming to achieve?
Mr Mac Póilin: The Ultach Trust was set up in 1990 as a funding body, when the notion of cultural diversity as opposed to zero sum game cultural politics was being developed. That is a crude summation. The trust was set up as being a relatively safe pair of hands - trusted by Government in the circumstances of 1990. It was seen by us as an opportunity to demonstrate that support for the Irish language would not mean that the sky would fall, and that other funding could come through. We saw ourselves as a catalyst for allowing people to think about supporting the Irish language.
In 1993 Ulster Scots came into the picture. We were also involved in all those areas through the Northern Ireland subcommittee of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. The fundamental ethos of the trust was that the language belongs to everybody who wants it. There were certain physical and psychological barriers to the engagement of the entire community in Irish, and our main thrust was to work on those. That is still relevant.
The Columba Initiative was set up by Brian Wilson, who at that time was a Junior Minister in Education at the Scottish Office, subsequently the first Minister for Gaelic in Scotland. It followed the launch by Mary Robinson at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig of a new building in the Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye. The idea was to create what she called an "island space" where what had once been a single culture running from Cork to Sutherland in the northern tip of Scotland could re-engage, that two linguistic conditions from the same root which had developed in different directions could re-connect. They could re-enrich each other. That is the fundamental idea of the Columba Initiative. Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland all have an input. It has developed quite slowly and not as well as we would have hoped, because our initial funding came from Europe and was paid retrospectively. The trust, therefore, carried it for several years. In about a year we hope that it will be set up as a legal entity as opposed to a virtual notion. With a very small budget, the task involved is to redevelop those links and exchange ideas and experiences between Ireland and Scotland.
It is particularly useful from a Northern Ireland and cross-community perspective, as 80% of the Gaelic speakers in Scotland are Presbyterians and 95% of the Irish speakers in Northern Ireland are Catholics. That complicates the oversimplified stereotypical picture in Northern Ireland, and that is the reason we were invited to become involved in the North.
If we hope to attract people to Northern Ireland - which we should - why would they come here rather than, or as well as, Scotland or the South? I agree with Mr McElduff's point about complementarity. Currently there is not a great deal of linguistic cultural tourism to attract people to Northern Ireland. Some developmental work is required.
A tape of the last of the native speakers, Ellen Mary Biddy Devlin, was made in 1966. She died in 1969. A native speaker of Rathlin Gaelic is still alive, 86-year-old Alex Morrison.
Mr Agnew: Is it possible to sustain a market for this type of cultural tourism 12 months a year?
Mr Mac Póilin: Yes. The events in Mullaghbawn this weekend fall outside the main tourist season. There will be some very fine singers there, including Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin from Mullaghbawn. She is a fabulous singer and has single-handedly redefined and redeveloped the south Ulster Gaelic song tradition of Monaghan, Louth and Armagh. That is both seasonal and non-seasonal, and can be performed anywhere. Courses and school exchanges are held during term time, and this area could be developed.
People who are interested in languages are prepared to travel. An audience is waiting to be captured. If you belong to a fragile linguistic community, you can find strengths within that. It does and can happen if we can show strength and development.
Mr McCarthy: Mr Mac Póilin, I do not know where you come from, but if ye'd lyke ti spend a whein oors in a wee place doun whaur A cum frae an talk ti the aulder folk that's in Portavogie, you might experience a lot of real Ulster Scots. Do you know where Portavogie is?
Mr Mac Póilin: I do. I have been there, but where do I find those people?
Mr McCarthy: You could find them if you look for them. The aulder folk - the older people - can be heard around the harbour. I come from that area, and I can barely understand what they are talking about. I am extending an invitation to you and anyone else who cares to come.
The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation and responses to the Committee's questions. They have stimulated a lot of thought and will make a positive contribution to our inquiry. I agree with much of what has been said. I also want to plug the Gaeltacht colleges, which are still going strong. They were the forerunners of the more sophisticated options we are addressing in our inquiry. It is delightful in Donegal in the summer months seeing hundreds of young people at the colleges. That is a start. It is not simply about learning a language; it is learning about the origins, the roots, the song and the music. This summer at Glencolumbkille I met a group of people from London who were there to learn the language. They were also interested in the local environment, and had been taken on field trips. The prospects that you described are all there. Thank you very much.
Thursday 13 September 2001
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Mr P Holmes ) Arts & Business Northern Ireland
Ms H McGrady )
The Deputy Chairperson: I welcome Mr Peter Holmes and Ms Hilary McGrady to this meeting of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee.
Mr Holmes: We very much welcome the opportunity to speak to the Committee about Arts & Business as an organisation and also about cultural tourism, the subject of your inquiry.
I will discuss our functions and the experience that we have built up over many years and, in particular, examine the interaction between the private business community and the arts sector. I do not pretend that we have the answers to every problem. It would be naive of us to believe that, but we have explored a number of areas which can provide keys that may at least open some doors.
We have circulated a brief background document on Arts & Business. I will not go into details, as they can be assimilated by a quick read through the document.
Some of you may recall Arts & Business in a slightly different manifestation - familiarly known as the Association of Business Sponsorship of the Arts (ABSA). It was created as a catalyst to promote business sponsorship of the arts and essentially to increase investment and to complement Government funding.
We have been very successful in that role. For example, in the past year we have received some £1·7 million in sponsorship from the business community - a significant increase of 12% on the previous year's figures, which in turn was an increase on the figures of the year before. This money has provided an important contribution to the development of the arts community in Northern Ireland.
Despite delivering considerable benefits, we thought that this linear sponsorship - a one-way street from business to arts, as it were - was not delivering the full range of benefits that it could. The emergence of Arts & Business from the original ABSA concept signalled the energising of a new set of relationships and the promotion of relationships between business and the arts.
I do not want to detract from the importance of sponsorship. That remains an important aspect of our work. However, we are focusing on a flow of benefits, not only from business to the arts, but also vice versa. It is clear that the two-way flow between business and arts has an important function in providing benefit to the community. We see ourselves as part of a triangle of interests - and we have been at various points or intersections of the triangle - wherein the business community, the arts community and the community itself play into one another.
We also saw the need for the development of a support mechanism for arts organisations, many of which are small and focused on a particular art form and often lack the skills that would allow them to function more efficiently and effectively. We saw the opportunity for businesses to offer the scope of their expertise - business planning, project development, marketing, and so on - to arts organisations, and we have acted as brokers. In this way the skills and expertise inherent in many businesses are passed through to arts organisations. That includes the involvement of people from business organisations on the boards, and, in particular, in a management capacity within arts organisations on a voluntary basis, and that has been a very important strengthening process for arts organisations.
We have fostered the emergence of artists who undertake training in the particular areas of business expertise that the business community offers. Therefore companies will fill spaces on their training programmes with people from arts organisations.
In a reciprocal direction we are increasingly involved with the development of the contribution that arts organisations can make to businesses, particularly in their training programmes where they, as artists, can inject different sorts of creativity, innovation and ways of looking at the world that, in a sense, may be at some variance to the business way of looking at the world and therefore creating a richer spectrum of issues on which people can focus so that we can build creative approaches to problem solving, presentation skills and team building.
Over the past two to three years in particular, we have seen a considerable increase in the benefits of this richer, more diverse approach to the development of relationships between business and the arts community. We have increasingly seen the benefits that have derived from the relationships that we have encouraged - and been encouraged - to foster with other Government Departments. Clearly the prime funding Department is the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, but we have important new relationships with the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. Therefore we have initiated a process that begins at least to develop the sort of aspiration that the 'Unlocking Creativity - Making it Happen' document is promoting.
We are also increasingly involved in trying to drive an advocacy programme for the arts in the public sector. Therefore we have promoted some important initiatives such as corporate art and help for the training of artists. We have fostered a greater public awareness than hitherto.
We are confident that the encouragement and facilitation that we bring to both arts and the business sector have benefited both sectors and increasingly encouraged benefit that we can bring to the community.
I will leave you, if I may, in Ms McGrady's hands for the moment, and she will take you through her presentation.
Ms McGrady: Mr Holmes has given a detailed background of where we have come from. I am wary of the possibility of an overlap here so I will race through the first part.
We have a lot of experience in developing relationships with the private sector, and that was one of the key issues that the Committee asked us to look at. Therefore I will go through what has worked for us and how that might apply to the cultural tourism sector. I will cover what we do, what we through experience believe works, what we now know does not work and how it might apply to the cultural tourism sector.
Our mission is to enable opportunity, creativity and performance through arts and business partnership. Without trying to sound too highbrow about that, we see ourselves as a catalyst for bringing the two together, whether by talking or actively doing something through the partnership process.
Our unique selling point is that the agenda is based on creativity and innovation - a key issue for businesses now - thus improving the performance and sustainability of both. Mr Holmes briefly mentioned the impact on the community. That impact is economic as well as social. Therefore we see the relationship developing into something positive for the community.
We have three areas of core business. The first - to connect - is leftover from the sponsorship relationship. Essentially that is what we did in those days; we connected the two. I will come back to what happens after that later. We connect the arts and business in various ways. We have a financial incentive scheme funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure - originally called the Pairing Scheme - called New Partners. Essentially it was a monetary incentive for a business to sponsor the arts. Therefore, if a business gave £10,000 sponsorship to the Belfast Festival, we, in theory, would match it. The amount given reduces over a period of years. Therefore first-off sponsorship was matched, and after that the amount given was reduced. An important point is that the money went to the arts organisation to develop a better product. That is critical in kick-starting this whole relationship.
We are involved in the proactive brokering of ideas. We send people into businesses and encourage them to look at what they can do with the arts. We will give them a menu of ideas, and then we will facilitate the process of carrying them out. We pass on information. Arts organisations tell us what they are doing, and we put it into a form that businesses can understand and send it back out through the potential partners' portfolio. I have a copy of that with me, if anyone is interested.
We physically provide forums for businesses and arts organisations to meet. They do not get to meet very often so we provide events to enable them to do so. We regard ourselves as the hub of information on what is happening both in the Republic of Ireland through our sister company, Business to Arts, based in Dublin, and internationally through the Central Interior Regional Arts Council (CIRAC), which is the international version of our organisation.
Development is the second part of our core business. We found that connecting people was not enough. If there are two parties, one of whom is not equipped to talk effectively to the other, it is not an effective relationship. Therefore we set about developing the skills of arts organisations to be able to cope specifically with businesses and, equally, to be more businesslike in the way that they operate, thereby making them more effective.
I will not go into details about our range of programmes, but the arts company development programme - supported by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment this year - specifically looks at management and company development skills.
Mr Holmes referred to the skills bank and board bank, which are about passing on skills by putting business people into arts organisations. There are training opportunities where businesses give up free training places in their own courses. The board development programme puts business people on the boards of arts organisations. Arts-based training uses arts to train business people. Sponsorship seminars for arts organisations deal with how to go about getting a sponsor in the first place. Arts@Work is about everything to do with bringing arts into the workplace, and that could be corporate art, arts clubs or arts performances.
Finally the promotional aspect of our work - the advocacy - is very important. None of this can work without a larger framework and an environment where people actually start to talk about the importance of the arts and the role of the arts. This aspect forms a large part of my work. I show people case studies of how it has worked.
We have a wide range of publications, and in the creation of events we work in partnership with people such as the Arts Council, the Institute of Directors and the Chamber of Commerce. We do a lot of public speaking, and we have account management to talk directly to all of these bodies.
We are pragmatic in the way that we measure our own success. It may sound theoretical at this stage, but you can see what we have achieved. The number of businesses actively engaging in arts - and that means they are physically doing something with them - has increased by 24%. Overall business contribution to the arts annually is up by 12% to £1·7 million. Bearing in mind that several of our schemes only started this year, 28 arts organisations have come through our training programmes. That is a high proportion of the organisations out there. The number of our associates and members has increased by 4% this year.
I will move on to what we know works. Unless we have a clear vision to communicate to our stakeholders, they do not know what we are doing. Therefore we work very hard to make that vision clear. That is relevant to where we stand on cultural tourism.
Having an understanding of the needs of both sectors means that we do not decide their needs for them. We ask them what they want from us. At first we said "Here is what we think you need", but that did not work.
Businesses do business, and arts do arty things. They are not used to being partners. In order to get them engaged in this process we had to show them what the benefits were going to be - otherwise they did not want to know. Ideas from them are facilitated, rather than directed, by us. It goes back to getting them involved. The Pairing Scheme provides incentives to pump-prime the initial investment.
We have become a natural hub for information on the subject, so if people think they would like to work with the arts, or the arts would like to work with business, they know to come to us. We are at a mainstream level where we are accepted on that basis. Having representative personnel from each sector on our team was important.
We have traditionally recruited people from the business sector. We thought that business people would know what the arts needed. The big move forward has been recruiting people from the arts sector into the organisation, people who know the needs of the arts. The artists feel comfortable talking to these people, just as business people feel more comfortable talking to business representatives.
We have to ensure that the parties we are connected with are equipped to deal with each other. We cannot assume that by putting them together it will be fine. That is where the training element comes in. We had to equip them with the skills to know how to talk to business people.
It is important to have the endorsement of the Departments. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has been very good by working with us and supporting our work. We have done a lot of work with the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. This has made a difference in the promotional aspect, and in providing and developing skills to promote sustainability. There is no point in arts organisations working with businesses if they go to the wall within six months. They have been building skills and making organisations that will last.
We know what does not work. Foisting our own ideas on unwilling partners, which we have tried on several occasions, does not work. Making connections between the two organisations and letting them go off into the sunset is not as effective as helping them along.
One idea does not fit all. We assumed that all artists would need this, and all businesses would need that. We have to treat each organisation differently, or at least bunch them into sectors.
Connecting with only one person from each party does not work. We found that we were talking to the chief executive in a business and the administrator in an arts organisation. After the connection was established the chief executive would retire, and we would have no further connection with that business. The partnership would be lost. We have to broaden and deepen the relationships, so we now have a minimum of five contacts in both parties to maintain that.
It is important not to depend on representative bodies to do the work. There is an assumption that the Arts Council should be doing this or that Arts & Business will do it. If we train people we put skills advisers, business people, into the arts organisations. Therefore they facilitate the work. The arts organisations have to carry out the work themselves, otherwise the skills are not developed.
We cannot expect organisations to work miracles without funds. We keep saying "Go off and connect. Do great things", but it physically cannot happen if there is no investment.
We cannot expect arts organisations to compromise on the quality or integrity of their work to generate bed nights or corporate good. The best partnerships work on a basis of respect. The businesses are not expecting their brand to be advertised. They will not sponsor a ballet with their brand on the dancer's tutu. That level of respect needs to be developed.
How does this relate to cultural tourism? Clearly there are some relevant issues that you will also face. The two sectors are intrinsically suspicious that one is trying to exploit the other. The business sector thinks that the arts is trying to get money out of it, and the arts thinks that businesses are trying to use it. Where cultural tourism is concerned the arts is sitting back saying "You did not give us any money all these years, and now you want us to perform cartwheels for you". Breaking that down is based on building respect and building an understanding of the joint benefit.
The two sectors are not communicating particularly well. There are also poor communications within each of the sectors. Arts organisations are not talking to other arts organisations. We have found that they will not share what they are doing. In our portfolio of ideas we have recently found that we have 20 ideas from different arts organisations all offering the same thing, such as free tickets. If they talked to each other they would realise that if one offers free tickets the other could do something else. That would make a more effective package, but it is a learning process.
The quality and quantity of product is an issue as we have only a small pool of talent in Northern Ireland. That is clearly a problem with cultural tourism. In comparison to several other countries we have a lower number of festivals and activity that is physically going on, and it is of a poorer quality. While there is excellent work being carried out, there is very little that can meet international quality standards.
There is an inappropriate level of training. We cannot expect these people to be able to do great things when they are in the business of creating art. They have not been trained in marketing or business so we cannot expect them to act like that.
There are inappropriate resources for arts organisations to deliver cultural tourism. They do not know what the tourist industry is asking them to do, for no one has made it entirely clear. They are given figures for bed-nights, but the concept is neither relevant nor comprehensible to them. Strategic focus on this question and associated endorsement are priorities. Without focused commitment on the part of leading agencies, the organisations on the ground will never buy into it in a real way.
What can Arts & Business do to help the situation? At the moment, we are building capacity and sustainability, putting the skills into arts organisations to improve them. We are certainly promoting the sector to quite a high degree, and we shall continue to do so. What else might we possibly do? Much of what we do is quite generic, being specific to cultural tourism. We could change direction, having a section for cultural tourism with specific areas relating to audience development. We have already started to do a little work on that with certain groups which have requested it.
Business skills relating to product development and market segmentation would be quite relevant. We are familiar with running incubation or pilot schemes for cultural tourism and could certainly build a programme around the concept. We could certainly build specific links with the tourist industry itself. Our current membership base is not, by and large, from tourism, but there is no reason why that should not be the case. We have not targeted the area.
What might the outcome of all that be? We envisage the capacity of arts organisations improving. We should deliver an increased product in stages and suggest a focus on certain areas - for example, literature. Rather than adopting a blanket approach, we could work on that for two years, after which we could work on some other area. The whole point is intersectoral working delivering clear cost and resource synergies. If they can work together, they can leverage investment. The value of cultural tourism will achieve a higher profile through our own active promotion.
The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you very much. I suspect your comprehensive and interesting presentation may have answered all our queries in advance. Nevertheless, the Committee will wish to ask some questions.
Mr McCarthy: My question concerns the relationship between arts, business and the cultural tourism industry. What key business skills could the arts and cultural sectors develop to drive forward a sustainable and competitive cultural tourism industry? How can arts and business help?
Mr Holmes: I should start a little further back. The strategic vision and direction to which the sector might respond are currently lacking. There is a clear perception that cultural tourism is good. No one disputes the arguments which support its increased potential: short visits; cheaper flights; and the decline in "sun" holidays. A very clear understanding of what we intend to drive with cultural tourism is an essential precondition. We must target specific areas; it is no use saying we shall develop cultural tourism as such. We must carry out a hierarchy of actions before that will have any impact. Tourism, the arts and business can then see how connections can be made against that vision. We have heard a great deal about Belfast's being the European City of Culture in 2008. A very strong clear vision is emerging in relation to it, and that can drive a great deal of energy. Both infrastructure and expertise must be developed to ensure that the city is a contender in what will be a very competitive process. We have seen that competitive process in such events as the Olympics.
There are other areas to be considered apart from the arts. One of the fascinating findings to emerge from John Myerscough's study on the economic impact of the arts that was done three or fours years ago was that it identified Northern Ireland as having pro rata three times as many ancient monuments as any other part of the United Kingdom. By ancient monuments he meant stones and other such fabrications. That is a huge asset that Northern Ireland is not capitalising on. I am not saying that that is a decision that necessarily will be made, but we could target that area as one on which we might aim to make an impact.
Whatever we do we must create critical mass so that there is a feasible sense of destination. It is no good having one activity that will occupy people for an evening; people will not come for one evening. There must be a critical mass of activity that brings people together.
That is rather long-winded, but from our perspective it is important that this is our view of the precondition. Given that precondition we can find ways of creating the synergies between the sectors, developing relationships and training, building the expertise that will lead to all those coming together and building the relationship critically between the arts organisations, the cultural organisations and the tourist development.
Ms McGrady: I agree with Mr Holmes. However, I know how things work, and it is likely to be a while before we could get to that point. In the short term we could work with the arts organisations to build on their expertise in different areas. Marketing and audience development are examples of that. We could start work in those areas soon. A few weeks ago Arts & Business did some work with the theatre producers' group on that subject.
Working with the tourist industry is another area that Arts & Business could focus on that it has not in the past. I do not think that any company has previously acted between arts and business. The Tourist Board has tried to act in the middle of the two, but I do not know how often the two have come together, talked and worked it out between them. An agency cannot tell them what to do; they need to figure that out for themselves and talk together. Arts & Business could be useful in facilitating that process.
Mr Davis: You have mentioned marketing twice. Do you believe that the responsibilities lie at a local or regional level?
Ms McGrady: There are two levels to that. There has been no set rule for marketing. No one has marketed the impact and importance of the cultural sector, so that needs to happen at a regional level, at an agency level. There is no strategy for that at present. Equally, skills must be brought in at ground level so that marketing can be carried out more effectively. The skills do not exist now because arts administrators have never been trained in marketing. They have had no strategic marketing training. You could put the skills in or they could be resourced more effectively to draw people in from business who have those skills. At the moment they cannot do that.
Mr Holmes: I agree with that. It is not a case of either/or, but of both/and. A while ago on a private visit to a visitor attraction - I will not say which one - I asked about the timings at another publicly funded visitor attraction about three miles away. They did not know this information. There was that lack of relationship and of growing the thing together. So I feel very strongly that the responsibilities lie at a local and regional level.
Mr McMenamin: Thank you for a very informative presentation. How could the business sector contribute to developing and promoting cultural tourism in Northern Ireland? Do you have many business visitors from abroad, and are they taken to cultural attractions?
Mr Holmes: The situation varies enormously. From the point of view of the industry in which I work, it has been fascinating to look at the impact of the strange cultural phenomenon of ice hockey in Northern Ireland. The sport is not a local one, but it has brought a huge amount of business interest. Businesses felt that they had been starved of a range of opportunities to take their business contacts to.
There is great scope for extending what we offer in Northern Ireland in ways that will attract not only casual tourists but also business tourists. We should try to go about this in such a way that brings the masses together. For example, if we are targeting performances we must be clear about what sort of performances we are targeting, what standards we are looking for and how to promote those.
Ms McGrady: With regard to the businesses that we work with, 8% of large businesses want to be associated with the larger arts organisations such as the Grand Opera House. They want to be able to take their corporate clients to somewhere they know is of a high standard. From a business tourist perspective, there is a quality issue. The constant gripe is that companies have no choice. They have the programmes for arts events at the Grand Opera House and the Ulster Orchestra, but they visited those last year. They want to know where they can go from there, so they go to the ice hockey.
In order to keep companies interested in the arts I need to extend the product and the facilities. Companies could go to the Lyric Theatre, but the building is not always appropriate for the kind of entertainment that they want to organise. I am not saying that we should always be thinking in terms of entertaining businesses, but it is one aspect.
Mr Agnew: Private sector sponsorship is the backbone of many arts and cultural activities in other countries, and particularly in North America. Do you agree with the perception that the private sector of Northern Ireland is less generous than it could be? What could be done to encourage more private sector involvement?
Ms McGrady: You are right to say that corporate help is low here in comparison to other countries. Private sector money is not the backbone of the funding of the arts organisations here. Regrettably, the arts depend on the support of the public sector. Clearly that position must shift at some stage. Businesses are moving away from the philanthropic idea of giving for the sake of giving - they give on the basis that they will get something in return. That shift will continue, but individuals are much more likely to give. Such philanthropy continues through individual donations rather than through businesses. We have not really developed that area in Northern Ireland. That has quite a lot of potential and is the growth area in both America and the UK. We see ourselves in the role of putting a system in place that will facilitate that development.
Mr Holmes: One of the difficulties is the fiscal situation. In countries where there is a great deal of support for the arts, there is usually a tax benefit in operation. The benefit that Arts & Business, formerly ABSA, has brought has been a degree of fiscal leverage equivalents. For example, if I, as a company, contributed £3,000 or £4,000, there would be an opportunity to get the same amount of money from Arts & Business, which would increase the scope of what the arts organisations could do. In a way, that takes the place of a fiscal benefit. Therefore it is seen as a very important attraction to the business because it can get £6,000 worth of performance for £3,000 of input.
Ms McGrady: That only happens for the first year. It sounds as if it is very generous, but it is reduced by half and then half again, and by the third year they are on their own. By that stage you would hope that the relationship is built with the arts organisation and that the business would stay with the arts as opposed to going elsewhere.
Mr Holmes: There is also the issue of recognition. There is public recognition of the work that companies have done in support of various things. You can see this fairly plainly in some instances where that recognition is given. More could probably be done in terms of giving recognition to the companies that have made a significant contribution to the arts.
Ms McGrady: The media have a big part to play in that. Media crediting is a constant battle of ours, to actually get them to acknowledge that. The acknowledgement is also very important where individual giving is concerned and people are not getting anything else in terms of physical benefits
Mr J Wilson: I am sorry for missing the start of your presentation, but I think I have picked up the thrust of the discussion. I think it was Ms McGrady - and I hope I am not quoting out of context - who said earlier that they need to talk to each other, obviously making a criticism that there is a breakdown in communication. You are not the first to make that kind of observation about other groups - for example, community groups believe that if only they would talk to each other it would improve the whole scene in Northern Ireland. Yet there are umbrella organisations that purport to talk on behalf of all the satellite groups. Is your criticism related to the belief that is generally held - and I believe it is held by this Committee - that cultural tourism is not well enough promoted either at home or outside of Northern Ireland?
Ms McGrady: Yes. It is criticism, but it is not directed at them. The reason they do not talk to each other at the moment is that they have very little resources. They think that to share their ideas would result in the money going to someone else instead of them. That is what it comes down to. The message needs to get across that by talking to each other they can potentially leverage more resources. We have not got to that point yet. Cultural tourism is not well promoted. Arts organisations are in the business of doing art, and they do not really know the benefits of doing the cultural tourism thing. No one has stated clearly what is in it for them.
Mr J Wilson: Does that mean that they do not fully recognise the importance of marketing?
Ms McGrady: At the moment they look on marketing as something that gets the local people through their doors - that is the priority at the moment. They understand that marketing is important, but I stress that they do not necessarily have all the skills to do it effectively. Some of the bigger organisations clearly do recognise its importance and are doing it well, so this is not a broad brush. The Belfast Festival has done an extremely good job this year. However, there is a huge raft of very small organisations here. We do not have very many big ones.
The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you very much for your very enlightening presentation.
Mr Shannon: I have one small question. Can you point to any success stories that you have in relation to putting partnerships together? In your presentation you were talking about the content, but what examples have you of achievements?
Ms McGrady: We are running a pilot at the moment called New Partners which will replace the Pairing Scheme. The Pairing Scheme was all about sponsorship - the business gave arts a cheque and they got some marketing benefits. New Partners is much more about developing relationships, and we have got six running at the moment.
Orange is sponsoring the Belfast Film Festival. Normally it would have given a cheque for sponsorship and would have got the branding. However, now Orange is doing reviews on films by text message; these will be transmitted onto big screens in the festival club. Orange wanted to attract the 18- to 24-year-olds, and rather than merely highlight the festival to improve its profile, Orange made people think about its product by using text-messaging. It put up £10,000, and we put up £5,000. As a result, the Belfast Film Festival put the money into marketing; it was able to increase its marketing spend and to reduce various complications.
Other businesses involved include BT, which sponsored the talks. Every member of its staff produced a line of the poem, and a poet combined these into a long poem. The standard sponsorship means that BT will get its branding, but the intention was to get the staff involved in something artistic for the first time.
The Deputy Chairperson: That is very illuminating and interesting, and it will certainly help us in our inquiry. May I compliment you on your logo; it is excellent.
Mr Holmes: Thank you for your attention.
Thursday 13 September 2001
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Mr W Young ) Ballymena Borough Council
The Deputy Chairperson: Good morning, Mr Young. You are welcome, and we are pleased that you are contributing to this inquiry. We are running behind schedule, and some members have to leave early, so they would like to hear your presentation and ask some questions.
Mr Young: Thank you for the invitation. I was not sure whether it was an invitation or a summons. I was tempted to buy some 'Yes, Minister' tapes, but I am not of that ilk or stature. I hope to struggle through and give you views from Ballymena, the middle town of the Province.
The Deputy Chairperson: Ballymena has already been plugged this morning.
Mr Young: A reminder does no harm.
My slant is on arts and culture rather than tourism. I am not a tourism person, although you cannot work in local government in Northern Ireland without realising the intimate connections between many functions.
In looking at cultural tourism, culture should not be subordinate to tourism. Culture exists whether or not tourists flock to Ballymena. We must be mindful that our first responsibility is to the ratepayer of our borough, and we need to be mindful that on a rainy day in Ballymena in the middle of October few tourists may come to see us.
I am concerned about the partnerships that have been burgeoning in Northern Ireland for several years. One member here knows that we have had a connection with a partnership of four councils, one of which is Ballymena Borough Council. We are trying to create a regional or area-type museum service with that partnership. The four councils that make up that group may not necessarily be the same councils that make up, for example, another group concerned with the Antrim coast and the Glens. I am mindful that Ballymena Borough Council is in district council partnerships that do not have the same membership, so that presents difficulty in ensuring coherence across regional and/or local services.
Museums make a major contribution to cultural life and to the lives of local people in that they preserve and present authentic material. Through that they help to explore and explain the evolution of local societies. That is of particular interest to expatriates including those who come from the United States (and we hope that they will continue so to do). They come to the mid/north Antrim area where there is a strong connection with the Ulster Scots tradition. Many people come from Canada and the United States.
We do one thing that sounds at first glance uninteresting, but I can assure you that it is of particular importance to those undertaking research on the borough. We have begun to transcribe the inscriptions on headstones in the cemeteries in and around Ballymena, and third-generation Canadians who come back to find out where granny or great-granny lived, worked and died have a great interest in gleaning that type of information.
When we planned our museum and arts project, we were mindful that we needed to connect two items that have hitherto been treated as separate. I speak particularly about the museum and heritage sector and the more traditional arts sector.
There has been a town hall in Ballymena since 1684, when the market house was established. It is the heart of Ballymena. The council has received £4·5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to erect a purpose-built museum, and £2 million from the Arts Lottery Fund to build a cultural centre, "a cultural core for Ballymena" as Dr Aideen McGinley termed it. The combination of those two funds on one site creates a synergy that can produce more than the constituent parts. We are very happy to have it on one site. The borough council will run both those premises.
Ballymena also has the Ecos Centre, an environmental centre. The Ecos Centre is keen to attract tourists. We, of course, will be very keen to have those or other tourists visit the town hall. We do not want to compete in our own district council area, nor do we want to compete in the partnership area. We must attract those people who have decided to visit Northern Ireland before they have heard of Ballymena, and persuade them to come once in the Province.
The coming together of the arts and the museums, and the input from professionals in the tourism field, can be productive if we maintain positive and effective intercommunication, both internally within district councils and also between district councils. The Arts Council for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and other elements made up of those people who have some influence over tourist destinations - Ballymena, Strabane, Enniskillen or Belfast - will also be involved.
Those are some of the issues that I wanted to raise. I hope that they made sense to you. I am more an arts and heritage than a tourism man, but perhaps I can learn more about tourism in the future.
The Deputy Chairperson: Arts and heritage are absolutely essential to any understanding of culture, and certainly to improving the linkage with tourism.
Mr McCarthy: What are the linkages between the local government sector and the tourism industry, particularly the Northern Ireland Tourist Board?
Mr Young: My route into tourism has been circuitous, coming via the arts when the Arts Council for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board got together to examine their policies. Those decisions and recommendations then filtered down to a local level.
There is a difficulty, which perhaps highlights the need for an interrelationship within and between district councils. My inability to give a positive answer to your question is indicative of the need for us to intercommunicate and work together for the greater whole, rather than separately looking at tourism, heritage, arts and sport.
Mr McCarthy: Would links with travel and accommodation providers be helpful in packaging cultural tourism products, and how would those be developed?
Mr Young: Particularly in the arts sector, there has always been a strong relationship between the private and public sectors. In the past, the private sector was the principal funder of the arts, for example with sponsorships. One difficulty in a regional centre like Ballymena is that many businesses are quite small. Therefore, contributions to arts and culture are more likely to be paternalistic or benevolent donations, rather than business opportunities.
When the newly developed £13 million scheme on the site of the town hall is built, there will be a rejuvenation and revitalisation of a sector of inner Ballymena that is in decay.
The flocks of school children will want chips and burgers. When you come to an Ulster Orchestra concert, or whatever, you may want some different fare. The market force could better supply that than the service sector.
Mr J Wilson: Thank you for your presentation. You referred earlier to Ballymena Borough Council coming together with three other councils, making up a group of four. Can I assume that you hold the view that - I am close to Ballymena, so I would never describe it as small, but in being one of 26, it is a smaller unit - you see the benefit of coming together to make up a larger unit in attracting tourists in the arts field? Would it not be beneficial to those in the business community, from whom you expect support, to promote yourselves as part of a larger unit?
Mr Young: Without making any predictions about what might happen in local government in the future, "larger" in this context is entirely beneficial. To give a simple example, at the time of compulsory competitive tendering (CCT), we believed that the private sector would seek to break down those 26 boundaries because refuse lorries do not stop at an artificial geographical boundary and then return again.
Take the Odyssey Arena: I am astonished, not by the arena, but by the creation of the patronage of indoor ice hockey. There is no way that a borough council or any other council is going to have anything similar to that. The size of the contribution from the private sector has been able to generate a critical mass of investment, which has allowed people to focus and gravitate on a regional basis toward Belfast. The A26 carries people from Ballymena to Belfast. We must be mindful of what we can effectively do with our partners concerning those contiguous boundaries that we have with other district councils. The partnership approach, if it is a coherent approach across many sectors, can be beneficial.
Mr J Wilson: And being part of a larger unit would be a much more effective marketing force?
Mr Young: I believe so. If nothing else, it can create that critical mass for investment, which would be sufficient to allow that fringe grouping to market its product and bring it to the attention of those in competition with other forms of entertainment and so forth that exist both here and on the mainland.
Mr Shannon: In your presentation you mentioned Ulster Scots. I have a particular interest in that. The area that I represent probably has more Ulster Scots speakers, though you may disagree with that. Irrespective of which area has the most speakers, or who is most active in promoting it, has Ballymena Borough Council directly considered the Ulster Scots culture? If so, has there been any contact with other councils, for example, Ards Borough Council? Ards Borough Council has been very active in promoting Ulster Scots at every level - at street name level and encouraging the language through our council. I am aware that Ballymena has that deep interest and long history of Ulster Scots. Do you see it being promoted with other councils? What benefits would you see coming from that?
Mr Young: It is worthwhile to present and explain the indigenous culture of any area. It can show people how a particular society has evolved. In Ballymena we have a new Ulster Scots society that deals with the Ballymena Borough Council area. For around 12 years, we have, through the council itself, had a small historical research office which looks at the origins of society in Ballymena, particularly over the past 150 to 200 years.
It is particularly important. Quite a number of people hail from Scotland. It is part of the area, and it is worth presenting and allowing others to see it. The interconnections might find their voice through the Mid-Antrim Museums Service, with the other councils in partnership.
Mr McMenamin: Thank you for your presentation. Ballymena Borough Council works with the organisers of festivals and other events in the borough. Are your tourist facilities open on a Sunday?
Mr Young: Yes.
Mr McMenamin: Fair enough.
Mr Agnew: I am dumbstruck too. You accept that culture is part of the tourist product. Do you see it as a market that can be sustained throughout the year?
Mr Young: I am not qualified to answer that question, as I do not know the provenance of our tourists. I am not even sure if our own tourist people could tell you, because they may not have looked at that aspect of it either. It is in need of significant research to see if it can be sustained all year round. A rainy day in Ballymena in the middle of October is just that. People do not come to Ballymena for the sun. Why have they come to Northern Ireland at all?
Mr Agnew: They would not go for the football at the moment either.
Mr Young: Probably not. I think I will stay out of hot water.
The Deputy Chairperson: I want to ask you about the transcribing of headstone inscriptions. It is an interesting project. It links into many of the issues raised in your presentation, and provides information on historical roots, culture and language. There is a rich Ulster Scots culture in the Ballymena borough. How are you developing that? Has it been put on the Internet? Do you want to attract people from the United States who have an interest in finding their roots?
Mr Young: The Ballymena web site is, shall we say, "under construction". It is an avenue that we will pursue. At the moment, to get the word out beyond the boundaries of Ballymena, County Antrim and Northern Ireland, we are using our own tourism facilities and the networks that they have available to them.
The borough has recently entered into a sister city relationship with Morehead in Kentucky. Whether it came from here to there or vice versa, bluegrass and country and western music have a resonance in both areas. Those people are showing an interest, even in simple things like names. However, it must be part of a package. People will not come to Ballymena just to transcribe headstones.
We receive quite a lot of correspondence from the United States. We have an inquiry service that can send information back on the local interconnections. If people find out something about one person, they can discover relationships with other groupings, or that a relative worked in a factory, or went to a certain school. It blossoms once the contact is made.
The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you very much.
Thursday 13 September 2001
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Mr A Good )
Ms M Nagle ) Northern Ireland Hotels Federation
Mr C Shillington )
Mr S Small )
The Deputy Chairperson: Good afternoon, you are very welcome. We are pleased to have you here as part of our inquiry into cultural tourism. I am sure what you have to say will be most enlightening. We have your written presentation, so if you would like to give a short introduction on the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation, Members will then ask some questions.
Mr Good: The Hotels Federation was set up to represent the collective view of hotels and guesthouses across Northern Ireland. We have been working hard in recent months, through the different Government Departments, to ensure that issues relating to tourism are being integrated into Government policy. We welcome this chance to address the Committee and appreciate the fact that the Committee has undertaken this inquiry into cultural tourism. It is a very important step, and we are pleased to be able to contribute.
Sean Small is from the Burrendale Hotel and has been very active in the hospitality industry for quite a number of years. He is a past president of the Hotels Federation. Margaret Nagle is general manager of Jurys Hotel in Belfast. Colin Shillington is our director general.
Mr Shillington: In selecting this team we have tried to be representative. Mr Small is representing rural properties, as his company is a major investor in the Newry and Mourne area. Ms Nagle is the representative of Jurys Hotel, which is more than a city-based hotel. Jurys is a company from outside the Province that has invested here. Mr Good and I both work behind the scenes, trying to make sure the Hotels Federation is represented properly.
Recently we have been working on 'Blueprint for Tourism', which will be launched in the middle of October. This looks at the economic side of tourism in particular, and what we feel, as a federation, that the Tourist Board, the Government and others can do to generate extra tourists coming to Northern Ireland and raise the profile of the tourism industry here. As part of this, we believe that a number of themes need to be considered, and culture is one of them. For that reason we are delighted that this Committee is looking at culture and deciding how that can best be used to build tourism and hospitality in the Province. The themes within that - the heritage of the Province, the history, the culture - are all of great importance.
However, we do have concerns about overlaps between different Government Departments. We need to know that whoever runs culture will make sure we benefit from this. We are responsible to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and have been before its Committee on a number of occasions. We would like to be satisfied that there is a proper programme and that culture is part of the overall tourism structure. There is a bit of uncertainty as to who looks after what, and that is possibly something we can develop with you today.
Mr Small: Following on from that, in my area, which is in Down District Council and borders on Newry and Mourne, there are different activities happening in places, such as the recently opened St Patrick's Centre in Downpatrick, run by Down District Council, and the new maze in Castlewellan, operated by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
There are a few smaller events happening in the area. They seem to be organised by different groupings in the agriculture sector, the cultural sector, et cetera. It is totally confusing to know who are the correct people to go to for more advice, for promotional work or to determine what else we can deliver. This is a great opportunity to find out the role of the Committee; that would help us greatly.
Mr Good: One of our key issues is the integration and cohesion of culture, arts, leisure and sporting events, and how we can harness the energies in there that can draw the communities together and help to develop those communities. When the communities start working together, our industry starts to benefit. We can look around different parts of the world, and we have used different examples in some of the case studies to show how cultural tourism has been used to kick-start and generate activity that our industry has been able to benefit from. However, the people who have benefited most are the local communities. They have been able to discover some very common values and benefit culturally and economically through developing employment, new businesses, et cetera.
We see this as the start of a process that will be a winner for everybody. It concerns us how we bring it all together and educate the communities, local authorities and Government to develop a successful programme for cultural tourism in its widest sense. It is important that we get that integration, and that is a challenge for us all. We see this as the first step in the process of trying to get there.
Ms Nagle: I want to follow on from that. There are some good examples that we have in operation and that have worked successfully, particularly in Belfast. In the last three years we have had three world events. We had the World Cross-Country Championships in 1999, the World Irish Dancing Championships at Easter 2000 and this year we had the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Belfast. We have the events coming to Belfast, but we need a cohesive approach in terms of private sector investment and support from local government to ensure that in going forward we attract events every year. We have the track record now, but we need support, investment and probably more cohesion in attracting them to Northern Ireland and to Belfast.
The event area is colossal, and we only have to look south of the border to see the spin-off just from the sports side of things in that area, not to mention the arts side of things, which is obviously crucial. The development of Ryder Cup golf, which will be in the K Club, will be a spin-off for the economy in that area. Internationally it will develop a profile for Ireland as a location. The Belfast Festival at Queen's is a perfect example of what we have currently running that is working very successfully but, again, it could do with much more assistance with its development of the public -relations side - for example, the city dressing itself to welcome the festival.
If you look south of the border and take an example of the events that we have there, Cork effectively runs the Jazz Festival. You fly into Cork Airport, and it is dressed to welcome the festival. The whole city and area are aware that something is going on. That is a window of opportunity that we, in Belfast and across Northern Ireland, could definitely develop more to encourage both the local people to get involved as well as marketing it for the international visitors that come to these events.
Mr Good: Another of the key areas which is closely associated with that is the development of sports-based events tourism - major events such as the world boxing championships, the world power-boat championships, and so on. Each year we could have a programme of major key world events coming to Northern Ireland. Part of the responsibility for that would lie with the Northern Ireland Events Company, which is one of the initiatives that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is responsible for. However, compared to some of the other areas of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland the budget allocation to key events does not exist.
Scotland is already budgeting for the Ryder Cup, which it hopes to be hosting later in the decade. That tournament will be coming to the Republic of Ireland in a few years time. Such events require substantial Government capital investment, and it is only initial Government support that will kick-start the private sector investment that must follow. If we are to be successful, we need to have a budget in place that is properly managed and properly focused on event-led tourism. We see event-led tourism as being an integral part of cultural tourism.
The Deputy Chairperson: I am sure that Members would subscribe to the notion of joined-up government; and I think that is the point you are making as regards developing cultural tourism specifically to help the hotel industry.
Mr McElduff: I am very interested in this subject. A hotel, such as Walsh's Hotel, which was recently opened in Maghera, provides you with an uplifting effect as you drive through the town. I attended a conference in Maghera at the weekend, and I had a more positive feeling about the town as I was leaving it than I had when I arrived that morning. I know that accommodation providers in Omagh are delighted when Dominic Kirwan performs there. Several buses come from Scotland, and the bed-and-breakfast accommodations and the hotel in Omagh do well from such an event.
I am mindful of the Special Olympics in 2003, and I am sure that you will be planning for that. The Creighton Hotel in Clones also springs to mind when important football matches are played there. There are many linkages, which I am sure you will comment on during the course of the evidence session.
Mr Shannon: I assume that you collate information about where your out-of-state visitors come from and their reasons for coming here. Would most of them come from the United States, Canada, or the rest of Europe? In your presentation you indicated the impact that large events have in bringing people here. We want to know if people come to your hotels because of a cultural tourism focus and, if so, how they spend their time when they are here. That information would enable us to improve on that particular cultural tourism focus.
Ms Nagle: You will find that all of the hotels in Belfast are full this week because there is a conference being held at the Spires Conference Centre, the Europa Hotel and Grosvenor House, which is bringing candidates from all over Europe. The event is a medical-based conference, which has taken almost three years to organise.
We are in a position to collate information about visitors' nationalities, and we give such information to the Tourist Board on a monthly basis. With specific groups, research is usually carried out after events, particularly where larger conferences are concerned. We look at the possible spin-off effects the event has had for us as an accommodation provider, what their spend was, and what they did while they were with us. That activity would be carried out on an ad hoc basis and would depend on the size of the event. Many of the event-management companies in Belfast would be in a position to give overall information on that aspect, which could be fed back to Government. It would also provide us with a database of information, which would help us get these visitors back to Northern Ireland on a leisure basis.
Mr Shannon: Having those figures and ideas would help us examine how we can plan a strategy.
Mr Shillington: Perhaps I might pick up on the point Mr McElduff made when he mentioned Walsh's in Maghera, which is a very exciting development. It is on the site of a former hotel which lay derelict for a great many years. I feel they will have sufficient trade from conferences, weddings, and so on. However, for obvious reasons I should be a little concerned about their room occupancy.
Mr McElduff: Is it 15 rooms?
Mr Shillington: Yes, but the Sperrins must be promoted as a tourism venue to help the area, be it by cultural or other means. I am not quite clear what role Walsh's will have in that. Someone must grab it, but it is another example of who does what.
Mr Good: Perhaps I might also respond to Mr Shannon's question. One of the key responsibilities we envisage for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is focusing more on research into what and who our customer is and what the marketplace would be. We very much view the area as "discretionary tourism". In Northern Ireland we do not yet fully understand even the term - or its customer make-up.
The Tourist Board has traditionally not been focused on customer research but on providing statistics for Government Departments. Very often statistics are required by the industry to guide our future marketing activity, the co-ordination of future events promotion and the implementation of Government policy. We therefore wish the Tourist Board to view this new focus on research as part of its regeneration. We are greatly encouraged that it has been listening to our lobbying in recent months. However, it will take some time before the sea change in its research function is recognised, with information becoming available to organisations and Committees such as yours.
The Deputy Chairperson: If you are talking about the cohesive approach, how can we develop markets? I believe we should encourage key events in Belfast, but how do we spread that out? How do we develop cultural tourism so that people come to key events such as sporting occasions? With the Tourist Board highlighting such tourism sufficiently as a package, people would wish to travel to Newcastle or the Sperrins. What can the Tourist Board do to highlight our cultural attractions? I do not believe it is doing enough.
Mr Good: I believe there are different levels. One level is allowing the Tourist Board greater strategic planning. There is great responsibility on the local authorities. Many of them do not recognise tourism as an economic opportunity; they are not aware of how they can work towards that goal in local communities, tending to classify tourism as a leisure service. There is a great difference between the two. If we can get local authorities to understand the enormous benefits, we shall be recognising tourism and its constituent parts. It comes back to what we call "the cohesive approach" to tourism. There are economic benefits both for the local community and the tourist industry.
Mr McElduff: Might tourism more properly be classified alongside economic development in local authorities?
Mr Good: We very much view tourism as a key element of economic development. We are conscious of the cross-departmental themes running through Government under the guardianship of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment which its own staff regards as economic development. We welcome the forthcoming review of tourism as part of the emerging cross-departmental themes.
Mr J Wilson: Does your federation work and liaise closely with others in promoting cultural tourism locally and throughout Northern Ireland? How would you assess the industry's level of expertise when it comes to providing information to visitors about culture and arts in the region?
I would observe with perhaps an element of criticism that when we had an extensive inquiry into angling in Northern Ireland recently, anglers and angling clubs time and time again voiced the criticism that better information and related services were provided for the angling fraternity by hotels in Southern Ireland than in Northern Ireland. Can the same criticism be made of the arts and culture scene in Northern Ireland?
Mr Small: I am involved in the Kingdoms of Down which has a local office in Newtownards. There are five other offices across Northern Ireland from Belfast to Fermanagh. There are five different bodies going after the same mix of various things. It is necessary to get those bodies together to tighten up the arrangement. We could compare our population to cities like Manchester or Newcastle across the water. Those cities are served by a much smaller group of people who seem to work together. Instead of five or six chief executives there is only one.
It seems that the fishermen are going more to the west. We would try to provide information to our local offices, and that should then be disseminated. When the Northern Ireland Tourist Board delegated this responsibility to different regions it seems to have been lost. There are so many people looking at the one pot.
We welcomed a lot of tourists this year into Belfast from the cruise liners. The Belfast Convention Bureau was involved in showing hospitality to these visitors but that seems to be only day trips - for example, to Newcastle for golf. If these visitors had an extra day's stay we could do something more. However, at the moment the visitors are having their day out in Northern Ireland and then going back to the cruise liner for their evening meal.
Ms Nagle: Depending on the property we are responsible for training the front line staff, porters and receptionists. We take them on tours of the city to explain where everything is as they may be from other parts of the Province and are not familiar with the city.
There is a very good customer care programme called Welcome Host, and you will find that most of the people who work in bars, restaurants and hotels throughout Northern Ireland have undergone training through that programme. It is the softer edge and the welcome, which is very important. We receive feedback from customers about that absolutely natural welcome, and they are amazed and encouraged by it when they come to Northern Ireland.
With regard to the facilities and attractions, the information is provided, and staff in different locations will encourage and bring people to the information. If they are not knowledgeable on the subject they will find out. It could be that they are not at the level that they should be, and we could look at that aspect on the back of our Welcome Host programmes. That probably varies from property to property and on the profile of the worker, whether it is a younger or older person.
Mr Good: One of the key themes in Northern Ireland is the role of product development, and we should distinguish between hard product and soft product. Soft products are the services like angling and walking. The whole future of the domestic marketplace and the role of product need to be carefully considered in the review of tourism. When the regional tourist organisation (RTO) structures were set up a few years ago the focus was on geographic area. We believe that the focus should be on product areas.
We also believe that helps to safeguard the industry into the future - for example, people who are interested in fishing will be able to concentrate on areas that promote fishing. We believe that it will strengthen the industry by focusing on the customer, and when we learn to focus on our customer we will be able to move the industry forward. We believe that is the sea change that needs to be made over the next couple of years.
Mr Shillington: Clearly hotels can do better. We would like to play as positive a role as possible, but there are all sorts of questions. What is culture? Is Dominic Kirwan culture?
Mr McElduff: Is he a singer?
Mr Shannon: I do not think that he is.
Mr Shillington: If you ask somebody else that question they will tell you he is. He is Irish - or has an Irish influence in folk singing.
This is a difficult area, but who looks after what? Who is responsible for developing the cultural theme? We have so much to offer. Rather than being a means of division, it can be a means of bringing people together. If you look at different areas - be it Downpatrick, Armagh or Derry/Londonderry, or the north-west - there is so much culture.
Who looks after the Giant's Causeway? Is that the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Department of the Environment or the National Trust? We want to promote our culture as much as possible, but it is confusing. However, I hope that as a result of this inquiry we can get a bit of a handle on that and try to do it better. There is so much to go for. There is a real chance for common purpose and bringing us all together. Our heritage can contribute so much if we can get our act together. That is rather a negative statement, but people feel very strongly about it. Have we answered your question?
Mr J Wilson: Yes. However, I still think this is comparing North and South. I have some experience through the angling scene, and although this is not an angling inquiry, the two are related. There is no doubt that your industry in the South places itself more on the front line in providing a package to a visitor, whether he or she is there for angling or culture, arts and leisure. My experience in Northern Ireland is that if I walked up to the reception in a hotel looking for that kind of information it would not be readily available. The staff are not in a position to relay that information. They can hand you a leaflet, but people expect more than that. They expect to talk about it and to be given local information.
Mr Shillington: Can you relate to that, Mr Small?
Mr Small: Yes. However, it highlights one of the problems that we have in our area. There are only certain areas where you can go fishing - Tullymore and Castlewellan Lake are controlled. There are restrictions on the number of rods that are allowed. Only a certain number are allowed each day for those not in the clubs. You cannot bring in a busload to go angling on Castlewellan Lake. We had that problem on some of our rivers that were signed over years ago. We have tried to get other people to come on board, but it is difficult.
Ms Nagle: The RTOs do a very good job with regard to that information, and perhaps it is a question of re-educating our front-office people. The Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau, together with the Tourist Board, have opened an excellent product in Donegall Place. Anyone who has not been there should go and have a look at it. Even if you are from Belfast it is an education to see what is available. The level of expertise is very good, and we need to spread that out.
The Deputy Chairperson: Mr Shillington has touched on the very important issue of the delivery of service - who is responsible for what, who defines culture, and the fragmentation of the organisations. Those are all issues that this inquiry will address. I recently passed through the little village of Dungloe in Donegal. The Mary from Dungloe festival was taking place, and Daniel O'Donnell was also there. I could not find a parking space. There were buses from Australia, England, et cetera, for 40 miles around. I do not know whether you call that culture or not, but I found it absolutely dreadful. However, I have been told that the economic contribution of that festival, in the middle of the summer, sustains that community for the whole year.
Mr Agnew: My question has largely been answered. I was going to ask about sustaining a market for cultural tourism beyond the summer season. However, you have already mentioned event-based activities so that has gone a long way to answering that question.
Mr Good: One comparison I would make is Scotland to the Irish Republic. Many properties in Scotland do not have a marketplace during the winter months and have to close, whereas the Irish Republic has evolved a very sophisticated product operating throughout the year built on cultural events and sport amongst other things. It has been able to grow its business.
In Scotland tourism has been failing. It has enormous structural problems, both in the standard of the properties and in its enthusiasm for its own survival. The Irish Republic, on the other hand, is dynamic and has catalysed the local economy and local communities. It shows that, when people look at things in a structured manner, they can build success. In Northern Ireland we have the opportunity to make that choice, to put structures in place to build a successful industry that will benefit everybody.
Mr Small: It is important that people realise that and become more organised. This has been one of our worst years because of the recession in the United States. Also, the terrible things that happened in the States the other day will change the situation dramatically for people who will not want to fly for a long period. We have to look at local events, and it is fortunate to have that conference coming in from Europe at the present time.
However, those things can happen again and without the local business this year we would have suffered in Newcastle, both Slieve Donard and myself. We had the golf Seniors, which was a great boost for that week, but that has disappeared again slightly. Sustaining those things is important. Ms Nagle said earlier that the racing calendar in the North of Ireland could be increased greatly. Some of the top jockeys in Europe are from the North of Ireland. That kind of festival will bring those people back in. It may only last a few days, but it will encourage people.
In Northern Ireland you are only two hours from anywhere, and people will readily travel from Enniskillen to Belfast or vice versa. This is an opportunity. For example, it takes two hours by coach to reach the other side of Manchester, whereas here it takes 40 minutes to get to Newcastle, which is not a long bus journey. It is important to get home-based events so that people will travel around.
Mr Shillington: I asked someone from Derry when it would be like Galway, when it would have festivals, when it would be on the tourist map and how long it would take? The answer was "Give us 10 years". That is fine, but who will organise it? Will it be built around big events run by the Department? Will it be built around history, heritage, culture? Who runs that? Is it the local council? Is it private investment? Those things need to be co-ordinated, and we come back to the original point. Who brings it all together? There are many opportunities.
Mr Good: Let me make the point about Edinburgh. It is a large cosmopolitan city. Most cities tend to become quiet during the summer months. The Edinburgh Festival, however, has grown exponentially. You move from the main festival into the Fringe Festival. Without the Edinburgh Festival the Scottish tourist industry would have been decimated because of foot-and-mouth disease.
Our industry was heavily devastated in the spring months when a lot of events were cancelled because of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development guidelines. When an event is cancelled, its lifeblood for the following year is very often damaged. Where possible, the events that were cancelled in the spring should be encouraged to take place next year so that they can be sustained.
The Deputy Chairperson: We must stop there as we are over time and have other business to attend to. It has been interesting listening to you, and you have left us with a lot to think about. You have made a valuable contribution to our inquiry, and some of the points you have made will be included. Many of the issues that you have raised touch on our responsibilities as a Committee, and we will follow them up. We would be pleased if you could keep in touch with the Committee.
Mr Small: Thank you for this opportunity. We are ready to have discussions at any stage with you to help with whatever can be done.
Mr Good: I would like to draw attention to the launch of 'Blueprint for Tourism', which is a key document for the future of tourism in Northern Ireland. If any Committee members were able to attend we would be very pleased to welcome them.
Ms Nagle: There is one final area that the Tourist Board is working on that everyone will be encouraged by. We would be grateful for your support for our marketing of Northern Ireland internationally. We have a lot of sports personalities and people representing Northern Ireland to the American and other foreign markets. There are any number of people we can use - home-grown product - to market Northern Ireland.
This is very easy to do, but whatever encouragement and investment is required to get that message out, in a public relations context, is very important. It can bring people to Northern Ireland who would never have considered coming before.
The Deputy Chairperson: That is a very valuable point. Liam Neeson springs to mind. We have such great talent exported around the world. You are right; we should be capitalising on that. Thank you all very much.
Thursday 20 September 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Ms R McDonough (Chief Executive) )
Prof B Walker (Chairman) ) Arts Council of Mr N Livingston (Director of ) Northern Ireland
Strategic Development) )
The Chairperson: Good morning. You are all very welcome.
Prof Walker: Cultural tourism is important for Northern Ireland, and the arts are an essential part of that. We welcome the opportunity to tell you about the Arts Council's work, problems that exist, and areas where help may be required.
Ms McDonough: I shall briefly outline the council's principal functions and objectives, current projects that are funded through the voted and lottery funds, and who we work with. I shall also describe current and future aspects of our work; I hope that we can demonstrate that by their very nature they contribute, implicitly and explicitly, to the development of cultural tourism.
The Arts Council is managed by a council of 15 members. I am the principal accounting officer. The council is supported by a professional staff. It became a non-departmental public body in 1995. The council has four main statutory functions under the Arts Council Order 1995: to develop and improve the knowledge, appreciation and practice of the arts; to increase public access to and participation in the arts; to advise the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, other Government Departments, district councils and other bodies on arts-related matters; and - in the usual catch-all - to carry out such other functions as are conferred upon the Arts Council. The council also distributes lottery proceeds allocated to the arts in Northern Ireland.
The council's priorities for the next five years are underpinned by the belief that our job is to win greater recognition of the contribution that the arts make to our cultural, social and economic well-being. To achieve that, the council is giving priority to artists, arts organisations, arts initiatives and partnerships, which, we hope, will increase opportunities for creative participation in the arts. That will also develop new audiences for the arts, and build on existing ones, which is very important, and it will extend opportunities for individual artists to develop their own works and practice. Finally, the council aims to strengthen the capacity of arts organisations to deliver the quality experiences of the arts that we all desire.
A key element of our work is the ongoing support for the artistic infrastructure in Northern Ireland. At present, we have around 130 annual or revenue clients, representing the full spectrum of the arts, from major performance venues to smaller scale community-based outreach organisations.
Those include, for example, the Grand Opera House, which has been presenting theatrical entertainment since 1895 in a building designed by the great theatre architect Frank Matcham. Other examples are Kaleidoscope, a new verbal and visual arts centre in Portadown; Open Arts, the arts and disability organisation, which operates at the Crescent Arts Centre, and whose choir has recently won an award. We also fund the Nerve Centre in Derry which is taking a leading role in nurturing the creative technologies in Northern Ireland and helping young people to develop their musical experience.
We have a capital programme, which uses lottery funds. Since that came into being in 1995 we have managed to achieve our objective of providing a dedicated arts facility within a 20-mile radius of every person in Northern Ireland. Over the next five years our aim is to fill the gaps in provision at an appropriate scale, taking account of demand. Some examples of that are the Armagh Theatre and the Burnavon Centre. There are also plans for new build projects in Omagh and Ballymena. We are very proud to have made a contribution to the recently opened Millennium Forum in Londonderry. Some of our new arts facilities have won, or have been shortlisted, for important design and architectural awards - we are also pleased about that.
Public art is another way in which we can contribute to the distinctiveness of place and improve the general built environment, indoors or outside. John Kindness's sculpture of a big fish at Clarendon Dock, and the Lough McNean sculpture trail in Fermanagh, which links Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim, are fine examples of public art.
Sustainability is a very important factor in the creation of new facilities. We have been aware of that for some time, and we have tried to take it into account in our budget and forward planning, but it nevertheless presents difficulties. Our revenue budget of about £5·75 million is the main instrument at our disposal. It is designed to support organisations that run arts programmes running throughout the year. For example, the Ulster Orchestra receives an annual grant of £1·25 million from us; the Ormeau Baths Gallery receives just under £0·25 million; and the Belfast Festival at Queen's receives £92,000. We can give you information relating to other examples, if you wish.
The Council, anticipating the focus in the Programme for Government on the skilling and training of individual artists, devised and invested in a cultural management training programme, which is now a post-graduate degree course at the University of Ulster. We believe that the programme produces the efficient managerial and administrative personnel that are vital to the maintenance of our top-class facilities, thus contributing to their sustainability.
In regard to the voted fund element of our budget, we have developed a new and enhanced programme of support for the individual artist; it has been increased from under £200,000 last year to £0·5 million in the current year. Northern Ireland has notable luminaries in the fields of theatre, drama and music.
We need only bring to mind Liam Neeson, Kenneth Branagh, Barry Douglas, and James Galway. New media artists, such as Willy Doherty, are also emerging. Seamus Heaney is no stranger to anyone, and other notables are Tom Paulin, Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson, Michael Longley and Medbh McGuckian. Our support for the individual artist is designed to foster such future talent in Northern Ireland.
Through our lottery fund, we have devised three new schemes to make the arts more accessible and to build audiences. The first is our audience development programme, which is designed to bring new people to the arts and to take the arts to people across Northern Ireland. For example, we have given the Belfast Festival at Queen's, among other organisations, £160,000 to fund a three-year programme to develop their audiences, at home and abroad. Secondly, we have devised a new access scheme to promote arts in the community. For instance, Moving on Music has received £25,000 from us for a world music project, to bring artists from various global cultures to tour in Northern Ireland. Finally, Awards for All is a new programme placing a particular emphasis on groups with a small annual turnover of under £15,000. It has been very successful, distributing 75 grants so far in the early stages of the scheme - from small amounts such as £700 through to £5,000. For example, the Maine Valley Accordion and Fiddle Club received a grant of £5,000 to promote concerts based on the Ulster-Scots tradition.
Like many public bodies, we place emphasis on partnerships. We have had 25 years of co-operation with our colleagues in the Arts Council in the South, and similarly long-standing co-operation with our colleagues in Scotland, England and Wales. We had a major development in cultural tourism this year with the launch of an all-Ireland arts and entertainment web site. The project, which is run jointly by the two councils, is administered and based in Belfast. It provides a key reference point for prospective visitors to Northern Ireland, and the site is receiving more than 7,000 hits per day. We also have very important, long-standing close relationships with local authorities on many levels, and through the Forum for Local Government and the Arts. We believe that the new opportunities presented under Peace II and the mainstream structural funds will provide further opportunities for co-operation and a sustainable approach to cultural tourism at the local level.
In conjunction with the British Council we also collaborate on the international promotion of artists abroad. We regard that as being very important at a practical level, for example, the organisation of festivals and residencies. We have already documented the work we undertook with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, so I shall not repeat that.
I will conclude by outlining a couple of future developments, which are important. We have entered the arena of cultural diversity, and, over the past few years, we have been funding a number of notable clients, such as the Indian Community Centre. We are planning to strengthen our work to promote cultural diversity through a joint proposal with the Community Relations Council, and we are working through the detail at present. We recognise that language has a special place in the agreement, and we are working with Foras na Gaelige, Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch, and the Ultach Trust to commission research this year in support of a pro-active language arts policy. We are also working with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the field of the creative industries. Recently, we employed a crafts development worker to intervene, in a more serious and concerted manner, to provide the type of support required by the emerging crafts workers in Northern Ireland.
Finally, we are playing a very active part in Belfast's bid for the title of City of Culture 2008. In that context, we are very keen to press for a free-standing gallery of art in Northern Ireland.
We are the only major city in the United Kingdom without a gallery commensurate with the quality of our visual heritage and contemporary practice. This must change if we are to be serious contenders as a region of culture.
I hope that I have persuaded you that if, through our main role of creative participation, audience development by supporting artists, and strengthening the arts infrastructure, we manage to implement these areas successfully, they will reinforce the facilities and capacities that make cultural tourism viable.
Mr McCarthy: How would you describe the linkages between the arts sector and the tourism industry, particularly in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board?
Mr Livingston: We have been involved in trying to develop and strengthen those links. The strong links between cultural agencies, such as the Arts Council, and the Tourist Board are unique. There has been a history of collaboration since about 1994, and we have had a joint officer between the two agencies since 1995. That has had a number of tangible outputs. One of those is the formation of a cultural tourism partnership, which has been working on product development in the Tourist Board to achieve a degree of mainstreaming in its thinking. However, a broad range of subjects is covered by the term "cultural tourism", which includes, for example, genealogy, industrial archaeology, and Christian heritage. We have not been formally engaged in those areas.
In our work with the Tourist Board, we use our complementary skills to reinforce the efforts of each other. For example, the Tourist Board has access to international intelligence about markets, which we do not have. Without the quality market and experience that attracts visitors to Northern Ireland, there would simply be no tourism proposition. So far, the work has been undertaken in a collaborative way. Another point of significance is the next generation of integrated planning that district councils are working on for Peace II. However, I can return to that later if you wish.
The Chairperson: We have encountered a tremendous depth of enthusiasm from various groups. However, quite a few of those groups had reservations about the commitment of the Tourist Board on occasions to some of their projects. Have you found your relationship with the Tourist Board to be fruitful?
Mr Livingston: It is an evolving relationship. It is too early to describe the achievements to date as being sufficiently substantive for us to rest on our laurels. We have a lot of work to do. A recent example was the Northern Ireland Tourist Board initiative, Grow Your Business. We are now beginning to find out what attracts visitors to Northern Ireland, what are the drivers, and what we have to offer from a cultural tourism perspective that is unique. Previously, we did not have that knowledge. That work needs to be reinforced and strengthened, so that we receive the right kind of information about how to maximise the opportunity for the benefit of our cultural organisations. That will benefit both local people and visitors.
The emphasis is very much on quality experience and excellence. We must ensure that the support structures within the sector and Northern Ireland are strong to ensure that cultural organisations can take advantage of opportunities, as they arise. That refers particularly to aspects such as the condition of reception, training for facility providers and other aspects of the work that we routinely do with our clients.
The Chairperson: Without being too simplistic, are you saying that more needs to be done?
Mr Livingston: Yes.
Mrs Nelis: I have also read the submission. As part of its inquiry, the Committee recently visited Barcelona, a city that emerged from civil war and suffered mass destruction of its built heritage. That city is still involved in civil unrest. Barcelona has managed by a combination of professionalism, government and involvement of the people to put Barcelona on the tourist and cultural map. We shall move, and are trying to move, the agenda forward. We must look at the structures. Why was the responsibility for the potential passed to a partnership that was not properly constituted? I understand that that partnership is still not properly constituted. Is the issue being taken seriously? Why are the performing arts, music and traditional arts groups not established in the partnership? Has that decision been deferred?
Ms McDonough: In our initial submission we said that it is important to assemble all those whose remit may touch on cultural tourism. Nonetheless a wide range of bodies can impede progress, at which you hint. That can become cumbersome, and if the structure of the vehicle were not right to drive the initiative forward, there would inevitably be delay in achieving the objectives. In our submission we recognised that the cultural tourism partnership aspect of an unwieldy structure would need to be revisited.
That is not to say that the role and remit of those bodies is not pertinent to those objectives, so we need to reflect on getting the vehicle right. My colleague referred to the emerging and evolving relationship with the Tourist Board and that we have made some progress. There are also matters on which we can build. Given the wide-ranging terms of reference of the cultural tourism partnership that included matters outside our remit, the focus of attention was not put on the matters - to which you rightly refer - within the time constraints. Those have not yet been dealt with. We have talked in the past few months on a number of occasions to the Tourist Board, and further seminars and meetings are planned for October and November to pick up the remaining areas that have had insufficient attention.
The Deputy Chairperson: Apart from some areas in your submission, are you satisfied that the partnership has delivered? What has it delivered?
Ms McDonough: It would be invidious of me to comment on a situation that pre-dated my taking up post with the Arts Council. I stress that there is a platform upon which we can build and there are current and future opportunities. We have already referred to our work on the development of local cultural plans with the local authorities through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. These plans will provide a local vehicle for driving forward the cultural tourism potential in Northern Ireland. We have been active in taking the initiative in that arena in our work with local authorities. With the advent of Peace II and the requirement of local strategic partnerships to develop integrated plans in each of the local authority areas, that will provide an important opportunity that should not be missed. It would be our intention to continue that engagement. We have good relationships with local authorities and other partners and that is an example of how we might drive forward the initiative.
Mr Davis: Groups have asked whether the cultural product is being well enough promoted at home or abroad. What do you think the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland should be doing to promote the cultural product?
Prof Walker: We are concerned about arts facilities and resources in Northern Ireland. We have taken initiatives to act as an important starting point, such as the setting up of a web site, and we would encourage the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to make its customers more aware of that. Our local organisations would be expected to do their best to demonstrate what is going on in Northern Ireland. One example is our involvement in a month's time in an arts festival in New York - although we are not yet certain of whether that will take place yet. Several local organisations are planning to attend the event, which we hope will still take place. We would appreciate more input from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland; however, we are doing our best to promote arts.
Ms McDonough: We are conscious that it is important to not simply have a general marketing and promotion strategy. It is necessary to gather intelligence about the market and to analyse that information. We need a more focused and appropriate strategy. There is a wide age range of visitors to Northern Ireland, and they have many different backgrounds. Many travel from within these islands, but others come from further afield. There must be a more specific collation of information about the market and promotion of our cultural product. Our primary role is to strengthen the structure for obtaining that information and the quality of the arts experience. We have the additional role of promoting the work of our artists abroad. It is complementary to the role of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and its activities, but it is our main remit.
Mr Davis: Is there adequate information available to visitors arriving in Dublin?
Prof Walker: I cannot comment on that, for I do not know what information is available. I am not sure what information the Dublin Tourist Office can offer. However, I do not wish to criticise the Tourist Board. It does a difficult job, the promotion of the arts being just one area, and we are glad to help.
We play a major role, and we intend to continue publicising our activities, both locally and internationally, to complement the work of the Tourist Board.
Mr Livingston: It is also a matter of clarity concerning our respective roles and making the most effective use of available resources. It would be a scattergun approach on the part of the Arts Council if it tried to identify potential visitors to Northern Ireland whose motive to visit was primarily cultural. However, the Tourist Board is uniquely placed to obtain that kind of information. We can ensure a quality experience and good infrastructure so that they will return.
Our organisation cannot guarantee the presence of the Northern Ireland product in the minds of visitors, for we have neither the resources nor the remit to gather that intelligence.
Ms McDonough: The web site referred to earlier is art.ie, but we have also invested a significant amount of resources in 'Artslink', which is distributed widely across Northern Ireland and is gaining recognition as an important source of information. We hope such publications will contribute to the visitor experience, enabling them to access information about what is happening in the varied cultural environment.
Dr Adamson: What does the Arts Council do to support the development of a unique high-quality cultural product in Northern Ireland?
The Committee discussed the need for complementary training for the arts and tourism sectors with the arts and business group. How can the Arts Council help establish the specific needs of the arts sector to contribute better to a high-quality cultural tourism product?
Ms McDonough: We have a good working relationship with Arts & Business in Northern Ireland, an organisation funded by us. The cultural management training programme was originated by the Arts Council, which now has graduate and postgraduate degree courses at the University of Ulster. It is an example of a good initiative to provide the requisite training and skills for people.
The absence of a cultural heritage national training organisation or cultural sectoral council in Northern Ireland has a negative effect on the range of opportunities and skills needed to underpin the existing infrastructure so that visitors have a quality experience.
The council is keen to see an appropriate body develop, which can provide quality assurance of standards, bringing together the relevant players and developing courses and support mechanisms to expand our infrastructure, and I include people as well as buildings and places.
Mr Livingston: Arts & Business in Northern Ireland run a professional development programme which is a very good example. The problem is that many examples are fractured or isolated, and we cannot make progress across the whole structure unless we have some kind of development agency in the area of training. England has the means of consistently gathering information about the profile and skills needs of the sector; we do not. We have general information about its heavy dependence upon self-employed freelancers, short-contract workers, people on part-time contracts and volunteers. We do not, however, have consistent information or data to match those needs with the provision of courses in further or higher education, through Arts & Business in Northern Ireland or with sui generis tailored initiatives through our organisation or any other. The missing bit is a sector development work plan. Metier and the Cultural Heritage National Training Organisation provide that in England, Wales and Scotland, but it has not yet been bridged into Northern Ireland.
Mr Hilditch: There are several high-profile arts festivals in the Republic during the summer, attracting artists from across the world; Galway is an example. The economic and artistic impact of such events is clear. Why can we not do something similar in Northern Ireland? In Scotland, the Edinburgh Festival has redeemed an otherwise devastated tourism industry this year. Is it justifiable for the arts in Northern Ireland to slow down during the peak season?
Ms McDonough: That question is germane. We now have experience in Northern Ireland of festivals, some of them being new to the cultural landscape. An example is the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast. With some notable exceptions, the summer months appear to be the slack season. Paradoxically, that is often the season in which most visitors come to Northern Ireland. We are keen to encourage the growth of and support for local festivals to develop the visitor experience, particularly during the summer months. We fund the Belfast Festival at Queen's, and I am sure that its economic impact was mentioned in their submission. The same is true of Féile an Phobail.
There are more opportunities to be seized in that context, and we have a role to play. At local authority level we support many festivals throughout the year. The Aspects Literature Festival in Bangor, for example, is coming up shortly. We have a rolling programme of festivals all year round, often with a gap during the critical summer months.
Mr Shannon: I apologise for being late and having missed some, if not all, of your presentation. Mr Wells and I spoke to you some time ago about the assistance you give to bands. Have you been able to assist bands recently - whether pipe, brass or whatever? If so, what form has that taken? Was the assistance cross-community? What steps are you taking to increase the assistance you give to bands? We should like to see the culture involved developed.
Prof Walker: We are very pleased to help bands. There were special reasons why we were unable to help them in the past. However, those reasons have disappeared, and we are happily once more helping them.
Ms McDonough: My colleague advises that we have put £1·5 million into the band sector, which we are very pleased to do. This year we are setting up a £500,000 scheme whereby bands can apply to us for funding. We recognise, as you rightly point out, that many bands are cross-community as well as representing the diverse cultural traditions and backgrounds of Northern Ireland.
Mr Shannon: How are you making people aware of that assistance?
Ms McDonough: We have been talking to the Bands' Association. As with all our funding information, the details are also on our web site. People can download application forms and guidance notes for our range of funding schemes.
The Chairperson: How is funding for opera being divided now that Opera Northern Ireland no longer exists? Castleward Opera was to carry out the role.
Prof Walker: The money set aside for opera has remained the same in spite of the demise of Opera Northern Ireland. We increased the Castleward grant from £40,000 to £150,000 per year. The remaining £250,000 is being used to bring a major opera company to Northern Ireland each year, and in the last two years we have had opera from Wales. We also contribute towards a training scheme for opera singers.
The Chairperson: We received submissions from artists, actors and their representatives. One issue they put very starkly was that most of their best talent had to go to London, or further afield, to eke out an existence, since the programme of events in Northern Ireland was so limited. If local opera can provide the type of programme we wish, why is it necessary to bring in outside talent?
Prof Walker: Castleward already does so, and we encourage the use of local talent; our summer training scheme is an important step. One of the problems is that most of the necessary training facilities are not available in Northern Ireland. As a small community we do not have the same musical training facilities as elsewhere. Sometimes artists have to go to Dublin or London. I agree that our priority is to retain those good people.
The Chairperson: We are meeting with you later to discuss your five-year arts plan. Potential to develop locally is something we might pursue then. There is an impressive performance and track record. I am not advocating a particular company, but it would be nice to see local talent develop.
Ms McDonough: Our music officer has undertaken an analysis of opera across Ireland and will be making her report early next year. We are conscious of the difficult and precarious position of opera and the need to nurture indigenous talent. Co-operation on such matters may be a way forward, for opera is expensive, and the indigenous talent we desire to see requires a high level of subsidy.
Mr Livingston: I wish to make another point. The issue of opera is indicative of the more general problem of how to create conditions where talented artists will want to stay and work in Northern Ireland. It is important to make this point, for artists must be valued in society and receive financial recognition.
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland differ greatly in how they treat artists under the taxation system. There are concessions in the Republic available to artists under Section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act (1997) which contains exemptions in an artist's tax liability not available to artists working in Northern Ireland. It is calculated that last year the Revenue Commissioners forfeited £18 million in respect of the operation of Section 195. The underlying implication of this legislation is that artists are treated more favourably in fiscal terms and we have to work to erode the differential impact to encourage and retain artists of distinction who might otherwise leave Northern Ireland.
The Chairperson: When the Committee was in Paris before the summer, the Ministère de la Culture offered to organise a seminar in Belfast to share with professionals in the various sectors the French experience of driving forward the cultural agenda. We spoke to some people in Barcelona, and the valuable experiences Mrs Nelis referred to might be included. If this all comes to fruition, we were hoping that the Arts Council would play a major part in that seminar.
Prof Walker: I am glad that Barcelona was mentioned. I have not been there, but I have visited Glasgow and seen what the arts have done for that city. We are keen for that to happen here.
There are certain problems I wish to raise. If the arts are unhealthy, cultural tourism will not be effective. Last year we were able to reorganise our finances. Thanks to revenue from the National Lottery Fund and other sources, we were able to support a great many initiatives. We gave more to community arts, and some new theatres opened. The community welcomed that.
This year our problem is that we are unable to find new forms of revenue. So far the Government have indicated that we may stay at level funding. This is a serious problem, as last year we were unable to help a number of organisations. Large organisations have financial problems and depend on our help. We need a cost-of-living increase, but we need money over and above that to help some of the organisations such as the Ulster Orchestra, which is losing funds from Gallaher Group plc due to legislation restricting the advertisement of cigarettes. That is a serious drop of about £100,000.
The Lyric Theatre has recently experienced problems and needs money for its refurbishment. Audience attendance at the Grand Opera House was badly affected by the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.
We were pleased to set up new theatres in Londonderry, Lisburn and the Burnavon Theatre in Cookstown. However, we do not have extra money for running costs, and that is a serious problem. We need more money for both these areas and others such as disability and the arts and our independent theatre companies. As we come to the beginning of a new financial year, I am concerned that there will be dire consequences for the arts which will have a ripple effect on culture and tourism if we cannot secure extra support.
The second point concerns a matter I first raised with the Committee two and a half years ago: Belfast and Northern Ireland need an art gallery, an area where we are badly off. I am glad to say things are starting to move. I understand that the Ulster Museum is investigating the matter. However, I am concerned that the investigation may go on forever. I am concerned that there may be grand plans drawn up for a wonderful gallery costing £80 million, something which would be impracticable.
There are wonderful buildings in Belfast - such as bank headquarters and other major buildings - for which the owners are seeking alternative uses. There is much to be said for lowering our sights a little and perhaps getting something going in the immediate future, rather than waiting 20 years to raise all the money. We need a gallery; the Arts Council has a large collection of paintings which cannot be seen to their advantage since they are dispersed across Northern Ireland. The Ulster Museum has thousands of paintings in its basements. Those are treasures that belong to the community, and it is important for cultural tourism that we get a decent gallery. I ask the Committee to give the matter its urgent attention. The Arts Council is one player, holding just some of the collections. The major player is the Ulster Museum.
The Chairperson: The Committee Clerk and I met with the chairperson and chief executive of the Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland (MAGNI). We listened to some exciting ideas of theirs concerning moving things forward. While we have not yet dealt with the matter in the Committee, we have taken note.
Things are beginning to move, and the Committee would be more than supportive of the idea. We recognise there is a tremendous collection of local art in the Ulster Museum but no space to hang it; it is therefore of no great use or value to those who wish to experience and study it. That major area must be addressed.
Your mention of funding is timely. The Committee will approach the inquiry as a major issue, and it has gathered some ideas about funding arrangements; they may or may not form part of the recommendations. In addition to that, you have an immediate problem, and I am sure that you may decide to lobby further when you leave the meeting.
Prof Walker: We hope to put out a press release about our meeting here today. Would that be all right?
The Chairperson: Yes.
Mr McCarthy: We are all interested in the success of the Belfast's application to become the European City of Culture in 2008. Are you critical of any aspects of it in your submission? Should the Committee be doing something to help Belfast's application?
Ms McDonough: The art gallery to which I referred would lift the scale, vision and impact of our bid.
Mr Livingston: It strengthens the case.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much. It was a useful contribution to our inquiry. We shall put this together and make a set of recommendations, which we can ask the Minister and the Department to implement.
Thursday 11 October 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Dr A McGinley ) Department of Culture,
Mr J Palmer ) Arts and Leisure
The Chairperson: Welcome to the Committee. We have set ourselves a lot of business this morning, so we must be expeditious with the time available. I am glad that you were able to attend. Although the Minister cannot be here, he sends his regrets to the Committee. The Committee feels it is important to proceed, and as most of the work falls to you, we can move the procedures along rather than delay them. As you are aware, we are always concerned about delays in consultation, and you may hear more about that as we proceed.
The first issue is the inquiry. Usually there is an opportunity for a few short comments and then Members can ask questions. We will set about half an hour for that, and then there may be time for further discussion.
Dr McGinley: We welcome the fact that the Committee is paying attention to this topic, which the Department identified at the outset as a cross-domain, cross-cutting issue. Due to the Department's nature, this topic is firmly embedded in our corporate strategy for both our core and external goals. The Department's work is building a positive image that will attract tourists. This will be achieved through the work of the Northern Ireland Events Company, angling, waterways, fisheries, the promotion of our natural assets and our information and cultural heritage.
There has been growing recognition of the importance of cultural tourism during the last five years. The Committee will be aware of the Myerscough report, 'Arts and the Northern Ireland Economy' (1996), and the work on the cultural sector development opportunity that was carried out with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), the Arts Council for Northern Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Film Commission. I will not go into that in detail.
The gross domestic product (GDP) for tourism in Northern Ireland is 1·6%, but in the South it is 6·4%, which is worth £2·5 billion. Although there is opportunity for tourism in general, a new opportunity for cultural tourism is emerging. We accept the definition of cultural tourism given by the report on the development opportunities for tourism. The Department is still grappling with the definition of "visitor amenities". Our definition of "visitor amenities" is any service or facility that is used by, or exists for, the benefit of visitors. This is an issue with which we have been grappling unsuccessfully. We await the outcome of the Committee's report, because we do not want to pre-empt your detailed work, which will be invaluable to us.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has four goals. For example, in the area of increasing participation, museums are already generating just under 500,000 visitors per year. However, only about 18% - according to the 1991 figures - are visitors from outside Northern Ireland. This area is ripe in potential. Putting those figures against the ambitious plans of Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland (MAGNI) for £153 million in capital investment to develop their product, there is an economy of scale that must be managed.
The Northern Ireland Events Company has been successful in levering six or seven times the investment. In 1998 to 2000 the investment of a grant of £1·6 million levered approximately £11 million into the local economy through the support and development of events. For example, the World Irish Dancing Championships attracted 14,000 competitors and spectators, 50% of whom were from outside Northern Ireland. They spent approximately £2·8 million during the three or four days of the event. Up-and-coming events include the MTV awards, which will be held here in 2003 if we can secure it. That will guarantee 7,000 bed nights in one week. There is real opportunity in this area, and events can straddle culture in the broadest sense.
In the area of preservation and making available our cultural and information resources, the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has a genealogy product that is underdeveloped. The Department has highlighted this in our corporate strategy. I will not go into detail about the Ordinance Survey of Northern Ireland (OSNI), but I will share some information about it. We carried out an analysis of map sales since 1995. In 1995, pre-ceasefire, map sales were low, but doubled the following year - the year of the ceasefire - when all tourism increased. Foot-and-mouth disease has had a dramatic effect on map sales this year. It may not sound important, but the sale of maps does chronicle the context we are in.
Ultach Trust has spoken to the Committee on language, and we are supportive of its suggestion that the Department undertakes an audit and review of language as a cultural tourism product. We have also embedded a sense of cultural tourism in the Programme for Government, although that could be stronger. The vision for arts and culture, under the international section, highlighted issues such as the trade missions undertaken by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment should automatically include a cultural tourism element, which is starting to happen and is very welcome.
Regarding the terms of reference, there are weaknesses in the current system. The 1998 report, "The Cultural Sector: A Development Opportunity for Tourism in Northern Ireland", was very good, but issues of communication proved to be problematic. There is evidence that infrastructure is underdeveloped and underfunded. It is difficult when two organisations take joint responsibility, because there needs to be a leader and a clear pathway. We feel that there is not sufficient emphasis on product development, targets, outputs, actions, milestones, et cetera. We have a cultural product, but it is very parochial and fragmented, and it has not been marketed as an international product, so a lot needs to be done. There should also be a dedicated officer with responsibility for this, and whether that person is from the Arts Council or the NITB would have to be determined. Training and development also needs to be looked at. People are our cultural ambassadors, especially for "Welcome Host". We need to get local people involved in the delivery of the tourism product.
The museums system offers a unique product in Northern Ireland, and we have future potential with the development of Titanic Quarter. There is also regular theatre and concert programming, the development of audiences - locally and internationally - and the festival framework. We have a richness of cultural festivals, and the Belfast Festival at Queen's -starting its fortieth year - is the second largest festival after Edinburgh and is competing on an international stage. There are also the traditional arts, the Fleánna, and the dance and craft sector. There is a rich and diverse heritage of literature, poetry and drama. Some of the summer schools in Northern Ireland are of international standing, including John Hewitt International Summer School and Carleton Summer School. Visual arts is an area of growth, although we are not as strong in it as some of the other art forms. Public sculpture and painting is beginning to develop, including the history of wall murals, et cetera. The Peace Square in Belfast and our version of the Angel of the North sculpture create the ambience and context. There is also the whole heritage asset of the Province. Many of our monuments are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, and there is a real product there for development. It also creates North/South opportunities for marketing that product.
The third area is the support for cultural activities. I have divided it into two key issues. One is the deficits and problems we face, such as the ageing infrastructure. The Ulster Hall/Group Theatre, the Grand Opera House, the Lyric Theatre, the Crescent Arts Centre, the Old Museum Arts Centre, and the Cathedral Quarter - what do we do about filling them? There is also the Navan Centre, the Armagh Planetarium, the Somme Heritage Centre, and Fernhill House, all issues that you are well aware of. There is a real core issue that shows the historic underfunding, and the deteriorating and declining infrastructure.
On the other hand, there are the wonderful new facilities such as the Millennium Theatre in Derry, and new theatres in Armagh and Omagh. There is the question of sustainability for local councils. How can the same audience be shared? Audience development is a key issue. The "Capital of Culture" competition gives an important cross-sectoral, and regional opportunity. Glasgow, ten years later, is now the third most visited tourist destination in the UK. That shows that it is a marketing brand, and by pulling together cultural aspects, you can trigger the economy and maintain it - that is the important thing. It is not a flash in the pan if it is done properly. It is about maintaining it.
We must modernise our infrastructure and address the issue of sustainability. There are opportunities. For example there is the Peace II programme, and in particular priority 4, which is "outward and forward looking region". There is approximately £12·5 million available for tourism. I am concerned because it had been strongly cultural heritage and arts, and it has become watered down. We must ensure that money is ring-fenced in that for arts and cultural tourism. It is heartening that both the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development and the Department for Social Development in their measures - particularly priority 2 - have highlighted culture as product. We are getting somewhere, but it is still a matter of searching for it instead of it being up front.
While tourism is the responsibility of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Tourist Board, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has an important role to play. We have proven that we can be a co-ordinating force on other initiatives such as unlocking creativity, et cetera, and we can provide a focus for cross-cutting work. We need a strategic vision with a long-term view, and we are hoping that the Committee's work will help to create that.
We must involve people at the lowest levels - right down to the local level - as cultural ambassadors, working with the layers of tourism, the regional tourism organisations and in the district council areas. We must work with the 400 facilities that separate out into six categories - identified by the work of the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) - which can be classified as cultural facilities. That is a huge physical resource that has not been managed or co-ordinated to date. We must address the problems of communication, co-ordination, competitiveness, infrastructure, product and training issues.
On the positive side, the Committee's handling of this shows that devolved Government can take an issue such as cultural tourism and shake it - making it into something that is strategic and can cross all Departments. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is ready to play its part in response to the report. The partnerships are there; people are willing to work, but there has not been a focus before.
There are opportunities through technology, web sites and new forms of marketing. We feel that the whole unlocking creativity agenda, the support for the creative industries sector, and crafts is a new area that is also going to stimulate product and the showcasing of Northern Ireland. It shows that cultural tourism can be a positive catalyst for change. It is about changing the image of Northern Ireland and re-presenting it. That is what is new. We, in the Department, see that as our role, and we want to be guided by the work that the Committee has put into the inquiry.
Mr J Wilson: There is a view that in developing and marketing culture as an attraction to tourists there are too many players on the pitch - is that true? Is the linkage between the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the cultural sector and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board effective in promoting culture, or is it an impediment to progress?
Dr McGinley: That is the nub of the question. If anything, it has got more confusing because now with Tourism Ireland Ltd - the North/South body - the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte are still unclear about what their roles are going to be in the new agenda. Having worked in the tourism sector in my former post, and having worked closely with the Tourist Board, it is my personal opinion that it has lost its way since devolution. That is not to say that it cannot get back on track. There has been some good work done, and the cultural sector report is an excellent report but it was never actioned.
There is no harm in having layers, provided that everyone knows what their role is and how they should interact with each other. Everyone must also sign up to an agreed strategic direction and vision. That is where this has fallen down - the situation has been one of "ad hocery". One person has overseen some parts of the process, while another has overseen other parts. The Department has been afraid to trespass, for want of a better term, as we do not have statutory authority for tourism. However, much of the work that the Department has done in the area of product development is what people want to see happening.
In the last couple of weeks, I have spoken to Roy Bailie, chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and Bruce Robinson, the permanent secretary in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. I have also set up an early appointment with the new chief executive, Alan Clarke. He is from rural Scotland and was involved with Glasgow when it was the European City of Culture. That background makes me hopeful that they can be guided.
The Tourist Board produced an excellent paper in February for peace money. The paper embedded a real understanding of cultural tourism and heritage, and of museum support. I am very disappointed that the paper has disappeared - the Department is still trying to find out how that happened. The Department and the Arts Council are trying to find out where the paper disappeared to.
Structures can work if there is clarity. It is not for me to say that tourism should be the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. I know that there is a debate about that, which has been ongoing since the earliest days of devolution. However, if the roles are clear the Department can work in partnership with the Tourist Board. We have not done that effectively yet, partly because it has been difficult just to find out who was responsible for what in the Tourist Board. By accident rather than design, a situation, has come about whereby the Tourist Board cannot keep dropping the ball for much longer -a real opportunity to make progress has now presented itself.
Mr J Wilson: You spoke about working in partnership, which is always a grand idea. However, this is the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure - does the Department not have a role in banging heads together?
Dr McGinley: It certainly does.
Mr J Wilson: This morning, Seamus McKee, who was speaking about another subject, said that the involvement of so many Departments was a recipe for buck-passing.
Dr McGinley: That is absolutely true. The creativity agenda is an example of a situation where this Department has had to take the lead. It is difficult when the statutory responsibility lies with another Department, and it is not my prerogative to move in to that area. However, there comes a time when a decision must be made about which Department is responsible, or should be responsible. The Committee's report will be helpful in this area. I will share a comic aside with you. I was recently given the following definition of partnership: the mutual suspension of loathing in pursuit of resources. That is very apt in certain instances. Partnership is not easy. However, it is right to bang people's heads together. If someone will not take responsibility, we must find someone who will. The Department is prepared to play its part, but this is a sensitive issue because tourism is not the statutory responsibility of this Department. That is the dilemma. The Department has been jockeying, but it might have been too nice. Maybe it is now "gloves-off time".
Mr McCarthy: The Committee has heard from several groups that Northern Ireland's cultural product is not well promoted, either at home or abroad. Who should take the lead and what should they do?
Dr McGinley: That is a difficult question. In its corporate strategy, the Department set itself the goal of producing and co-ordinating a marketing strategy for our cultural product. We have put down a marker, but the problem is that the Department does not have the marketing experience. The Tourist Board has that expertise. The Department could take a lead on that issue with the benefit and help of the Tourist Board's expertise.
The Department is also waiting to see what Tourism Ireland Ltd is going to do with regard to marketing the cultural product. I have had discussions with my counterpart in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and The Islands (DAHGI) in the South, which has control of the historic monuments. They have said that they would be happy to jointly market products that are common to both. So the Department has made some small moves, but you rightly say that it has not done so in a strategic way. The Department has set itself the goal of initiating the strategy by the end of next year. The identification of the product, the further development of the product and the process of bringing together what already exists, are all part of the marketing effort. It is a very big job and the Department must also deal with the issue of resource implications. It is an unavoidable task. The museum sector is already feeling the strain, for example, the Navan Centre.
Mr McCarthy: In its submission, the Department commits itself to the early development of a marketing strategy to promote awareness of Northern Ireland's rich cultural treasures. What progress has been made in that area so far?
Dr McGinley: The Department has applied to Executive programme funds for funding for a joint cultural web site between the Linen Hall Library and the Nerve Centre, which will involve IT marketing. I recommend the Committee look at their excellent pilot web site. It is intended that the web site be used as an interactive marketing tool for all culture, arts and leisure products, but that depends on whether we get the resources through Executive programme funds. The bid - which we hope is a strong one - has been submitted under 'Modernising Government', and is being considered at the moment. That is the most tangible example I can offer of the development of a marketing strategy.
Mr McCarthy: Some people who gave evidence to the Committee told us that measured baseline information is poor, particularly in relation to audience and visitor numbers. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland told the Committee that it was working closely with the Department in that area. What will be done to improve that position?
Dr McGinley: We will visit the Committee early next month to discuss the Programme for Government and public service agreements (PSAs). Our deadline to achieve the PSA baselines is the end of October. Last year, we asked to be let off the hook for a year because we had no information whatsoever. I am pleased to report that we now have some information. I would venture that our targets are among the best and most grounded of all PSA targets.
Research and Evaluation Services (RES) are carrying out an omnibus survey of 1,000 households across the Province on our behalf, to get baseline information on attitudes towards the use of culture, arts and leisure facilities, including museums, libraries and leisure centres. The results of the survey will provide baseline information. We have also been working with the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
The cultural forum group that advises the Department, which has representatives from district councils, education and library boards and the lottery distributors, are helping to steer that research work. Those bodies have huge amounts of information that has never been brought together before and we are trying to collate that information. We are piloting sport as an area of in-depth analysis for baseline statistics, with a roll-out over the next year and a half for other areas. The omnibus survey is a starting point that will provide us with high-level information, and I hope the Committee will have that information within the next 6 to 8 weeks. We are carrying out that work as part of our PSAs, and working closely with non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).
Mr Shannon: A recurring theme of cultural destination has emerged from evidence the Committee has heard. What are the barriers to increasing the number of visitors from out of state? Can we make any major changes to increase those numbers?
Dr McGinley: The major problem is Northern Ireland's negative image. The Republic of Ireland's tourist figures are four times higher than ours, though we share the same geographical location. That is due to people's negative perception. The 1995 analysis of tourist visitors shows that there was a huge surge in visitor numbers because people felt it was safe to visit here. Apathy has set in because of the prolonged, protracted process of devolution, which we all hope will continue to be successful. That uncertainty is difficult to cope with.
The answer lies with the product. Tourists will visit here if they have an interest in genealogy, the arts and literature, and any concerns that they may have about the location are overridden. The experience with the cruiser product in Fermanagh has proven that. There has been a solid cruiser product for 25 years, even during the troubles, because German and French tourists came for the angling and boating. If there is sufficient interest in the product, and it is good quality, people will come to see it. That is how we can overcome the negative image. We must create excellent cultural products that will attract international visitors who are interested in the product, not where it is located. Once we attract visitors we have no problem encouraging them to return. The problem is attracting them in the first place.
Mr Shannon: Has the Northern Ireland Events Company's role in that been effective?
Dr McGinley: The Northern Ireland Events Company is a new organisation with small resources. The review that was done last year shows that it was able to trigger £6 for every £1 invested. However, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is up against the likes of the Republic of Ireland Government who are contributing £10 million for the 2005 Ryder Cup. That event will generate 250,000 visitors. That is a huge battle for the Department to fight.
The Events Company is now planning for events up to 2008, but one needs assurance of the money to take the risk to go to a promoter. The process must be carried out at arm's length from Government because a Government Department could not negotiate with promoters in the same way as a company can. When going after a major event the company representatives cannot cross their fingers and hope that the money will be made available. It does not work that way.
There needs to be security for the Events Company. It has worked well with its limited resources, but the strategic plan shows what its potential would be if it received more resources. The Events Company was disappointed that its allocation in this year's Budget was cut from that of last year. However, it could be refined and the Minister is looking at the composition of the board and its operation. The support for events is proven as a key generator of income and attractiveness to the public.
Mrs Nelis: You mentioned the 1995 figures and the surge. I believe that the North of Ireland has missed the opportunity of representing itself as a centre for peace development. The perception of the North of Ireland as a difficult and divided place still remains. What can the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure do to deal with that and create a more positive image? This is particularly important considering the current global conflict, which means that we are going to lose American visitors - a big tourist market for us - who might not travel for the next two years or so.
Dr McGinley: Part of the reason that the Minister is going to New York is to show empathy with the Americans, even though planning for the event has been taking place over the past three years. He is the first Minister from the Assembly to visit America since 11 September. There was a risk that the visit would be called off, but the Department decided against that. It is almost ironic that the Ulster Orchestra is opening the event.
Through business meetings we told the Americans that we would cancel or reschedule the visit, considering the circumstances. We cancelled part of the programme, but there is a sense of empathy and understanding between the Department and the Americans with whom it is dealing. The Department should build on that. Our community has come through the same problems over a longer period and we have learned lessons about peace building and peace growth.
Without manipulating or being mercenary the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure can give something back. There is a moral product that should be developed. One of the things that the Minister is hoping to talk about as part of his promotion for Belfast as Capital of Culture is that New York and Sarajevo be partners on the bid. That was not the mindset before 11 September but now the situation has changed. New York has become a place that has suffered and has a lot to give.
There are fundamental problems in the community that must be addressed, and a lot of those are about respect and understanding for other cultures. It is hoped that the work that the Department is doing on cultural diversity through Diversity 21 will in a small but proactive way create a cultural product because it is addressing very difficult issues. If we can continue to support that work, we build from the bottom up. The other thing to remember is that there are very few places in the world that are not touched in some way or other. We are honest about this place, and what it is about. Ironically, there is a natural curiosity about that as well.
The product is a rich one. Michael Longley says that culture lies at the confluence of conflict. I asked him if we have peace, do we go downhill - he laughed and said no. There is an irony when you look at the talent and richness that we have here. Part of it is about the context that our people have grown up in. We need to showcase that. It stands up to world scrutiny and is working on a number of levels.
As a Department, we work solidly at a local level to build up that respect and understanding, and to showcase culture, be it Irish, Ulster-Scots, minority language or whatever. On another level, we can offer our learning experience internationally in support of others who are suffering in a similar way.
Mrs Nelis: My other question is about the concept of modernising infrastructure. We are looking at how we can adopt a more cohesive approach to some of the problems of sustainability that have been experienced by our heritage and visitor centres. That is important, because that is our product.
The front page of the local Derry newspaper today asks a very important question about the sustainability of the new, widely acclaimed Millennium Forum theatre, which you mentioned. The Department is operating on a very small budget. Why are we so fragmented in our approach? How can we get all the key players together? Visitors are coming to such a small place, and they are going to the Somme Centre and Fernhill House. They should also be encouraged to visit the Tower Museum in Derry. What is the Department doing to get the key players together?
Dr McGinley: We inherited all the skeletons. I do not think that anybody realised the extent of underinvestment in the infrastructure. Navan Fort and the Planetarium are closed because of funding issues. We are fighting extremely hard, and the Minister is batting strongly. We have managed to establish a better case for museums and libraries in the current year. Arts and sports, however, are seriously underfunded.
Strategically, the comprehensive spending review (CSR) provides the Department with an opportunity to prove what our baseline should be. I will be sharing figures with you on historical underfunding. We need to establish a sustaining baseline, but we also need to get Government to recognise the deficit situation. All we are doing every year is recycling the same problem. We are starting to win through with the Department of Finance and Personnel. The Minister does have the sympathy of his Colleagues.
I am quite worried about venues. The Arts Council have reconfigured their grant schemes to try and support councils through lottery funds, and that will be of some help. We are encouraging them to do that strategically. We are working closely with district councils, and ran a series of 10 workshops in August with all 26 district councils to write the culture, leisure and arts strategies for the new integrated area plans and for the local strategic partnerships. At a local level, district councils are going to be of key importance.
The Independent Theatre Producers Group came to me a few weeks ago. They have a product that they could tour with, which would bring events to local theatres. However, there is a fundamental breakdown there, because they do not have the money to tour. There are many issues that need to be addressed. The only way we are going to realise other money is by district councils raising it on the rates. I know you are all shuddering at that prospect.
We have a limited opportunity under peace and reconciliation money, but the real crunch is going to come within the next four years, when there is no alternative to that. As a Department, we are trying to engage with Europe on programmes that are non-peace source structural funds. We have been lazy in Northern Ireland about going for the initiatives that other parts of Europe have gone for. I also think that there are opportunities in the private sector and we must become more hard headed. At the beginning of November the Northern Ireland Events Company is holding a seminar for key corporate businesses to see whether they can put serious money into supporting events. It is about chipping away, as best we can. Some of the development work could be achieved under the private finance initiative.
Mrs Nelis: What about the tax breaks and other incentives provided by the Republic of Ireland? I feel that we need to do something similar.
Dr McGinley: Yes. We would welcome the Committee making such recommendations because that would support the findings of the future search conference and 'Face to Face'. The difficulty is that this is a reserved matter. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport have been put under pressure in the UK. Some subtle changes in taxation have helped artists; namely the ability to spread income over a number of years. However, taxation was the most important item mentioned by artists. I do not know if we are ever going to be able to compete with the South.
I do not know whether the Committee can lobby the Assembly on this matter. I believe the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment raised the matter under the banner of creative industries a few months ago. It is all about building a lobby to influence tax breaks. However, the Treasury would have to be engaged. The more support the Committee can give us, the more important the issue will become.
Mr McMenamin: When we visited America we discovered that private sector sponsorship plays a major role in promoting the arts. Has the Department raised this as an issue? In view of the current world crisis should the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment not be planning to jointly promote tourism within the island of Ireland? As Mrs Nelis pointed out, we are not going to be having visitors from America.
Dr McGinley: We have made a bid to the Executive programme funds to establish a public-private partnership unit within the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to concentrate on opportunities for stimulating private sector investment. The Northern Ireland Events Company has had some success with private sector sponsorship, but we need to do a lot more.
I mentioned that Tourism Ireland Ltd is a new organisation. We have to convince tourists to come here at an early stage, and the cultural product is a way to do it. We could double the number of tourists coming to Northern Ireland if tourism North and South were treated as a common product. It has been established that people come to Ireland for culture and we should be building on that fact.
Mr McMenamin: I was really thinking about how the North could attract people already living in the island.
Dr McGinley: I have always been critical of the Tourist Board for not supporting domestic holidaymakers. There will have to be a fundamental re-think about who our visitors are now that the world market has changed.
Mr McCarthy: During our trip to Boston, we visited a renovated cotton mill in the city of Lowell. The Committee has been concerned about the closure of many of Northern Ireland's historic mills. Are there any plans to tackle this issue?
Dr McGinley: The Minister has taken a personal interest in the Titanic Quarter and is trying to make sure that the old drawing offices, which are wonderful buildings at risk of being knocked down, can survive. In this instance we can only provide influence. The Giant's Causeway and the developments at Navan are further examples where we are not the main Department involved, but are trying our best to influence others. A great weakness is that the Department of the Environment does not have the money to match the lottery funds that can enable people to restore mills and other heritage properties. We are in danger of losing a lot of our built heritage because there is no strategic approach. The review of local museums, which is due out soon, criticises the fact that there is no heritage strategy for Northern Ireland. We are losing heritage without knowing it.
Dr Adamson: If resources were not a problem, what would the key priority be to enable Northern Ireland to deliver a world class cultural tourism product? My suggestion would be bringing up most of the Titanic and putting it in a huge Titanic museum in my constituency, which would raise millions of pounds.
Dr McGinley: The Minister feels very strongly that the Titanic story is one of international significance. We are negotiating with the Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland who have very ambitious plans. The first task is to get the current infrastructure up to scratch while looking at new products that fill the gaps. International stories such as the Titanic are exactly the type of product we need to develop.
The Chairperson: Thank you.
18 October 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Peto ) The Nerve Centre
The Chairperson: I welcome Mr John Peto, cultural development officer of the Nerve Centre, to this meeting. Witnesses usually take a few minutes to explain a bit about themselves and their submission, and then Members ask questions.
Mr Peto: I represent the Nerve Centre, which is a multimedia arts and education centre based here in the city. Some of you may be aware of its work. To put the Nerve Centre in context, it is important to look at the history of the organisation first. This will help make a bit more sense of what we are doing now.
The organisation started 11 or 12 years ago, and grew out of the North West Musicians Collective, a group of young musicians based here in the city. They were a bit disenchanted with the opportunities available for young people in the city, because the troubles were raging and the city centre was basically closed off in the evenings. They were finding that the places where they wanted to work, to rehearse and record music were either owned by bars or the church, both of which had certain problems. The church would not allow certain types of music to be played in their facilities, and were restrictive over access. Using bars as venues meant that you could not separate the music from drink, and people in the town were aware that drink might not be the best thing to expose young people to. They set up a group called the Musicians Collective, where they could work together to develop a space to play and perform their music. The Nerve Centre grew out of this.
While the group was working on that, it met the people who established Derry Film and Video Workshop, who were like-minded creative people. The groups joined together to create a fusion of music and video which formed a melting pot of young, creative energy. They began to look at what was going on in the town and to make films and music that examined the political situation. The groups tried to give youth a voice so that people could move away from the traditional political voices - no offence intended. The members of the group began to look at cultural elements and Irish history - the stories they were told when they were growing up, and the environment that they had grown up in. This was a bottom-up initiative by ordinary people who had obtained funding on a piecemeal basis to establish the centre.
Over the past five or six years, the group has branched out from music and video into multi-media and computer technologies, particularly CD-ROMS and web sites, to bring youth culture and alternative voices and histories to the area. The group has also moved into community-relations work. It seeks to reinvent or re-explain histories - to move away from textbooks and inaccessible explanations and mediums. The group wants to use CD-ROMS, web sites, music, animations and cartoons so that schoolchildren can literally draw their own histories. For example, people can recreate the Battle of the Boyne or the Easter Rising through their own eyes and experiences so that history becomes more accessible.
Through that work, the group has become increasingly aware of other communities' perceptions of the North. It has started to use technology and multi-media to reinvent images of Northern Ireland. Currently, those images are of a conflict zone. The group began to use multi-media for this project to provide a different view of the North, and to show Northern Ireland as a cultural centre. The conflict can either be seen in an entirely negative way because people have polarised themselves and killed each other; or people can see that, although such things have occurred, the two communities have strong, vibrant identities which they have shown through many forms of cultural and creative expression. The conflict and the violence have been a manifestation of diversity, but diversity has shown itself in many other ways, and the group is trying to demonstrate that. The unique experience of the fusion of Irish and British identities in the North has created an identity that is different from the Republic and the UK. The group feels that Northern Ireland is a culturally alive and vibrant place which is often overlooked because it is seen as a place of conflict and violence.
The group has begun to develop a web site called culturenorthernireland, which is still in the pilot stages. The idea is to put Northern Irish culture onto a free-standing platform. The web site will not consist of two pages from the Tourist Board's web site that look at the poetry of Seamus Heaney or Michael Longley. The group focused on what made Northern Irish culture what it is. The first thing that it noticed was the 'local' in Northern Irish culture. The group developed a template of nearly 300 different localities in Northern Ireland, which will hopefully encompass every village, town and city in the North. It wants to move away from the traditional focus on metropolitan Belfast, Derry and, to an extent, Armagh, and show that Northern Ireland is, largely, a rural community. All of those 300 communities have been engaged in cultural production, whether that is needlework, high art, sculpture, music or film.
The group is trying to provide a platform so that people can search, by locality through a map interface, for different areas, counties and towns, and look at their different cultural productions. This is not restricted to reactions to the troubles. As we know, the troubles affect about 10% or 20% of our lives, although politicians are affected more. Most people's daily lives and cultural activities are not dominated by the conflict. Therefore, the group is trying to show everything - Northern Ireland has a conflict, but it also has a lot of other things going for it.
We have broken up the different categories of information that we will explore on the site. We will look at: the idea of cultural icons; key historic moments; museums; cultural experiences; townlands; historic sites and monuments; Northern Ireland's international role; sport; events; the natural world; industry and agriculture and the idea of a culture shop.
In each of those different sections, we have established a number of partnerships to deliver the information. We do not pretend that we, in the Nerve Centre, have any great knowledge of in-depth culture - of local culture across Northern Ireland. So, we have decided to break the project down and to get the experts in their sectors to contribute the information and link it all together. The key to the site is linking these different categories of information together; locality is the link between them.
To use a local example, if you were to come to Derry, you could go and look at the Creggan Estate. You would have come to that through the local framework. Among general Creggan information is a button that says "museums". That allows entry to a museum. The example that we have on our pilot is a boxing glove from Charlie Nash - a Creggan man who fought for the world championships in 1981. That is perhaps not a direct and obvious link to your average tourist. Once they have pressed the button and entered the museum, they can read more about Charlie Nash. We have an interview with Charlie Nash on the site; it is an aural interview that takes you into a cultural icon of the city. That also links into key historic moments because he fought for his world title in 1981, at a time of political turmoil here, before the hunger strikes.
Someone who has heard of Creggan can go from one basic entry point for that locality through a sphere of different cultural influences - via Charlie Nash. When they are in Creggan they will also see articles on emigration that will take them into the international context, and then back into art via a new sculpture down on the quay by Lochy Morris, a local artist, which is supposed to represent a series of skyscrapers. It is a testament to the history of this place.
The idea is that these circles are repeated all over the site, so that by going in through one access point, you open up the whole sphere of cultural information in Northern Ireland. The site covers all areas of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's work, but also that of other Government Departments. For example, the Department of the Environment is working on historic sites and monuments with us.
The site works on a number of levels, but the typical tourist is particularly interested in historic sites and monuments. Our data and recent research show that people come here to see Celtic forts and other such things. We are also trying to use modern historic sites and monuments, such as the 'Free Derry' wall or 'Freedom Corner' on the Newtownards Road - sites that have grown and become historic through the conflict. We want to feature popular culture as well as high art and culture.
Possibly the biggest or most strategically important area of the site is the museums section. Through the Northern Ireland Museums Council, we have worked a pilot scheme with 12 local museums so far. They each gave us 10 or 12 objects from their collections, and we have put those onto the site. The idea is to create a digital archive of Northern Ireland's cultural heritage. Some museums in Ballymoney and North and South Down have objects relating to the 1798 rebellion. We can put together a virtual exhibition on the site of the 1798 rebellion through different museums. A key partner in the site is the Linen Hall Library, which is also the key centre for the 1798 rebellion. We have built up a huge 1798 resource by connecting different data. That can be done with almost anything. For example, the Ballymena Museum has given us some great early Ulster-Scots poetry. Ours is the only site which puts this poetry together with the historical and international context of immigration and plantation to show where the Ulster-Scots tradition has come from and how it has developed in Northern Ireland. As well as seeing and reading about this, you can press a button on the web site and hear someone reading a poem in Ulster-Scots.
I am sure that you have all had the pleasure of meeting Lord Laird, who normally introduces himself in Ulster-Scots. It is very unusual to hear Ulster-Scots being spoken anywhere. It is generally experienced as a written dialect. The web site allows information to be brought on and presented in a new way.
The web site is the project at the Nerve Centre which is most relevant to cultural tourism. However, there are also a number of other projects. The Nerve Centre is also a music venue, in keeping with its roots in the musicians' collective. As local representatives here can testify, the north-west has suffered from a dearth of decent musical venues. The Rialto and other well-known places have tended to be mainstream in their focus.
At the Nerve Centre, we have tried to foster a broader concept of youth culture, to bring in young bands and to provide a focus for young people in the area that is different from a night out at the pub. We have hosted some big bands: Ash, Gomez, Hothouse Flowers, JJ72, and David Gray. There have also been a lot of DJs - the Nerve Centre has become a dance music venue. We have hopefully offered something new; not just to people in the north-west, but also to those from further afield. Shane McGowan, the former lead singer of the Pogues, played his only gig of the year there. That brought people in from Dublin and from all over the island. That important element of cultural tourism adds to the array of attractions for visitors to the north-west.
The Foyle Film Festival is the longest-running film festival in Northern Ireland. There is some competition from Belfast, which staged a film festival last month. The Foyle Film Festival, subtitled the Northern Ireland International Film Festival, starts in November and is one of a dozen selection festivals for the Oscars. It is now in its fourteenth year. Staff at the visitor and convention bureau in the city will say that it consistently brings people into the city. It establishes the city as a cultural centre, and moves away from the more traditional and historical images of Derry - the walls and the conflict - that certainly attracted many people to the city. It adds another string to the city's bow. It is a key cultural tourism project.
The other project is the Energy Field's series of enhanced CDs. John O'Neill, the songwriter from the Undertones, works for us in the Nerve Centre. The Undertones were key drivers behind the development of the whole Nerve Centre site. O'Neill has been engaged in a project to look at local rural musicians. It is very hard to get a break in the music industry anyway, but if you are not in Belfast or Derry then your chances are extremely limited. He has been funded by the Rural Development Council to spot talent among local rural bands, which are then given a professional recording. There is a recording studio in the building. We also film a video for them, using our trainees from the film and video course. An enhanced CD is put out, which is then marketed locally. The CD is also taken to different music shows and trade shows around the world to put Northern Irish music on the map again and to establish a presence. One barrier to Irish music is that people see it as traditional and deedlie-dee. We are trying to establish a presence for Northern Irish youth culture and young music on the international stage. Those are our core projects.
The final project, which we are only involved in on a design level, is the Northern Ireland Film Commission's digital archive of film here. The commission has come up with the idea of building an archive of film that will be accessible through a computer. Because of our multi-media experience and track record, the commission asked us to design and program a way of digitising 60 hours of film onto one computer. We have done that, and the archive is now being used. I am sure that you are all familiar with it. There is one outside the Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister's office. We have designed a series of education packages around it, because it can tie in with things like our 'Symbols' CD-ROM to show that we can use it as a cultural tourism vehicle as well as an educational vehicle. It shows how cultural expressions, on this occasion through film, have come from the environment that has been created here. We are using it to teach history, but also to teach citizenship under the new citizenship module that has come in to replace education for mutual understanding (EMU).
That archive is another key project in the development of cultural tourism. That is because of the programmes that we can attach to it, but also because it is in our centre and in six other centres around Northern Ireland. People who visit us can see that archive. It is like a mini-museum - it is a kiosk that people can come and visit - and they do. It is marketed as such, and it works on that level.
The 'Symbols' CD-ROM also works on that level. The first in that series is about 1916, and it explains the history of the Somme and of the Easter Rising. As well as explaining their history, it also shows cultural responses to those events in the form of music, poetry, song, and art. Beadle's painting of the Somme is a key example of that. They are all on the CD-ROM; it is sent around the world, and people can see those cultural responses to political and historical situations. That has a key function in the cultural tourism sector.
The Chairperson: That is interesting, and the Committee sees that that provides a link-up that is missing from the cultural tourism package.
Mr McMenamin: Thank you for your presentation. Your web site sounds very interesting. What are the links between The Nerve Centre and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board?
Mr Peto: We have a history of co-operation with the Tourist Board. The web site - culturenorthernireland - on which we are working grew from a project called 'Local Ireland'. That was a private sector site that was developed in Dublin, and we came across it. They were working on a similar locality framework, but theirs was overtly tourism-focused, with leaping leprechauns, plastic Irish and paddy whackery. We saw a function for that, as it would allow us to develop the framework for our site. We then approached the Tourist Board for joint funding, and it came on board as a partner. That was a catalyst in getting the site going. They identified the different localities that we would then feature on the site and that are now under 'culturenorthernireland'. Through its research and data, the Tourist Board picked out the sites with key tourism interest, such as the places that people visit. It has helped on that level. That project was funded through Proteus (NI) Ltd., which had a key role. Subsequent to that, and with the development of 'culturenorthernireland', we approached potential sponsors and have spoken to them.
We see ourselves as having a fairly holistic approach, and I am sure that the Tourist Board sees itself in the same way, but it has just spent £4 million on its web site, 'discovernorthernireland'. Four pages on that web site are devoted to cultural tourism, and we have the impression that that is the sum of Tourist Board's cultural tourism promotion online. As NITB spent that money on its own site, it cannot spend money on another site. It has given us support in kind, and it has seen how 'culturenorthernireland' has developed.
The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure invited us to a presentation at the Interpoint Centre, and the Tourist Board was invited there also. It has seen the work that we do. We have spoken to Tourist Board representatives on the telephone a few times, but trying to schedule a full meeting has been difficult. We have not met with its representatives due to scheduling difficulties.
Mr McMenamin: How could the relationship between the sectors be improved? Do you receive funding from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for the Foyle Film Festival? Do you get any funding at all?
Mr Peto: We do not get direct funding from the Tourist Board, but we get support in kind as we have access to its promotional network. We have thousands of leaflets in the centre as they have just been published. Those will go to the Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau, which in turn will put them out through its distribution network. The film festival appears on their annual events' guides to what is going on through the year. That guide always includes the first two weeks of November and the film festival, and it has a bit of spiel about that. They help us with promotion and opening up new markets. There is no financial support coming from them.
Mrs Nelis: Thank you for an interesting presentation. When you talked about cultural icons, everyone you mentioned was male; there were no females.
Mr Peto: That is a key problem. We have started looking at that on a Northern Ireland-wide basis. The idea is that we will have cultural icons of Northern Ireland; then we will break that down into county level; and ultimately to town and places. We have asked people to come up with as many as they can. Mary Peters has been mentioned, as has Marie Jones. It says a lot that the names of female icons in Northern Ireland are just not emerging. Also, we do not want to engage in tokenism and just include the names of women for the sake of doing so.
Mrs Nelis: I feel it is a weakness in your presentation if women are excluded.
Would the various inter-related activities mentioned in your presentation attract visitors, or is the Nerve Centre simply a place where visitors come to see activities? How do you market yourselves? What barriers are there to increasing the potential for visitors to come to your activities? The Nerve Centre is one of the most progressive facilities for cultural activities for young people.
You mentioned the importance of your work. Do the young people you train stay in the North of Ireland when their training is complete? What would your key priority be in delivering a better standard of cultural product if there were no financial restrictions?
Mr Peto: Attracting visitors is not our key role. Our products, excluding the website, enhance a visitor's experience. Hopefully, they would form part of a large range of attractions. The film archive by itself, for example, will not attract visitors to Derry. However, within Ireland, the venue tends to attract people to spend an evening at a concert. We feature some artists that other venues do not. The programmes we have developed around the 'Symbols' interactive experience CD-ROM attract visitors from Northern Ireland because we run workshops in the centre. People come from places as far away as the Somme Heritage Centre and spend a day in the city. In that sense, though in a very limited way, we are attracting people to the city.
We do not feel that the NITB website would attract people to Northern Ireland. It is targeted at people already interested in coming to Northern Ireland. If someone is interested in Irish traditional music they will find the music section on the website. They may have already known about some pubs in Belfast and north Antrim where traditional music is played, but the website will give them information about related attractions.
That will then enhance the places that they are going to visit. In terms of actually getting people here, we have to be modest in what we feel we can and do achieve, and with one web site we cannot really bring more people into Northern Ireland on holiday. The barrier to our doing that is mainly that we do not see it as our role. We are not a tourism body at all. We see multimedia education, training and increasing cultural awareness as our key functions. It is becoming clearer to us that that is cultural tourism by another name, but culture comes first, for us. The culture is the key thing; it is providing things for tourists to do when they get here, whereas we would see the Northern Ireland Tourist Board as being mandated to get the tourists here in the first place.
With regard to training, 36 people a year come through our core training courses. We have training courses in multimedia design and production, in film and video production and in music production and the music industry. We have 32 full-time staff within the centre. We also have a number of freelance staff who come in on a project-by-project basis and are all trainees and graduates of our training schemes. At least 10 of our full-time staff tend to be graduates of the training schemes, because graduates come back and teach parts of the course in the next year or they get involved working in film.
We have a commercial arm called Raw Nerve Productions, which makes films, of which "Dance Lexie Dance" is the most famous. It makes maybe six or seven different films a year for the BBC and other companies. That would also directly employ four of our graduate trainees, and we have a number of others working in different media companies around Northern Ireland. Some graduates are working in England and Dublin in related fields.
We have one apparent problem. A lot of people do our courses because they want to and they are interested in them. However, the courses are now available chiefly to unemployed people who see it as a great chance to pursue something that they are interested in and at the same time get a professional qualification, but they perhaps do not have as strong a desire. A lot of them have their families here, and once they realise that to pursue a career in it may mean leaving the city and the family, they do not pursue a career in that sector. For that reason, we have a number of students who have not gone on to pursue a career in that sector, and there are really no avenues for development in that sector beyond the Nerve Centre.
I understand the last question to focus on our key priority to deliver. Let me reiterate the key point: the Nerve Centre is a cultural centre, a training centre and a multimedia and education centre before it is a tourism centre. We see those as our key priorites: delivering training and bringing this new, amazing and mystifying technology to a level that ordinary people like you and I can understand and access. That is our key mission.
Mr Agnew: Mr Peto, the problem with your answers is that you are answering questions before we ask them, and that is throwing us all a bit. First, is it possible to get a copy of the CD-ROM?
Mr Peto: Yes, we have some in a box. Mary is interviewed on it.
Mr Agnew: Thank you.
First, what contribution do the Foyle Film Festival and the digital film make to cultural tourism generally?
Secondly, what is the economic impact of the festival on the city and the region?
Mr Peto: The cultural tourism role of the Foyle Film Festival and the digital film archives is, on the one level, that they bring people into the city. That is more the case for the Foyle Film Festival. It is a key event and, although we are beginning to get into some level of competition with Belfast now; it is still the biggest and the key film festival in Northern Ireland.
There is the cultural tourism dimension where we bring people into the city, they see a film, and after the film they go for a drink. Some people will stay overnight because they have come from far afield. They will see films here on the big screen that they will not see anywhere else in the country, except perhaps on video. Someone involved in the production will be there to talk to, and they can go for a drink with that person or have a more structured question and answer session after the film, depending on the programme. That is an attraction for some people.
The film archive shows people that a lot of the films that we show in the Foyle Film Festival and the Northern Ireland Film Festival are films which are locally produced, locally based, and feature local issues. It shows that this is not Holywood or London: this is a small, provincial part of a small region of Europe. That is not a barrier to engaging in film making, expressing yourself culturally, and telling your stories. It shows people that their stories are valid and important, and filmmakers are prepared to invest in the making of those stories. It provides a showcase for another outlet of cultural activity here; that in turn has key implications for cultural tourism. It is just another way of showing how culturally vibrant, alert and alive Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Derry are.
Shauna, who is the director of the film festival, has exact information about the financial contribution. Last year we showed about 200 films, and I think about 15,000 or 20,000 tickets were sold. It was a very busy festival, and lots of people - not all of them tourists - went to lots of films. We tailor our programme to fit in with the national curriculum, and we market it very heavily in schools - and not just schools in the north-west. When a film is important to the curriculum, or we show Shakespeare or whatever, schools come here from all over the Province. The Foyle Film Festival has a tangible financial implication for the city, although I cannot now describe it in exact terms. November is a very quiet time of the year for tourism, so it should be quite easy to measure.
Mr Agnew: May we have this information?
Mr Peto: I can have it sent on to the Committee.
The Chairperson: Comments have been made about perceived negativity of film and broadcast services, because they have reported on our 30 years of trouble. Northern Ireland is perceived as a violent or indeed divided place. You were sketching in for us significant areas in which you could tackle that problem, and present a fuller and better image. Have you any other ideas that you have not started to work on yet, and that you might like to consider?
Mr Peto: We see that Northern Ireland and the people that live in Northern Ireland - particularly the younger generation who have grown up with the conflict -are a product of our history and environment. The impact of this conflict can be traced in almost everything that has happened here during the troubles and subsequent to them. We are trying to show that it is not the only thing that has influenced people here. Through these projects, and their different cultural and expressive elements, we are trying to show that the conflict has had different impacts, and that it was not the only thing that shaped this culture.
We engage strongly with the conflict and with everything that has happened here, and we try to show that the reactions to conflict are not stereotyped in the way that many of us are led to believe.
We do a lot of single-identity work with the Protestant community in the city. The city side of Derry is a pretty tough place for Protestants, because of its nationalist majority. There is talk of a chill factor for Protestants here. We have therefore worked hard to bring them to the centre to look at why that is the case, and why they feel the way that they do, and we get them to explain their own history. We use the conflict to get people to challenge their own histories and perceptions. We will be focusing the products of those projects on our web site in order to show that the conflict has had other effects.
A young group from Tullyally created a history section using the 1916 CD-ROM. They were interested in music, so they moved into music and created a dance re-mix of 'The Sash My Father Wore'. That will be put onto the web site to show modern, as well as cultural, responses.
We tried to show more than just conflict by focusing on other cultural expressions, but we are also showing that the conflict has more than one cultural outlet, and we try to show alternative responses.
The Chairperson: I am sure people will be interested to see that interpretation.
Mr Davis: Are you often asked to travel to other parts of the Province to carry out training?
Mr Peto: The training that we offer is technically based. We have the technical equipment in the centre, so it is not often practical to travel or provide training in other places. However, we have an outreach course in multimedia at the Queen's University of Belfast's Armagh campus. We are teaching a mixed group of 25 disabled and able-bodied students. We have done other outreach work, teaching basic computer skills to people in the north-west area. However, this is the first in-depth, formal, structured out-reach course that we have done. We will be teaching people how to make CD-ROMs and detailed web sites.
Much of our work goes the other way. People come into the centre for one- or two-day courses in computer and multimedia design or filmmaking. A group of lecturers from Omagh College came to learn about film making over the last six months. Through the work on the web site, it became apparent to us that the museum sector has been provided with computers - through various funding initiatives by the Northern Ireland Museums Council - but the curators do not have the depth of knowledge or skills base to use them. Often, only one person in an organisation knows how to use the equipment, and it is a mystery to the rest of the staff. We held a series of training days for museum staff, and we showed them how to make maximum use of the equipment that they already have.
We have provided similar training to several teachers using the 'Symbols' CD-ROM. The CD is fairly intuitive and accessible to use, but we give it to teachers on the condition that they come in for a one-day, or half-day, training session. We show them how to use it, because we are aware that you can flood the place with resources, which look lovely, but which get put on the shelf. It is easier for teachers to carry on with the curriculum as it is. People from all over Northern Ireland come to Derry for one or two days training on how to use the resources effectively.
The Chairperson: Thank you, we have come to the end of our time. It has been very interesting and the session has been a significant one, no doubt, for our thinking, and for the recommendations that we hope will be made as a result of this inquiry.
Mr Peto: I should have mentioned that we have lodged an application for Executive programme funds through DCAL for the culturenorthernireland web site. I do not know if you are aware of that, or if it has a bearing on the inquiry. I intended to mention it in the presentation.
18 October 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr B Mitchell ) The Genealogy Centre
The Chairperson: I welcome Mr Brian Mitchell, manager of the Genealogy Centre in Derry, to the Committee.
Mr Mitchell: Good morning. The Genealogy Centre is a project of the Inner City Trust, probably best-known for restoring and refurbishing inner-city Derry. The Genealogy Centre was opened in 1990, and it has been an integral part of the Irish genealogical project (IGP), which was set up to create databases to help people to trace their family history and to service family history queries. The sources computerised included pre-1922 civil birth, marriage and death registers, the pre-1900 church registers of all denominations, the 1901 census, gravestone inscriptions, the mid nineteenth-century Griffith's valuation and the early nineteenth-century tithe books.
In Northern Ireland there are four centres - the Genealogy Centre services Co Derry or Co Londonderry; Armagh Ancestry deals with Co Armagh; Heritage World, which is also known as Irish World, offers its service for Co Tyrone and Co Fermanagh; and the Ulster Historical Foundation in Belfast services Co Antrim and Co Down.
The centres have built up databases which cannot be rivalled. In the case of our own county, all Catholic registers in the diocese of Derry have been computerised as well as over 30 registers from the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Those include some of the oldest Presbyterian congregations, such as First Derry and First Garvagh, and more than 20 Church of Ireland registers, such as that of St Columb's Cathedral, whose records date back to 1642.
We have built up databases and local knowledge which cannot be rivalled by any other organisation. Sixty million people worldwide claim to have Irish ancestry, and I believe that, if we can help them to identify a place, townland or town from which their ancestor came, many of them will desire to make a trip to Ireland at some stage in their life.
I recently picked up a quote from Thomas Moran, president and chief executive officer of Mutual of America, one of the big insurance companies. He said simply, "I am certain that they will find a gene that calls us back to the home of our ancestors, no matter how long we have been gone." It is just a feeling; someone who knows what townland his or her ancestor came from will want to get on a plane, come to Ireland, visit the homestead or its site, the school attended, the church where the ancestor worshipped or the graveyard where he or she is buried. They may even wish to stand on the quay in Derry or Belfast from where the ancestor emigrated.
Emigration was very much a family affair; people either emigrated as families or to families. At the peak of emigration, approximately 15,000 people left from Derry annually. There is a proven interest in family history. The big challenge is to try to convert that interest into desire, to get people to take a holiday here. Some NITB figures show that people who are very much into family history tend to be long-stayers and high spenders - people whom the tourism industry likes. There is great potential. I do not know how we should manage if 43 million Americans decided to visit Ireland all at once, but if even a small proportion got on a plane, there would be the potential for something great.
My first recommendation is the establishment of a designated contact point somewhere in Northern Ireland - with today's technology it does not matter where - which is staffed to encourage enquiries and deal with them at no cost. At the moment professional genealogists and the network of such fee-paying centres as ours cater for a significant number of people. At the same time, many might be intimidated by the fee-paying structure, and to get them to come and stay here would benefit the economy.
My second recommendation is to begin discussions on the effective integration into a root strategy of the four centres' databases and local knowledge, including that of the Genealogy Centre. The potential there has not yet been realised.
Mr McMenamin: Would links and travel accommodation providers be helpful in putting together packages for tourists? How would you develop those?
Recent events in America have resulted in a dramatic reduction in air travel. Is that likely to have a major impact on tourism? What, if anything, could be done to help?
Mr Mitchell: With regard to your second point, we have noticed a significant decrease in e-mail enquiries. There is a definite drop in the number of visitors, but the proof of the pudding will come next year when people make their plans.
Genealogy is very much an individual thing and has therefore been very difficult to package. People wish to follow their specific family history. We have had a few coachloads of perhaps 50 Americans with us, and it is clear that perhaps only 10% of their roots are in Derry. Perhaps only a few would be into the nitty-gritty of genealogy, so it naturally comes down to an individual quizzing us about his or her family history.
Eamonn Rossi of Irish Genealogy Ltd made a presentation to the Committee in June. He is attempting to create a partnership with Abbey Tours, one of the big coach operators. He plans for it to incorporate themed heritage visits into its itineraries. The tour may go to Derry as part of a wider package. Part of it might cater for people who want to trace their roots, but more general issues, such as emigration from Ireland, might also be discussed. The potential is there; the question is how we realise it.
Mr McMenamin: How are the links between the tourism sector and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB)? How could the relationship be improved?
Mr Mitchell: The Genealogy Centre's problem is funding. People would like the centre to provide a free research service, but the way that it is funded means that it must charge fees. The NITB sees its primary role as marketing. It advises those tracing their roots in Derry to go to the Genealogy Centre, and we cannot quibble with that.
The NITB does not see itself as a point-of-contact facility. There is a cultural committee in it, and the Genealogy Centre will be marketed as the point of contact for a genealogical enquiry in Derry, but I should prefer it if the centre were more mainstream. People feel the centre should provide library and tourism services, but it is not funded on that basis. In trying to please everyone you can sometimes please no one. I should love to see more thought being given to the question of whether public funds could be directed towards the centre. It should begin negotiations and see what develops.
Mrs Nelis: Genealogy is close to my heart, and, during the inquiry, the Committee received several submissions from people with the same interests. It has tremendous potential, but there is a problem in that we do not market it properly, and facilities such as the Genealogy Centre are not given sufficient funding. How well is roots tourism promoted here and abroad? What more could we do to provide resources to market it? Does the Genealogy Centre have a marketing plan and budget? You mentioned the centre's funding difficulties. How does it manage to attract people here in that context?
Mr Mitchell: No one doubts the value of the IGP. It is cross-border and interdenominational; it tries to assist anyone who is interested in tracing his or her roots. However, if you quizzed Americans or Australians on their home turf, they would be familiar with the genealogy set up. However they are used to a system whereby the library service or the Mormons provide free information. They, quite often, come to Ireland with the concept that genealogy should be free. I am certain that the research fee that the Genealogy Centre charges scares many people off.
This year the centre has had 2000 enquiries, and 266 of those translated into situations where people were willing to commission some form of research. Approximately 1700 people were probably satisfied with the advice they were given and possibly even visited Ireland, but many of them thought that the advice should have been free. One could have seen that in their faces when they walked into the Genealogy Centre.
Mrs Nelis: What fee does the centre charge?
Mr Mitchell: The centre's research service charges a basic fee of £30 for taking the information supplied by the customer and putting it through the database. If new information is available, we supply it to the customer, but we cannot guarantee results.
There are 43 million Americans with Irish ancestry, but well over half of those have Ulster-Scots ancestry. The majority of their ancestors left Northern Ireland in the 1700s, and quite often the customer comes to the Genealogy Centre with more information than we can ever prove because, for instance, the registers do not go far enough back. In some cases the customer may only want some simple advice such as the location of a townland or suggestions on local material or local history books.
For many years Action on Community Employment funded the network of genealogy centres and enabled them to build up their databases. The Genealogy Centre is grateful to the Inner City Trust, which funds the Genealogy Centre. The Inner City Trust views the genealogy project as a significant scheme brought to fruition over a number of years. It is difficult to achieve the balance of offering advice and trying to be self-sustaining. The Armagh centre has a link-up with the district council, so there are ongoing initiatives.
I have been involved in genealogy since 1982 and the IGP since 1990, and each year the database and the service get better.
Mrs Nelis: Is your web site linked to the NITB?
Mr Mitchell: The Genealogy Centre is well-promoted by various bodies, such as the NITB, which signposts enquirers to it. Almost any genealogy enquiry to do with this county will be directed to the Genealogy Centre. The centre receives a good service in that respect. Sometimes it is difficult to satisfy the enquirers. Someone recently contacted the centre to find out if their ancestor was inside the walls during the siege of Derry. Half a day could be spent researching that, but problems arise if no one is willing to fund the request.
Currently the Genealogy Centre is fortunate in that it can achieve a balance. The Inner City Trust is paying my wage, and the centre is trying to generate revenue through research. However, I feel the Genealogy Centre has a broader role to play, and we try to deal with queries as effectively as possible.
Mr Davis: What is the Genealogy Centre's relationship with other bodies, such as the Federation for Ulster Local Studies? Do you think that the research fee of £30 is adequate? If you had the responsibility and the power to do so, would you improve on the designated contact point?
Mr Mitchell: I know many people in the local societies as well as at the headquarters of the Federation for Ulster Local Studies in Belfast. If people ask us for information on the local history of an area, we immediately direct them to the federation. Roddy Hegarty can give us the address of the appropriate local centre.
Equally, if they get a genealogical enquiry, they will pass it on to us. There is a good relationship that way, but it is by no means formal. The basis tends to be that we are largely working in the same field and trying to do the same things.
Judged solely on a commercial basis, the £30 fee is not enough; we should be charging more. The fee encourages people to commission research who otherwise might not do so. People might spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds on a holiday but are reluctant to spend money on research. They are paying for information, which is sometimes hard to do. In the United States they are used to the Mormon network of libraries, and it is said that you can trace your Irish ancestors better in Salt Lake City than you can over here. I should deny that, but there is that feeling. We have even had criticism levelled at us that it was American taxpayers' money which funded the IGP, meaning the service should be free to Americans. The International Fund for Ireland was a good funder of the project in the early days, providing computer support.
The fee is not good commercially, and, by the same token, many local centres have put their charges up. They have noticed that their income has not risen, but it has made research more manageable by reducing the number of enquiries. I am not sure whether that is good or bad.
As a Derry man I should love the designated contact point to be in Derry, naturally enough. I have a number of valid reasons for siting it here, but essentially it could be based anywhere. I feel it could almost be a signpost to the indices in the four local centres. The main value would be that it would be a point of contact for those people who have an interest but feel intimidated about contacting a so-called "professional" or a fee-paying research service. We have had some very simple queries in our time, for example, whether there is a castle at Castlederg. You just get out the map and show them; it can be as straightforward as that. It is really a matter of simply trying to home in on where a person's ancestor came from. The Ulster American Folk Park has a significant reputation for emigration enquiries, and emigration and genealogy are closely linked. There should be a marketed centre for that. The NITB markets genealogy but does not wish to be the point of contact for genealogical enquiries. At best, all it will do is point people to a genealogy centre. It would be nice if there were a structured set-up where the query could be dealt with more effectively.
It is estimated that 60% of Americans tracing their roots do not know their ancestor's county of origin. That is where our network of centres comes into its own. In County Derry, if you say your ancestor is Presbyterian, but you do not know where they are from, there are potentially 68 church registers to search through. However, if they are all indexed, there is only one search.
There is an obvious cost to setting up a designated centre, even if it is within existing structures such as tourist information or library service, but I should like to see it happen. In the 50 years to 1900, 100,000 people emigrated from this county alone. They reckon that 100 million people in America can trace their ancestors through people who passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1920 - a mind-boggling statistic. We could capture interest from more people if it were made easier for them.
Those facts should generate business for a genealogy centre. Australians in particular, who come from a young country, want to do the research themselves but still need advice on parishes, townlands and church registers. As one avenue of research closes, another one opens up. It is difficult to translate that into reality, but attempts could be made to see if it is practical.
Mrs Nelis: In relation to Mr McMenamin's question about the current global situation and the possibility of a downturn in the number of visitors over the next few years, I should like to ask whether you have conducted any research on the Irish in Europe, since many went to Europe and Great Britain.
Some years ago I attended a lecture in Magee College given by the late Micheline Kearney-Walsh, who went to Samancas in Spain and came up with a host of Irish names, Derry names in particular, such as McCafferty, Doherty and O'Neill. She gave a lecture on those people who were direct descendants of foot soldiers who went out with the earls to Spain.
Mr Mitchell: That story of the Wild Geese is significant. Our research, however, has been directed more to English-speaking exiles such as the Americans and the Australians. We have produced books of passenger lists, reference books and parish registers. You are right, however, that the market has not been touched. We have had enquiries from mainland Europe, although usually from Americans based there. I am not aware of any enquiries from any of the descendants of the Wild Geese now incorporated into French, German, or Austrian society. It is reckoned that there are a million people of Irish descent in Argentina.
The Inner City Trust did good work with the Doherty clan renunion. Dr Ramon Salvadore O'Doherty takes great pride in being a direct descendant of Sir Cahir O'Doherty, and of Niall of the Nine Hostages. You are right in saying that the avenue of research has not been developed on any significant scale. Of 2,000 enquiries, 50% come from the United States, 20% from mainland Britain, and 5% to 7% each come from Australia and Canada. Around 2% or 3% come from New Zealand, and 20% come from local sources. The bulk of our enquiries originates in the English-speaking world. However, Heritage World carried out some research. I have read articles on manufacturers of continental spirits whose ancestors are Irish. There has been some research, but it has not been significant.
The Chairperson: Thank you for your comments and evidence; they will go through a distillation process from which our recommendations will emerge.
18 October 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr W Kelly ) The Institute of Ulster-Scots ) Studies, University of Ulster.
Prof M NicCraith ) The Academy for Irish Cultural ) Heritages, University of Ulster
Dr Y Whelan )
Mr P Wing ) Lecturer in business management, ) University of Ulster,
) Magee College
The Chairperson: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to welcome to our meeting Dr William Kelly from the Institute of Ulster-Scots Studies, and Prof Máiréad NicCraith and Dr Yvonne Whelan from the Academy for Irish Cultural Heritages. We will start with a short presentation on your submission, and then Members will have a few questions for you.
Dr Kelly: I am the research project co-ordinator for the Institute of Ulster-Scots Studies. Before starting, I hope you have the brochure from the institute before you. I want to thank you on my behalf, and on behalf of my colleagues, for allowing us to address the Committee. The short space of time I have will only allow me to speak about the Institute of Ulster-Scots Studies, and then my colleague will speak about the Academy for Irish Cultural Heritages.
Our remit is primarily as a research institute, but obviously our work moves us into other fields, such as cultural tourism and cultural heritage. The back page of our brochure tells you that we have an international research network. For the remit of this Committee, we see that as a ready-made network of contacts that could be developed, particularly as far as the Ulster-Scots diaspora in the USA and Canada is concerned. From visiting our colleagues in universities in Canada and the USA we realise that this, in some ways, is an untapped resource.
We are a relatively recent addition to the university, but as the institute develops we will of course be bringing over students from our sister institutions in the United States and Canada, and from further afield. At the same time we are also developing regionally and nationally. As far as cultural tourism goes, probably our largest and most important market is just a few miles away in Scotland. We would suggest looking to this market as much as any other.
I just have time to mention one or two projects that we are involved in present, which might be of interest to the Committee. We will of course make a written submission and answer any further questions you may require. In one of our current projects we have recently managed to negotiate the return of the passenger manifest list from the port of Londonderry, and from Moville and Greencastle. This is an example of co-operation between statutory bodies, and our partners in this will be Derry City Council and the Centre for Migration Studies. I know you have already had a submission this morning from Brian Mitchell from the Genealogy Centre along those lines. This may be an academic resource but it is also a valuable cultural and marketing resource. Depending on funding of course, we hope to set up, over the next year or two, an Internet migration hub based on Londonderry, but extending out throughout the north-west. Brian Mitchell has probably made clear to you today the importance of genealogy in attracting cultural tourists and so on.
We are also developing courses at present in Ulster and Scotland. One will be taught in schools as part of a lifelong learning programme.
That programme involves links between the education boards in Scotland and here. It may seem that much of this is academic; it is, as this is a research institute. The Committee should be aware that we can always derive contexts and develop cultural tourism through our academic work.
Prof Nic Craith: My name is Máiréad Nic Craith and I am accompanied by Yvonne Whelan. We are both at the Academy for Irish Cultural Heritages, and it is with great pleasure that I come back to this room in which I was interviewed a few months ago. I am happy to be working in the academy.
The academy is a unique departure for scholarship and research in Irish historical heritage, linguistic and literary studies. The academy is an interdisciplinary research unit, committed to promoting an understanding of cultural and linguistic diversity in Ireland and beyond. Most of the staff at the academy took up post two weeks ago, so we are at an early stage in defining our research agenda. However, I can make some general points.
The academy will examine various relevant themes for cultural and economic formation in Irish society. Those themes might include narratives of Irishness and representations of memory, place and identity. The staff are especially interested in heritage. The academy's director, Professor Brian Graham, is internationally recognised as an expert in the field. The nature of heritage management, through which narratives of identity and representations of place are structured and used, is of particular interest.
What is the significance of heritage? Heritage is not about reclaiming or recreating the past - it is for here and now. It is about using the past as a resource for the present in the present. The past is infinite, and there must be a process of selection. That often leads to disagreement, and the academy is interested in the contestation of heritage. What do we nominate as our heritage, and why? Whose message does the heritage carry? How do different cultural, political and economic consumers interpret the narrative? Complementary and sometimes competing social and ethnic groups use heritage as an identity resource. That heritage can be official or unofficial. Heritage is an economic commodity that is used to 'image' Northern Ireland, and to sell it to tourists. Some of those issues are of interest to the academy. There can be competition between official and unofficial marketing images, and the academy is interested in Northern Ireland's images of place.
A survey carried out by the academy in the summer, with which Dr Whelan was involved, identified 446 heritage sites in Northern Ireland - and that relates only to official heritage. The academy benefits from museum expertise, and could help to identify the significance of museums for tourism in Northern Ireland. As professor of Irish culture and language, I am especially interested in the relationship between heritage and culture. Is official heritage largely consumed by the middle classes, and does it unintentionally bring about exclusion?
Languages and literatures can be significant factors in cultural tourism. One potential area of development is the use of new media technology. That can be used to develop products such as language. It can also be used to market a language so that it becomes viable and generates income. It is important to give tourists something that they can take home, beyond simply the memories of Northern Ireland. I am not thinking about dust-gathering souvenirs, but CD-ROMS, DVDs and web links that will not only encourage continued contact with the cultures of Ulster, but also encourage return visits.
We need to think about the range of relevant products. It is important to think of culture in terms wider than just the arts. We must think creatively about everyday culture, such as food. My colleague has already cited the example of Scotland which has developed an international reputation for its cuisine. Rick Stein, in his recent local programme, referred to a fish that can only be eaten fresh here in Northern Ireland. That is the type of product that is good for marketing.
The cultural, literary and linguistic heritages of Ulster will all feature in the academy's developing postgraduate portfolio. I mention our masters programme in history and heritage planning and policy, the title of which has yet to be defined. This programme will address issues relating to language, heritage, culture and identity, and will be of relevance to heritage users and practitioners in the region.
Dr Whelan: I am a lecturer in heritage management. I deal with students who hope to be employed in the cultural tourism sector, and I also deal with research.
Mr McMenamin: You are welcome. Thank you for your presentation. How would you describe the linkages between the University and the tourism industry - including the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland? How could the relationship between the sectors be improved? Would links with travel and accommodation providers be helpful in putting together packages for tourists and how would these be developed? I am also curious to know about the fish that can only be eaten in Northern Ireland.
Prof NicCraith: I am sorry I cannot remember the name of the fish. Rick Stein's programme was two or three weeks ago and he said that it could only be eaten fresh in Northern Ireland.
Dr Kelly: The Institute of Ulster-Scots Studies is in the process of talking to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte. As Prof NicCraith stated, the University has local expertise for development, advice and research. One thing we need in order to improve our relationships is to attract a minimum investment into research and into the university. As you can see from our panel, we have the expertise. The University also has unstated expertise and operates as a tourist body in its own way. We continually bring foreign and exchange students into Northern Ireland. We had expertise in operating the system long before tourism became a major part of our economy. We should learn and build on that expertise. When students study here and then go back to their own country and have families and get jobs there, they are ambassadors for the place. The process becomes a generational thing; people who were students 10 years ago are now coming back with their own families.
The university's tourist management have the expertise to deal with that. It is another aspect of the assistance that the university might provide, but there is also a representative from tourist management here who might get the chance to speak.
Prof NicCraith: I endorse what my colleague said. I must stress that the academy is only two weeks old. Nevertheless, much of the work being done will be beneficial to the tourist industry. Dr Whelan will talk about the heritage sites project which the academy has been involved with. The creation of better links with travel providers was mentioned. However, the formation of better links with everybody will make a difference.
Dr Whelan: As researchers and teachers at the academy, we are trying to explore what 'heritage' means and how we use the concept. One of the key ways in which the academy's work can inform the tourist industry is through research. During the summer, the academy worked with students to look at heritage sites in Northern Ireland. The students identified 446 official sites. There is also a vast number of unofficial heritage sites on offer in Northern Ireland. That research is not only in paper form; it is part of a database which could be of enormous value to tour operators and the Tourist Board in terms of collecting information. The database has many different fields-of-reference points to show what each tourist site is like. That is one small way in which the academy's work can help the tourist industry.
Mrs Nelis: The discussion touched on a fundamental issue. As part of an academic contribution to culture, exchange students play a part in encouraging tourism, although that is not recognised. The work of the academy is very valuable, particularly for our inquiry. I am impressed that 446 heritage sites were identified in the north. With regard to the cultural tourism product, in what ways is the north of Ireland different from the Republic?
Prof NicCraith: Do you want to know in what ways the academy is different, or in what ways the heritage sites are different?
Mrs Nelis: How can we differentiate between the cultural heritage product on offer in the north of Ireland and the product on offer in the Republic or the UK?
Prof NicCraith: I would like to draw attention to the richness of the cultures of Ulster. The academy is called the Academy for Irish Cultural Heritages. The title refers to plural heritages because, in its research, the academy hopes to look at the richness of the cultures of Ulster. There is a unique mixture of cultures in Ulster, which is very different from the cultural heritage of the Republic and the UK. That can be used as an asset.
Dr Whelan: "Plurality" is the key word, even though it is missing from your handout. We are just the Academy for Irish Cultural Heritage. That point is key. We are not just about one heritage; we are about many different forms of cultural heritage. That is what distinguishes us from the Republic or other places in the UK. That is what this report brought up in terms of the vast number of sites. These range from things such as windmill sites through to much bigger sites, for example the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, which is on an altogether different scale.
Mrs Nelis: You talked about giving tourists something to take home, which is important. Does the business sector contribute anything to you? How could they help or link with you in promoting cultural tourism in your academic arena? As an aside, but relevant to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, the university has appointed an Arts Development Officer in the faculty. How do you see that linking with you or contributing to the potential of cultural tourism?
Dr Whelan: The Arts Development Officer will play a key role. We have already established firm links with her and her work. It is important to establish links not only with business but also with the broader community. We are no longer seen as being in an ivory tower producing research reports; we are out there on the ground making links with people. As we are only in our infancy, that is something that we will need to develop and work upon. Her role is central both in the university, in making the links with academic departments, and also in extending those links to the wider community.
Prof Nic Craith: As for links between business sectors and the university generally, not necessarily with the academy in particular, our planned Master's programme in heritage management, which we hope to have on-stream next year, will be strongly of interest to the business community. The students that we would hope to attract are people who would go into business following completion of the degree. In other words, they would not just be research users, but people who would be interested in working in the heritage industry. There is great potential for links there.
There is also significant potential for the development of products for cultural tourism - not necessarily by the academy - if one looks at any of the languages. CD-ROMs, web sites, DVDs and such things could be developed that people can take home with them. Then they develop a relationship with the cultures here that draws them back to Northern Ireland. It also creates a presence for those cultures abroad. They do not simply take it home. It is not an isolated business; rather it is a way of spreading the cultures of Ulster and developing links with the diaspora.
In my presentation I did not mention exchange students for the academy because we have not got any yet. Our director, Prof Graham, is currently abroad developing links. We have already developed links with universities in America and Canada. We are currently developing links with universities in Australia and New Zealand. I have come from the University of Liverpool, and the academy has strong links with universities in Britain. This is similar to the Institute for Ulster-Scots Studies, and we will develop it to the full. We aim to establish an international profile for the academy.
Dr Kelly: To answer the question I would merely reiterate what my two colleagues have said, but I would also point out that as far as business, migration and so on is concerned, the genealogy project must make a profit. It will generate business. It also gives us a presence elsewhere, but it is a business.
Mr Davis: The institute's objectives are threefold. The second is:
"to develop a transnational approach which will be geographically and politically pluralist and embrace a multiplicity of perspectives. It will express, as is appropriate for a trans-oceanic enterprise, the fluidity of the cultural process and the dynamism of cultural exchange rather than the parochial rootedness of ethnic history. The approach will be polycentric, broadening intellectual horizons rather than restricting them." How would I explain that to people at grass roots level?
Dr Kelly: Happily, I did not write that paragraph. What the paragraph is trying to say, in a very convoluted manner, is that many of the studies in the Institute of Ulster-Scots Studies will be based on the diaspora of Ulster-Scots people, who have moved into other societies that are now multi-cultural. Canada, for example, is one such society. We can learn from each other.
Mr Davis: How will you establish a forum for debate?
Dr Kelly: We can act as a centre. We use information and communication technology (ICT) and web-based technology. There will be a web site. We can act as a forum in that sense. We can draw interest in through conferences. We hosted a conference in June on Ulster and Scotland that attracted an international audience and international participants. That generates debate and gets people talking. It is hoped that the conference report will also generate debate when it is published.
Mr Agnew: Given the perception that Northern Ireland is a difficult and divided place, do you think that such a barrier could realistically be removed through your work?
Prof NicCraith: Yes. There has been a lack of understanding in the past between groups and cultures. One thing that we aim to do, as underlined by the name of our group - the Academy for Irish Cultural Heritages, is to address a pluralist agenda. If there is a greater understanding between peoples, there is less apprehension. Not knowing or not understanding brings about much fear.
A greater tendency towards pluralism is recognisable not just in ongoing research, but also in museums, for example. The Tower museum in Derry offers a dual perspective on certain parts of history. That is happening in many venues in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra often puts on exhibitions on symbols, and why they mean different things to different peoples. Much is happening now regarding intercultural communication, which is perceived at both a local and international level. That is coming through from research on Northern Ireland and also on a practical level on local issues.
Dr Whelan: I agree with that. Divisions in societies are very negative, but there is also the richness of trying to understand different cultural traditions. That is what we are about.
Prof NicCraith: In time, some artefacts that would have created tension in the past may have great potential for cultural tourism. However, that is some way down the line.
Mr McElduff: I ask the academy to be careful about marketing heritage in the North as distinct from the rest of Ireland. That is from my perspective. People can feel they are part of all of Ireland as opposed to something else. It is important that I put this on the record.
I agree with the potential for language and literature. Last year I witnessed a tremendous event that had a spin-off benefit for Omagh. Forty visiting literary professors came to Omagh after attending an international conference on literature in Dublin City University. My question relates to the mention in your submission of a pilot programme, "The Island has many voices", planned for the summer of this year. How successful was that, and what is the potential for summer schools generally?
Prof NicCraith: I did not say that culture here is distinct from the rest of Ireland, I said that there is a cultural diversity, or a cultural pluralism here that is distinct from the rest of Ireland. That does not mean that culture here is different from the rest of Ireland, but there is a richness here that is not in other parts.
I agree with you about the literature. Literature and language have great potential for cultural tourism. I am referring to the event you mentioned, and to the potential to be tapped into through language and literature festivals. My understanding is that the summer school has been quite successful, although I was not here when it ran. The programme appears to me to have been a good, broad programme with strong appeal. The university is committed to summer schools. We have not yet discussed the role of the academy with regard to summer schools, but that is because we are new.
The Chairperson: Unfortunately we have almost come to the end of our time. I want to thank you. We have a minute or two left. Mr Kelly, you mentioned earlier that among your group today there was a tourism expert who was not at the table. Would he like to make a quick contribution to the enquiry?
Mr Wing: I am the course director of the Masters in tourism management, which has been running for the past seven years. Over that time we have brought in over 150 students worldwide, and this course is successful. It is being run for the benefit of both the local students and overseas students. We have been working closely with Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
We provide a joint degree course in tourism and hotel management, which has been run quite well for the past 14 years. Every year we have intakes of over 30 students and this course is run over four years. Over the past 12 years we have received students from throughout Europe and overseas as well. We also work closely with the private sector here, because we have liaised closely with the bed and breakfast people, hotels and restaurants. We also provide our own expertise in those fields. We have developed a number of products in conjunction with the private sector in the past.
The Chairperson: I am sorry that had to be so brief, but that was excellent. All the submissions that we are collecting are now about to go into a distillation process, out of which a series of recommendations will be made. I am sure that the valuable contribution that you have made will make a mark on these recommendations. Thank you.
18 October 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr R McCullough (Secretary) ) The North West Mr C Logue (Vice President) ) Archaelogical and ) Historical Society
The Chairperson: We have a few minutes for a short introduction; you may wish to comment on your submission. Thereafter we shall have a few questions from the members.
Mr McCullough: Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to the Committee. I should like to introduce Mr Charles Logue, the vice-president of the North West Archaeological and Historical Society (NWAHS). I am Roy McCullough, the organisation's secretary and a member of the executive committee of the Federation for Ulster Local Studies (FULS). Our President, Roy Hamilton, sends his apologies; he is on holiday in America.
The NWAHS was formed in 1975 by members of an extramural class at Magee College, where it continued to meet for many years. Through the society's local history studies, we believe we have made a major contribution to culture and heritage in the north-west and further afield. Membership of the society is, and always has been, drawn from all sections of the local community, and it also has members from as far apart as Buncrana and Ballymoney.
From its inception, the society felt that exhibitions were the way to educate the local population about the wealth of history to be found in the city. It attempted, by those means, to show that history need not lead to division and can bring about a better understanding of our common heritage and culture. The exhibitions included 'Legacy of the Ages' which attracted over 5,000 visitors; the American bicentennial, in 1976, provided the theme for an exhibition based on westward emigration from Ulster. In 1977, the society took part in the civic week activities with an exhibition on the shirt industry, which was by far the biggest employer in the city at that time. It is regrettable that much of that great industry has now passed into the fabric of history rather than of shirts. That was a busy year for the society, for it also staged an exhibition of materials taken from the wreck of the Trinidad Valencera, which was found in Kinnego Bay, County Donegal. In recent years the society joined with the central library to illustrate the changing faces of our city, with old and new photographs spanning over 100 years. All the exhibitions were well received by the local community and enjoyed wide coverage in radio, television and newspapers, gaining awards in the process.
The society has always seen its role as being to educate both its own members and the wider population in the city. With that in mind, it published an historical map of the area and other documents, including a journal called 'Templemore'. Unfortunately, it has not been published for a few years owing to high printing costs. All the publications have added greatly to the knowledge available to citizens and visitors. One of our founder members, Miss Mabel Colhoun, was a dedicated archaeologist on the Inishowen peninsula. After her death, the society, along with some family members, collated her notes and photographs and produced a major publication on the heritage of that area.
The society was a forerunner in encouraging the establishment of the local museum, and it is glad to have helped bring it to fruition. Incidentally, part of Miss Colhoun's collection is also held by the Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland.
Through its monthly lectures and field trips the society has made a market place for local history studies available to the people of Londonderry. It is held in high regard in the locality and further afield and has shown many visitors from throughout Ireland and as far away as the United States the history of our city and its surroundings. We receive many requests from across the world for assistance in local historical research, and we try to help in that regard.
Our membership is small but enthusiastic, and we know that funding would have helped us to extend our chosen mission to develop local history studies, promote interest in the area and - one would hope - increase tourism. The NWAHS was a founder member of FULS, which was formed in the same year. The society believes that, since its inception, that umbrella group has been the leader in the development of interest in local history in Northern Ireland and the border counties.
The federation's work, which it undertakes through workshops, seminars and publications, would be greatly enhanced if funding were regularised through your Department. In addition to organising seminars in Northern Ireland, FULS has hosted historical visits from member societies and the public.
In recent years we have been to Iona to mark the fifteen-hundredth anniversary of Saint Columba. We went to Wexford to celebrate the anniversary of the 1798 Rebellion and Virginia in the United States on the trail of Ulster emigrants. Those are just some examples of the federation's work; the public regards it as a major source of knowledge. The federation has two full-time employees, but the executive committee is composed of representatives from some of the approximately 100 affiliated groups. Those members travel and volunteer a vast amount of their time for the advancement of local history.
I thank Committee members for the opportunity to acquaint them with a small example of how local history is developing in Northern Ireland, with - I must say - a little help from central government.
The Chairperson: We all receive jibes about funding issues.
Mr McMenamin: Do you have any links with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB)? If so, how could that relationship be improved? Recent events in the United States have resulted in a reduction in numbers of tourists travelling to Ireland, and that will have a major impact next year. What, if anything, can the local history sector do to help?
Mr McCullough: The society has no concrete links with the NITB, but we make ourselves available on a local level to groups of tourists wishing to have a tour of the city. Obviously, others arrive without our knowledge, but as an example we have taken more than two busloads of tourists on a tour of the city and to Donegal. In doing so, we have tried to encourage visitors to return to find out what is available to tourists in the city.
Mr McMenamin: With regard to the tourism problem we shall face in the next year - and which we probably face already - do you envisage ways in which the local group will be able to help promote tourism in the area?
Mr McCullough: A few years ago the federation brought a large party to the United States, a venture through which our society and the federation built good links with that country. Those links are not formal, but all local history societies in Ireland have a contact secretary, and we often receive calls from people enquiring about opening hours or requesting assistance in organising events. We offer information, and people planning to visit the city for one or two days often avail of our service. In that way we have tried to show that the city is worth visiting.
Mr Logue: Our journal has been sent to many local libraries in the United States. For example, the Library of Congress in Washington has copies of our three publications.
Mrs Nelis: I have read your presentation, and I know you carry out valuable work in preserving history for future generations and helping to promote understanding. Given your organisation's financial difficulties and the problems of funding, I suspect that your work is a labour of love rather than something financially rewarding.
Is local history promoted enough at home, never mind abroad? We are trying to find out how it can become a catalyst to attract visitors who wish to learn about themselves through organisations such as your society. Do you have a web site for marketing purposes? I know you have a journal, and you manage to get the message out, but promotion might be improved by a web site.
Mr McCullough: We do not have our own web site, but we are on one belonging to FULS. As you say, we manage to stay afloat - just about - through our lectures. However, we have to pay for a venue and for the lecturer. Unfortunately the journal has been put in abeyance. We have one issue ready for publication but no money to finance it. I agree about promotion, but it is an unfortunate fact that in our society - like many others - it is the older people who take a greater interest in history, perhaps because they have more time. We tried to interest schools, but they have so many exams and targets to meet that the pupils find it difficult to attend lectures.
We have all read distorted history - the parts that suit our beliefs. Our archaeological and historical society is one example of people working for a common goal, and as far as we are concerned there has never been adversity. We can do much more; it will not take much money - we are not talking about tens of thousands of pounds. Our budget is small, and the amount you paid for your lunch today would probably cover our expenses. There is potential, and people are interested. I receive letters from people in different parts of the world wishing to know about their ancestors' local areas. We can build on that interest, for once you hook someone with information they can come back for more.
Mr Agnew: The perception still exists of Northern Ireland as a difficult and divided society. What can the heritage sector do to help dispel that?
Mr McCullough: You can take the NWAHS as a good example, and it is similar to other societies in the federation. People come together to work and forget their backgrounds. We all come with baggage, regardless of whether we like it. We must work in a non-threatening way; we try to make our lectures practical rather than theoretical, so that people of all ages and levels of interest can enjoy them. We can help by explaining to people that, just because they were brought up in a certain tradition, it does not mean that they cannot recognise those of others.
I brought some copies of our current lecture programme for the Committee. In the millennium year, we focused our lectures on the city's different denominations. People came from the Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic and Baptist churches to tell our members about their traditions. It was not threatening in any way and gave people an appreciation of the other denominations, something we feel helped. All our lectures have been based around the concept that no one should feel alienated. We have tried to provide a varied programme which is not academic. Although some of our lecturers come from the universities, we have tried to set a tone that people can understand.
Mr Davis: How much funding would it take to keep the society going for a year?
Mr McCullough: If someone handed me £1,000 today, I should say, "We shall have a web site, a journal and all sorts of things." The federation needs help, and I am on its executive committee. It gets some help at present, but we do not know when the next bite will come.
Mr Davis: From whom does the NWAHS get financial help? Does it receive assistance from the district council?
Mr McCullough: The society does not receive assistance from the district council. I apologise, but the names of its helpers have gone out of my head. Not much money is required to carry out our plans. The society could grow, doing much more than within its current limited budget.
Using people's talents, the society could produce journals and help the tourist industry by telling people to visit the area. The few publications the society has produced were welcomed as useful for research.
Mrs Nelis: Does the society meet centrally in the city?
Mr McCullough: It meets in the White Horse Hotel. It used to meet in Bishop Street on a Thursday night, but many of its members are elderly, and parking was a problem. The society has successfully met in the White Horse Hotel for the past four years. It is an accessible, non-partisan area, and the society has made people feel very welcome.
Mr Logue: The society had lectures here from time to time, but cost put us out, and as we grew Magee could no longer accommodate us.
The Chairperson: Other groups who gave evidence on cultural tourism suggested the formation of summer schools. Do you see potential for local history summer schools? Your lecture series is of course important, but might it be adapted as such?
Mr McCullough: The Olly McGilloway summer school, in which the society was involved, has been successful. It was something of a trust venture, and we did not know how it would turn out, but it has gone well. The city and surrounding area have enough to attract visitors. That basis could be built on to attract tourists from America and elsewhere to the city. I have received letters from people all over the world whose ancestors came from this area. Those people would be happy to return. Summer schools would be worthwhile, but funding is important, for their content and price must be made attractive.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your contribution. It will be added to the other evidence which is about to be distilled into a series of recommendations for the Minister and the Department. Unfortunately the Committee has no funds, since it is a watchdog for the Department, but it can lobby.
Mr McCullough: Some areas of the arts have received a great deal of money, but such areas as local history have been starved of funding. I used to be involved in an operatic society, so I know that the arts were able to get money - not easily, but more easily than has been possible for the NWAHS.
Thursday 25 October 2001
Mr ONeill (Chairperson)
Mrs Nelis (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Wilson
Mr Roy Bailie )
Mr Alan Clarke ) Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Mr Feargal Kearney )
Ms Isabel Jennings )
The Chairperson: You are welcome to this morning's Committee session. This is the last public session of this inquiry by the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure. The Committee has devoted extra time to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) because of the significance of the inquiry into tourism.
Mr Bailie: I apologise for the delay in responding to your request for a meeting, I was not aware of it until I was on the train to Dublin. Had I known I would have cleared my diary. It was not an attempt to avoid coming here.
I will start by introducing our delegation. Alan Clarke is the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. He recently joined the board and has had a long career in tourism. Isabel Jennings is the marketing director and Feargal Kearney has special responsibility for the arts. I will now hand over to Mr Kearney to start our presentation.
Mr Kearney: The presentation will cover such areas as the key players and relationships between the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and its industry partners, the value of cultural tourism to Northern Ireland and how the Tourist Board currently promotes cultural tourism. We will then look at the vision for growth via enhanced partnerships between the industry and the Government, and end with some concluding remarks.
The role of NITB carries two main responsibilities; to create demand for Northern Ireland as a holiday destination; and to enhance business through continuous improvement of the visitor offer in Northern Ireland, improving the product and the experience. One of our principal activities is the promotion of Northern Ireland as a holiday destination. Our particular circumstances of the past 30 years meant that we have not been a mainstream destination. To visit here requires a special motivation, and that is the challenge we have set ourselves to overcome in the future.
I will take you through a snapshot of what we have done with regard to cultural tourism over the past number of years. We have developed meaningful relationships with our partners in the cultural and creative industries and in Government. We have spoken meaningfully and at length with over 600 cultural organisations, representatives of visitor attractions and individuals as part of that process, and have mainstreamed culture within tourism through that process. In partnership with Northern Ireland's creative industries, we have implemented our key business development plan, called "Grow Your Business". This is an interface with the industry, in which we sit down with our colleagues, pool our knowledge of our visitors and their needs, identify barriers to growth, agree actions with the creative industries that we can undertake together. Flowing from that, we can target specific actions, sectors and markets.
Over the past number of years we have developed cultural tourism relationships with our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. One of the outcomes has been the natural resource rural tourism initiative. A great deal of work has been done with the creative industries with the assistance of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, and more recently on the waterways and fisheries, and angling tourism. The Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment are the custodians of our natural and built heritages, and we have developed key relationships with them for the purpose of exploring the way forward for cultural tourism. All of the discussion and debate that has taken place in this area, and on resourcing the effort, has been on developing joint tourism strategies with our colleagues in other Departments and Agencies.
From reading the materials, and from information from other sources, you will be aware of the Cultural Tourism Partnership. This ad-hoc body emerged from our work with our industry partners, including museums, literary festivals, visual arts providers, the industrial heritage and many others. Each area of the creative industries is represented on that body, and in the discussion and debate that takes place. It has had a crucial role in defining our new strategies and funding programmes, giving us strategic leadership and guidance on how we should resource the effort. This can be further enhanced through the membership of key Government players.
I will now hand over to my colleague Ms Jennings, who will look at the economic value of culture to tourism.
Ms Jennings: I am going to focus on the sales effort. My remit in the international sales team of NITB is to look at how we use culture. One of our key objectives is to interrupt the attention of people around the world who have holiday choices, and make them consider Northern Ireland as an option. You all know how easy it is to go to exotic places. Holiday choices have totally transformed in the last number of years and making Northern Ireland stand out is a challenging task. We see culture as a hook to achieve that. We must find things unique to Northern Ireland that people around the world will find attractive. Given our resources, it is a challenge to get that message heard when so many other destinations spend fortunes trying to articulate the reason why their particular destination should be chosen.
We spent a lot of time with consumer groups around the world. We asked them how they made their holiday choices, what destinations they dream of going to, what places they would like to go to every weekend and what places they would like to go to when their kids grow up - we gave them categories of choice. There was a "would not go there" category and unfortunately, Northern Ireland cropped up in that category seven out of ten times - along with Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and any Middle East country ending with "an" - despite our "best prospects" categories. That is the type of challenge that lies before us.
Our culture articulates what is unique about Northern Ireland. We carried out research that proves that the reason that people choose to visit Northern Ireland, and that the island of Ireland attracts 6 million tourists a year, is because of its pace of life and that it is a "people place". Our cultural territory makes us unique. However, Scotland, rural England, and Wales feel that way for exactly the same reason as we do. Anyone who has developed a tourism brand will know that culture is the core ingredient.
You will all be aware of Northern Ireland's major image problem. Other destinations around the world are trying to let people know that they exist. Everyone knows that Northern Ireland exists, however, not always for the right reasons. We spend a lot of time working with the Grow Your Business process that Mr Kearney referred to. We met with operators who sell tourism in Ireland worldwide, and asked them how they felt we could be more effective. They often mentioned that special interest travel, which incorporates culture, is a good way to overcome infrastructure, weather and image problems. People may be so interested in, for example, golf, the Titanic and the ecclesiastical territories that they will visit here regardless of our image problem. In fact, our ecclesiastical heritage stands out as an international tourist attraction for Northern Ireland, and that is an area in which we envisage much growth. The special interest category currently makes up between 20% and 25% of the leisure market -though that depends on which market you look at. The market is growing at 30% a year, and therefore it is quite lucrative.
There are two aspects to my presentation. The first aspect deals with what we currently do to maximise our cultural substance potential. The second aspect concerns the actions that we would like to take, which brings us into more visionary territory. One of the many things that we do is provide selling platforms for the cultural product. To put that into context, 2,400 people wish to be represented by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. We have a £3.8 million budget to enable us to sell platforms for those individuals. To make ourselves heard we must identify issues that can be cut through - if we try to represent everything, we will offer such a poor service that no one will hear the message.
We try to focus on what will make us stand out. We have concentrated on themed advertising and short breaks, particularly with carriers into Scotland and the north of England. The NITB information centre in Dublin regularly has window displays with cultural themes, and this hooks consumers in. We also get a lot of short break business from the Republic of Ireland, which is packaged around events or culture-related areas. We have sales desks in Dublin, which can be used by promoters of events such as the Belfast Festival to sell their event or product. That opportunity is open to everyone in the industry. From time to time, regional tourism organisations sell their portfolios from that platform also. The office is well located in a busy street, right beside the Kilkenny Design Centre, and we get a lot of tourism traffic and international visitors there.
We also provide the Breakaways brochure, which is underpinned by culture. We run lots of competitions in the Republic of Ireland through our brochures. We recently ran a "roots" competition - a kind of genealogical theme competition in the States - which articulates the cultural aspects of Northern Ireland. We hold lots of special interest exhibitions in all our key markets, and also use our internet sites in the market offices a great deal. For example, we recently held an exhibition in conjunction with British Airways and McCausland's hotel in Belfast, based on the St Patrick's theme "Into the United States". This was targeted at a particular audience and "platformed" a whole host of cultural options.
We organise special interest press trips, inviting journalists from all over the world to visit and experience our culture for themselves. To name a few, we have promoted the Belfast Festival, the Ulster Orchestra and Cinemagic in various parts of the USA and Europe. Our web site has elements dedicated to arts and culture, and we have published a number of brochures. The theme of promoting the Northern Ireland cultural sector and what makes Northern Ireland unique as a holiday destination permeates everything. We also publish the main guide "Northern Ireland at a Glimpse"; and a Northern Ireland events guide and an all-island guide are distributed through all tourist information centres in the island, and also through the international offices of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The new marketing company Tourism Ireland Ltd will be distributing those guides even more widely than NITB's networks. We have a number of specific culture publications with us today which you can look at.
We also sponsor events that we feel articulate the unique Northern Ireland experience - events such as the Belfast Festival at Queens, West Belfast Festival, Maiden City Festival, and the Ulster Fleadh. We have worked with the Film Commission on many of their platforms as we feel that the concept they project overcomes the negative image of Northern Ireland in consumers' minds.
As well as articulating what we have to sell we also endeavour to understand people who sell culture. We try to enhance our own assets and help to improve our performance in the longer term. We have invited many of those who sell cultural products from around the world to Northern Ireland and have set up workshops to give our providers of culture an opportunity to meet and engage with them. They discuss what is working now and what can be done to improve future performance. This is done within the Grow Your Business process that Mr Kearney referred to earlier.
We have had familiarisation trips for operators, and we specifically have a tour coming from Canada for the Belfast Festival. In one Grow Your Business session a lady helped us define how to maximise what Northern Ireland has to offer culturally in terms of tourism income outputs. We had a session with the Arts Council and put forward specific partnership opportunities that we felt would generate tangible results. We invited a study group, representing a tour operator who focuses entirely on special interest cultural related groups, to Armagh. We had a workshop session with the study group and a wide range of people in that category, discussing how we could better package that product to a German audience. We have done a lot with Ulster-Scots. We had 140 operators visit in May and themed their stay around the Titanic, with many familiarisation visits around that.
The underpinning of Tourism Ireland Ltd is based on what initially motivates people to come to Ireland. The research states that the reasons are people, place and pace, with the interaction with people being the unique aspect that Ireland offers. With regard to advertising, the money in these campaigns is going to cultural substance. The TV advertising has only nine themes because of funding, and two of them cover culture - one of them is Macnas and the other is Mount Stewart on the national heritage side. On the print side Powerscourt and also live music is represented as one of the themes. There are eight themes within the print, and three of them are in the cultural territory. The third was shot at the Ulster American Folk Park and is themed around the festival concept. The new campaign is to be launched on 7 November and culture has been given a priority as a mix within that projection.
Historically we had 17 external managers for NITB. We have 99 salespeople in the new set-up who will project our message. Historically, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has had problems getting information on Northern Ireland events presented at access points in Dublin and Galway, for example, because the Republic of Ireland competed with the NITB in many respects. It is a new ball game in this new set-up. There are many visitor servicing opportunities and there is obviously a catch-up commitment.
I will move on to the end, because of time constraints. I was going to give you an example of one of the partnerships that the NITB tried to create but I will skip to the end because we have touched on some of partnership themes. In short, there are many identified market opportunities - people who want things that Northern Ireland can offer. The difference between talking about it and achieving it is that more focus is needed on the end goals. We must not be diverted into insular perspectives. We must focus on where Northern Ireland can stand out, and get on with the job of getting the business. Mr Clarke, the chief executive will make some concluding remarks.
Mr Clarke: I will show some concluding slides on how we can work better in partnership. The building blocks are already there in many senses: for example, the new European programmes. The NITB has already secured £70 million over the next five years for tourism programmes that will take things forward.
I commend working together, especially for the future. The Scottish Affairs Committee has highlighted the fact that we must focus on the end goal of attracting visitors and creating wealth and jobs. I am quite new to the job of taking tourism forward. I am conscious that there are a number of ongoing reviews. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's review of tourism, which will be published at the end of January, will highlight where policy intervention in the industry is required. The NITB is currently developing a new marketing strategy, on the back of which there will be a new development strategy.
As for the private sector, the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation announced its new 'Blueprint for Tourism' just last week. To get people working together better, we should be developing a new Northern Ireland tourism strategy that is not a strategy for the NITB, but is a strategy for both the public and private sectors. I will give the Committee some examples of how that has been done in Wales and Scotland.
The Welsh example is particularly good because it sets out the national objectives for tourism growth over a five-year programme. The end of the report highlights exceptionally well how each agency, both public and private, can take ownership of the key objectives. It sets out who will take the lead responsibility and support responsibility. The Welsh example could be a good guideline on which to base future growth in Northern Ireland and getting the agencies to work together in a more co-ordinated and focused approach.
The Chairperson: The Committee has a lot of questions, as the NITB is important to the inquiry.
Mr Wilson: How would you describe the relationship between the NITB and the providers of arts and culture products in Northern Ireland? Is there an opportunity to improve that relationship? I will put it another way. Selling Northern Ireland as a tourist attraction over the past 20 or 30 years was never a job for the faint-hearted. However, during the recent extensive and comprehensive inquiry into angling in Northern Ireland and during this inquiry, which is coming to an end, very few people - if any - had anything to say to the credit of the NITB. Why?
Mr Bailie: I do not know how to answer that question, but I can answer if you are more specific. I am certainly aware of the NITB's weaknesses - image was mentioned as one weakness. It would be arrogant of me to think that the board gets everything right, and I do not think that my colleagues think that it gets everything right. When I came into the Tourist Board I found that it was the most fragmented industry that I had ever come across. You can ask how tourism as an industry is defined, given that it is a number of components that work on their own - you only become an industry when you introduce tourists. At one stage 75 organisations claimed to speak on behalf of tourism. I used to joke and say that we had more bodies speaking on behalf of tourism than we had tourists.
Co-ordination is a huge issue. During my time, I attempted to get out more and to talk to more people. In the past year, the board has visited all five regional tourist organisation (RTO) areas - it has gone out to meet people. Five or six years ago there was a view that the board would get criticised, and I said that that was fine, because either the criticism is correct and it should do something about it, or it is incorrect and it gives the board the opportunity to put things right. I am aware of people who criticise the board, sometimes quite rightly, but the general criticism surprises me. The Tourist Board does not do everything wrongly or rightly. We want to communicate more because ultimately the Tourist Board is not tourism. The Tourist Board is there to co-ordinate and to try to maximise funding, and that is because of market failure. No individual in any group can spend money effectively, so the Tourist Board does that for that organisation. When I have made speeches in the countryside, I have asked what the role of a national tourist board is. Without exception, people are surprised at the role. People phone us and say that they had a bad meal at a restaurant - they should complain to the restaurant.
If it answers your question, there is a view that sometimes the Tourist Board is an easy target to hit for all ills. Far be it for me to say that the board does everything right, it does not, but it is good at marketing and is essentially there to market Northern Ireland as a tourism destination, not to solve all the other problems that are related to tourism.
The Chairperson: In fairness to Mr Wilson's question, the Committee had about 70 submissions at the angling inquiry, and it had over 80 in this inquiry. All of those came from the main players. It was a theme in both inquiries that nobody said much to the credit of the operations of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, which concerned us - that is a matter of record for the Committee.
Mr Bailie: That obviously concerns me greatly, and the board has a lot more work to do. I look forward to the report, because if it is more specific the board can address those areas. I give you our commitment that we will do that vigorously. The last thing I want is to be chairman of a board or to have colleagues working for that board that do not enjoy the confidence of the industry that we are supposed to serve.
Mr McMenamin: I would like to ask a few questions on promotion and marketing. In 1997, the Tourist Board published its tourism and arts consultation document - 'Tourism and the Arts in Northern Ireland: a consultation document' - that set out a marketing plan, objectives and strategies for the promotion of arts and tourism in Northern Ireland. However, there is little Northern Ireland Tourist Board information in the public domain that assesses the steps that the board has taken. What have you done to develop the tourism strategy that was in that consultation document?
Mr Kearney: As you know, that document was superseded by the 1998 paper 'The Cultural Sector: a development opportunity for tourism in Northern Ireland - summary report'. That document led directly to my appointment as the development officer for that area. We must highlight that the Tourist Board has invested heavily in the capital aspect of culture in Northern Ireland, before, during and after that time, for example, the Tí Chulainn Centre in south Armagh and more recently the St Patrick's Centre in Downpatrick. That investment process in the strategic development of the infrastructure has been ongoing.
When I first took up the post, the absence of dialogue between the tourism and the cultural sectors was clear. I set out to challenge and correct that in the best and most expedient way possible. I convened seminars and workshops, and met about 600 organisations spread across the creative industries in the cultural sector in Northern Ireland, in which we had good discussions. Suffice to say it was not a discussion that we left hanging - we identified the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats across the broad range of sectors. That coincided with the beginning of our strategic review. What we have learnt from those discussions has been mainstreamed into our strategic thinking, policy and funding programmes. We listened to what the cultural sector had to say. Our actions may not have been very visible because we were working our way through a previous strategic planning period. However, that is now a mainstreamed activity, and it is in our new marketing strategy and funding programmes. We know what we need to do with this sector, and have put ourselves forward to work more proactively with our industry to achieve the vision that we have set our industry and ourselves.
Mr McMenamin: The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has bid for Executive programme funds to support the construction of a new cultural web site 'Culturenorthernireland'. Will the Tourist Board ensure that there is a link established between its four web site pages on culture and the new resource?
Mr Kearney: Absolutely. We have already given that commitment. There are nine designations for culture on our new web site 'discovernorthernireland.com'. We would like to see this information as it emerges, and I have been reassured by some of the key players that it is going to be high quality information. We welcome that, and encourage a direct link to the wealth, depth, breadth and variety that that will provide. We will not have the resources to develop that, but we will work in partnership with our colleagues in both the Department and the industry to achieve that.
Mr McMenamin: What is your reaction to those who say that the Tourist Board is preoccupied with bed night figures, to the exclusion of other measures for recording tourists?
Mr Clarke: One of the key aspects of a tourist board's role is creating income for the economy and creating jobs through that income. We have a whole range of measurements. The seasons are important - what seasonal business are we attracting? The key is to create wealth and jobs. Each campaign has its own performance measures. Ms Jennings has referred to press coverage to reverse the image aspects. Our activity will focus much more on the tourism industry, and ensuring that it grows and becomes profitable. Profitability within the tourism industry is another key performance indicator that we must be aware of.
Mr McMenamin: What are the key target tourist market segments for Northern Ireland cultural tourism products? What market research and visitor profiling have been carried out, and what are the key promotional channels that will reach those target markets?
Ms Jennings: We can break it into two categories: the closer to home markets and the domestic market. Our best prospect for leisure weekend breaks is the mainstream category that is usually hooked to events with cultural substance. We regularly put packages together through our tourist information centre in Dublin and sell offers. Most of those who would take short break trips to the North would be young people before they have families, and the "empty nester". Those weekends would cover a special event.
We have very strong networks in both the United States and Germany for the very special interests such as ecclesiastical trips, anything to do with the Titanic, Séamus Heaney tours, et cetera. A lot of our work has focused on that, and our engagement through "Grow your Business" in this sector has focused on that. I referred earlier to Ann Waigand, and she is known as a guru in the development of special interest categories, and tours that cannot be bought from a travel agent as they are so specialist. The channel is a "not for profit" operator, and tends to work in affinity groups.
For the last four years we have had a platform at the annual meeting of the planners. We also fund ground handlers in Northern Ireland to go along and articulate packages that include special interests in the USA market. The German market is almost in the same category. It is driven by schools, affinity groups, literature societies or specialists in a particular field who travel the world in search of that. We try to bring in the planners to experience the product for themselves. They then sell it. We have distributed booklets to the industry which define the players, who they brought last year, where they came from, how much they paid. These people are at the very top end of the market and often pay £2,500 per week. They are exactly the target audience we want. They are a niche market - not great in numbers, but so lucrative. They are so keen to find the authentic "Titanic element" that they will come despite anything else going on in Northern Ireland - that is irrelevant.
Mr McElduff: Are any cultural products identified but not yet on offer which might increase the number of visitors? I have a great belief in the potential of the Sperrins and its close connection with the Irish language. People spoke it there until the 1960s. Bord Fáilte secures visitors for other parts of Ireland. What is distinctive or attractive about the North to ensure that it is on the itinerary for visitors?
Mr Kearney: That is rather a heavy question. One thing we did as part of our strategic review of the past year was to look at the fundamentals of our visitor offer. The specific reason for that was to look through the eyes of people who do not live here and to ask ourselves what was so special about the place. Among the usual answers were the landscape and the quiet, undiscovered and unexplored places. At present the Sperrins are the best example. Some aspects of our cultural tradition and heritage are unique to that part of Ireland because of its history.
We looked at our maritime heritage in the broader sense, rather than focusing on "Titanic". Another area was the influence of the Scottish and English plantations on architecture, the language and the landscape, and we also examined the traditional arts in this part of Ireland, particularly in specific areas such as the Glens of Antrim and the Sperrins.
We see those areas as principal challenges, both in how we engage with those who provide the product and in how we make it accessible for the international audience to enjoy. We must commit to working together to ensure that, as we have done with every other sector of the industry. We have something more than the usual landscape features.
Mr Bailie: The development of a product and its marketing must be clearly differentiated. There is no question that we need to take the lead in marketing. If there is a criticism of that, that is fine. The development of the product needs genuine partnership. It would be wrong to do that on our own, because we do not have the knowledge. It is vital for us to work with Government Departments and organisations involved in the particular sector to put the product together. It is important that we support them in marketing the product - NITB cannot do it alone. At exhibitions all over the world I learn more at the front desk.
If I had a criticism of the industry it would be that there is nobody to sell products such as English language, culture, heritage and so forth. Bord Fáilte has a team of people from the industry to exploit these for tourism. We must do more to change the role of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, as it does not lead the industry. It should not be leading the industry; it should be supporting the industry. It may not be easy to do, but I am convinced that it is the way forward. After all, God helps those who help themselves.
Ms Jennings: There is a great deal of material that we could project, but not all of it is ready for sale. The incoming tour operators, who bring the lion's share of international traffic into the island of Ireland - the ground handlers who arrange the nuts and bolts of people's holidays - recently completed an audit of the holistic offer. It looks at everything from accommodation to the quality of the whole holiday experience - people do not come on holiday to sit in a bedroom - all the tour operators are looking for a new idea. The document, which has been submitted to us, contains several findings, and we are considering them. It will inform our vision of where we should focus our efforts on product development.
The Tourist Board has such a bad name because it tries to be all things to all men rather than consider, say, 10 factors that will make the most difference and develop them to the best of its ability. Until we can reach agreement on matters that will make a significant difference and on how to develop them to the benefit of everyone we will never shake off that reputation. We have many ideas of our own; but we should listen to those who make their living from tourism and who know what the consumer wants. We must swallow the bitter pill that things that we believe to be fine are not acceptable to our consumers. We must consider our development from the perspective of market forces. That will make a big difference.
Mrs Nelis: I hope that this is a new beginning in our relationship with you and in the field of tourism. What will your role be as Tourism Ireland Ltd develops? I confess that when I heard the creation of Tourism Ireland Ltd being announced I asked Sir Reg Empey what your role would be as I had such a poor image of what you were doing at the time. Do you envisage joint marketing initiatives with the Republic in promoting a cultural tourism product on this side of the border? In this context you mentioned Powerscourt and the Ulster-American Folk Park, which are already very well marketed; perhaps you should consider promoting what is often called the "Hidden Ireland". That does attract Continental visitors.
Mr Bailie: My board and I are totally committed to Tourism Ireland Ltd. Indeed, we have been working very closely with Bord Fáilte for several years. Ironically, when the debate on Tourism Ireland Ltd was under way, our relationship with Bord Fáilte faltered because we were not quite sure what the relationship would be. We probably would not have developed as quickly if it had not been for the debate.
I am on the board of Tourism Ireland Ltd, as is Alan Clarke and the chairman and chief executive of Bord Fáilte. That is interesting, because wearing my Northern Ireland Tourism Board hat, I am clear in my role, which is to maximise tourism for Northern Ireland. Tourism Ireland Ltd is an all-Ireland organisation, but I take the Japanese view that "a rising tide lifts all boats". I am totally convinced of the way forward.
Ms Jennings mentioned the small budget that we have, and we are joining in with a campaign that has a huge budget of over £20 million, and we need to maximise that. I see us coming in on that in the strategic and tactical marketing side. We must decide what the Northern Ireland proposition in Tourism Ireland Ltd is, and how we differentiate ourselves. We have touched on the area of culture, but there are many others.
The relationship between Bord Fáilte and NITB is developing harmoniously, and we understand the common vision, which is to attract more people onto the island and filter them throughout it. Our tourists come to Northern Ireland, and the regional tourist organisations filter them into the regions. The network is there to do that. I have no problem as to where NITB sits with Tourism Ireland Ltd. It is, and will be, a developing relationship. At present Tourism Ireland Ltd has four or five executives, and we seconded three full-time people to it. One of the issues that it has created in NITB - which comes back to Mr Jim Wilson's and the Chairperson's points - is that it is very difficult to restructure an organisation in such a major way. There has been a huge reorganisation of tourism and how it is developed. Tourism Ireland Ltd has created uncertainty, not only in NITB, but also in Bord Fáilte. People were uncertain about the future, and we were not in a position to tell them what that was, because the company was evolving over the last six months. We lost a lot of people. It may be that part of the criticism that is levelled at the board - and I do not know if it will be over a short or medium term - is due to the uncertainty that has existed in NITB over the last 18 months. That uncertainty has created problems for NITB, but we are over it now - we are recruiting new people and moving ahead. NITB does have a role within Tourism Ireland Ltd. Tourism Ireland Ltd must be seen as the major marketing organisation for the island, and NITB can come in on the back of it with tactical campaigns.
Mr Clarke: NITB's role will also focus more on the industry, and as Ms Jennings said, it must make sure that the industry is there, and that the product matches consumers' requirements. That is NITB's fundamental role in the future. We see NITB's role as being that of an information broker. We must bring information from the marketplace to the industry including through Tourism Ireland Ltd. We have to make people in the industry aware of the market intelligence. We must have good product knowledge of what exists in Northern Ireland and what could exist, and we must make sure that it is translated into the market place.
Mrs Nelis: You mentioned Donegal. There is a joint tourism initiative, and Donegal attracts a huge number of visitors because of its culture, language and scenery, so it already has a substantial market.
Mr Clarke: A joint promotion for the Scottish market is taking place between the north coast of Northern Ireland and Donegal. Co-operation and joint activity is taking place.
Mrs Nelis: There is the Irish Language and the Scots-Irish link as well.
Mr Bailie: Six months ago we met with North West Tourism. It is keen to do something with the area that one might call the northern counties - the area north of a line drawn between Dundalk and Sligo. That organisation has similar problems to those that NITB faces. It complains that it is not enjoying a massive increase in tourism. Given the geography, we feel that we can market that area in cultural, sporting and other terms, so we are working with that organisation. I do not see that as a conflict with Tourism Ireland Ltd, but rather as a benefit arising from it, and we can work closely with them.
Mr Clarke: I mentioned the strategic role that NITB must play in the future. It is important that NITB leads the industry from the market place in the context of the products that will sell. Part of that is its partnership and co-ordination role with public and private sector agencies, and making sure that we have a clear focus on what we are trying to achieve for the future. We must ensure that everyone is behind that, sharing the same vision and taking ownership of it, which is a key factor.
Mr Davis: In your presentation you mentioned building relationships, and that there are six hundred cultural organisations. However, you did not mention district councils. What role do you see for them in cultural tourism development?
Mr Bailie: If we did not mention district councils, it was because they are built into the Regional Tourism Organisations. We are committed to RTOs, and they get one quarter of our budget. They are partnerships between the councils and the private sector. Councils have an important role to play in that respect. Tourism is almost like education - everyone is an expert and has a view. We must focus and harness that. Regarding Mr Clarke's point, I genuinely believe that the way forward lies in asking ourselves what the tourism vision for Northern Ireland is rather than merely what the NITB's vision might be. Once everyone buys into that, you can determine what role each individual will play, and councils have a vital role to play.
Mr Kearney: Our dialogue with colleagues in local authorities is almost daily. We view them as key people, whether they be a local authority officer for tourism or for arts; events officers are now also coming into play. They fall under the designation of the creative industries, which is now a popular expression. They work in the creative industries, regardless of their exact role.
Ms Jennings: They are very good at attending and contributing to the Grow your Business process, and many of the operators selling the product raise issues regarding the opening times of museums and visitor attractions for which the local authority is responsible. One Tuesday evening I experienced difficulty finding something for a group of international visitors staying at a local hotel to do. The local authority was able to come up with a cultural event for the period the tour spent in their area.
Immediately after entering a territory, the incoming tour operators, to which I referred, wish to meet local authority tourism representatives, whoever they may be, to describe what their consumers desire. They expect the local authority to bring something to the table for the consumers to do during their visit.
Mr Davis: What is your relationship with Northern Ireland's four genealogical centres?
Mr Kearney: While we have relationships, in this instance we have worked more strategically. We are currently working on a joint roots tourism strategy with Irish Genealogy Ltd (IGL). Although it is based in Dublin, its membership is drawn from across Ireland and includes members of the Association of Ulster Genealogists and Record Agents (AUGRA) and the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI). We wish to ensure a top-down strategic view of how we develop roots tourism - not genealogy, for that is research - which means having access to people with emotional and personal ties to here and providing them with opportunities to come and enjoy it.
We have a holistic and strategic view on which we work proactively. I am an observer member of the Irish Genealogy Board. I attend its meetings and steer it in the direction I have described; we are working very well and at an extremely good pace.
Mr McCarthy: After the January 1998 publication of 'The Cultural Sector: A Development Opportunity for Tourism in Northern Ireland', a cultural tourism officer was appointed to make progress on this, and the Cultural Tourism Partnership was established. Apparently the cultural tourism officer, whose good work has been mentioned by a number of the bodies who have given evidence, was subsequently given other duties. That seems strange given what was clearly identified as a major development opportunity. Is the board content with the priority accorded to this?
Mr Kearney: I can speak personally, for it was I who was the cultural tourism officer then. I am thankful that someone has said something complimentary about the NITB. I started knowing nothing and along with colleagues in the cultural sector had to learn very quickly.
We met the 600 groups I mentioned in the first 18 months. That told us a great deal about what we needed to do. When I was asked to do other things in the NITB, I had taken matters to a stage where I could go no further without the necessary resources. It was opportune that the NITB itself started a fundamental review of its activity. I was asked to work with the big picture in tourism - I hope because of what my approach brought to the organisation.
That has had a good spin-off in that all the knowledge and learning that I accumulated from conversations with the creative industries and the cultural sector became mainstreamed in our debate with the industry internally and with our travel trade internationally and is now part and parcel of our new strategy. That is where it needed to be all along. We made it part of the mainstream through my becoming a mainstream part of the Tourist Board and able to share that knowledge with all my colleagues and other interested parties. It has been a great boost rather than something that we should frown upon.
Mr McCarthy: Why was it decided that responsibility for an issue with such potential should be passed to the Cultural Tourism Partnership, a group that we think was never formally constituted? Why were the performing arts, music and traditional arts groups not part of the Cultural Tourism Partnership? Other than a number of sectoral reports, what has the partnership delivered?
Mr Kearney: My colleagues will intervene in the answers to those questions if necessary. The Cultural Tourism Partnership was not handed that portfolio. As we have tried to explain, it emerged from the discussions that we had with the cultural sector. For example, we had representatives of about 90 heritage attractions sitting around a table. We got to the stage where we knew what we needed to do, but we could not keep meeting those representatives because the conversations were drying up. They nominated one of their members to sit on the Cultural Tourism Partnership, who would act in their interests. It was almost like a democratic process.
The Cultural Tourism Partnership became an ad hoc advisory body to the Tourist Board. In other words, that is where we sounded off some of our policy and strategy ideas. Those in the partnership were able to inform us from their perspective. Our strategy is now more meaningful. It was not a matter of our devolving responsibility; we saw it as a testing ground for new ideas and for informing us. That was its key role.
We did not convene the performing arts, music and traditional arts groups. Those are three of the largest sectoral groups with which we could deal. We have not dealt with them specifically. We have now committed ourselves to doing that through our 'Grow your Business' process. We will be inviting people to two seminars for the sectors in December. That is good because we are now applying our mainstream business development function to the creative industries and to culture. We are working with people on what we must do. We want to run rather than just talk, and our strategy now permits us to do that - resources are there to support the ideas.
Mr McElduff: Where will the seminars be held?
Mr Kearney: One will be held in the new forum in Derry. We are still trying to work out where the other will be held, and we are working around a guest speaker, who will add value to it. We need a large venue because of the number of people who will be involved. I hope I have answered the question about sectoral reports. Their value was in how they fed into our strategy.
Mr Bailie: We started with people criticising the board; that is fine, but this is a classic example of people saying "Well, you have only got one person" when we have not only got one person. The whole board is involved. It may appear to be only one person, but he permeates throughout the board. My colleague has spent considerable time in the last three months working with the Belfast Festival at Queen's. It is not true that we have only one person, but I can understand why people think that. Because of the importance of this, we will be looking at the resource of people. It is not a matter of three individuals working in boxes. We want them to permeate the organisation.
Mr Clarke: That is key. If you put culture in a box, the danger is that it will stay there. Our approach is against that.
Ms Jennings: It would be useful if some of you attended one of the 'Grow your Business' sessions to see it in action. That would make it easier to understand how we interact, and you could see some of the issues that inhibit output. I extend an invitation to anyone who is interested to see it in action.
Dr Adamson: In your submission you spoke about Peace II funding. For the record, what was the result of your bid of February 2001, which had a clear focus on culture and tourism?
Mr Bailie: The Committee may have seen the paper that was produced which formed the basis of the bid. The bid was successful, and we have the money.
Dr Adamson: I would like to talk about the visitor market. Having travelled around a lot of the world. Ms Jennings mentioned Uzbekistan. I went on President Yeltsin's train for a week to Samarkand there, and that was marvellous. What are the main barriers to the development of the out-of-state visitor market for cultural tourism in Northern Ireland?
Mr Kearney: The principal barrier is still our negative image. To return to the last slide that our chief executive showed regarding skirmishes on the sidelines, the other problem is getting people to come together under a national strategy to work collectively to "re-image" this place and expose the rest of the world to the good things here. The Tourist Board has a core and simple role in establishing an image, but everyone must work to support it so that we are ready for visitors when they come. We cannot sell an experience that we do not offer. Getting people to work together is the principal challenge, and failure to do that will be a barrier to growth.
Mr Bailie: Three or four years ago, we spoke to the organisers of the Belfast Festival at Queen's and said that, although we all talk about shoulder season tourism, November is not the best time to encourage tourism anywhere because people are getting ready for Christmas. If the festival could be held in September or October, it would be better for tourism. Obviously festivals cannot be organised overnight - acts need to be booked up to three years in advance, but we have worked with the organisers, and it is going to be moved. That is an example of the Tourist Board's working with people in the arts from a tourism perspective. The main issue is partnership.
Ms Jennings: One of the other key issues is access and the time famine. People want to reach places quickly, and because this is an island, the cost effectiveness of getting here is key. That is one of the factors which has given the Republic of Ireland success. The Republic can map growth alongside the new travel routes that are established. The low-cost airline flights in Europe present a great opportunity to generate leisure traffic from there. The Tourist Board is working closely with Tourism Ireland Ltd. to take a more proactive approach in that area.
I have attended many focus groups around the world, and I have spoken to people who have not visited, but are within our target group, and to people who have visited to find out what they did and did not like and whether they would come back. The most important thing is for people to feel safe. I organised a visit for a group from the United States. It took me about three years to talk them into arranging the tour. They sat at the McCausland Hotel and were afraid to come out of their rooms during the Twelfth week because they had seen something on television - on CNN, believe it or not - that had scared the wits out of them. We had to go and encourage them.
We must try harder and focus on where we are to make progress. If we pretend to be a mainstream destination with £3.8 million, we will never get ourselves out of a situation in which everyone has a problem with the Tourist Board. Your remark about drawing a line in the sand and starting from a new relationship perspective was right - the Tourist Board cannot take a strategic lead if it is not respected. We must make a new start, and with the new structures and Tourism Ireland Ltd. on board, there is a redefined focus for the Tourist Board. If we all agree that there are certain areas where we can make a difference and focus our efforts where they will win, we could go somewhere. Today's questions exemplify the problem. It is demotivating for my team to be constantly working hard but always getting it wrong. Some things are wrong, but the underlying problem is that the Tourist Board is stretched. By trying to be everything to everybody, it is doing nothing right.
Dr Adamson: To your credit, I have seen Northern Ireland Tourist Board material in France, Germany, Canada and the United States. In an ideal world with unlimited resources, what would the Tourist Board's key priority be for the development of cultural tourism? You mentioned the Titanic - when I was on a cruise on the QE2, it stopped over the site of the Titanic. The event was described in six languages, including Japanese, and the commentary said that the Titanic was built in Belfast and that people should visit Northern Ireland. Should we raise the Titanic?
Mr Bailie: The Titanic is something with which Belfast and Northern Ireland are identified. The film showed that it is a tremendous story, and I am amazed at the number of people, such as members of the Titanic society, who come here because of it. It has huge potential, and we are more than ready to get involved. Several people have lots of ideas, but nothing has materialised. If the Committee can do anything to push people into some sort of role, we would happily go along with that.
Belfast is at a competitive disadvantage because it does not have an art gallery. That is bad. Ninety eight per cent of paintings held by the Ulster Museum are not shown - paintings by some international artists are hidden in racks. That is a major disadvantage, and if Belfast bids to become the City of Culture in 2008, it will not have a hope of success without an art gallery.
Dr Adamson: I am trying to move the city hall to Stormont to realise that.
The Chairperson: It might be interesting for Members to see the paper that the board prepared for the Peace II bid. How much did the board bid for?
Mr Kearney: There are four different programmes from European funds. The building sustainable prosperity programme is worth about £4 million per year over the next five years. There are two tourism programmes under Peace II. The natural resource, rural tourism initiative that the board jointly co-ordinates with its colleagues in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Environment and Heritage Service and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is worth 17.5 million euros. The outward and forward-looking tourism measure that is led by the Tourist Board is worth 19.49 million euros. The forth programme is INTEREG IIIA. The rural development measure of that, which is, by and large a tourism measure, is worth between £10 and £11 million.
Mr Shannon: I am ever conscious of the role of the Tourist Board in the whole of Ireland. How do you ensure that visitors who come in through Dublin or Shannon are made aware of the attractions in Northern Ireland? You said that sometimes there can be an image problem. Are people who come to the Republic who want to travel to Northern Ireland encouraged to do so? Are they given brochures that would guide them around here? How can we ensure that that happens?
Mr Bailie: We do not play a minor role. Half the board members come from Northern Ireland, as does the chairperson. As a board member, I have Northern Ireland's interests at heart. However, because of our history, we are trying to catch up and must, therefore, be given some advantages.
That is the theory; the reality is that because of the relative size of the two companies, very few people want to work at the headquarters in Dublin. The majority of people working there are ex-Bord Fáilte employees. The chief executive is an ex-Bord Fáilte employee and is very aware that Tourism Ireland Ltd. should be seen as a new organisation and not as a takeover.
The NITBs prime role is to ensure that the possible problems you have identified do not arise. It is up to us to ensure that we are on a level playing field with the Republic of Ireland when it comes to visitors arriving on the island via Shannon or Dublin. A training programme is already underway in respect of the call centre at Killorgan. Tourism Ireland Ltd also needs to carry out a huge training programme because most of its people have only had experience of selling tourism in the Republic of Ireland - they need to be trained in selling tourism in Northern Ireland also.
Further afield, people with a Northern Ireland background will transfer to offices in France, Germany and the United States. Canada is different because Bord Fáilte did not have an office there. If Tourism Ireland Ltd is going to be successful, it cannot be on the basis that two thirds of the employees are trying to promote the Republic of Ireland while one third is trying to promote Northern Ireland. The work must be integrated so that if in five years time the company is a success, tourism promotion will be seamless. I hope that your question will then be irrelevant.
The NITB will be watching as we move forward with a tourism Ireland brand to see that Northern Ireland gets its fair share of the marketing, media spend and images that emerge. We do not want to get into the classic problem of opening a brochure and seeing, for example, three photographs of one place and six of another: there is a danger in getting into that type of debate. Our role is to ensure that Northern Ireland is advantaged by these developments.
Ms Jennings: I would like to make a point about providing information at airports. The NITB has tried to have Northern Ireland literature included in tourist information centres and at airports in the Republic. One problem is that the bodies that fund those places comprise member organisations and, like our regional tourism organisations, only display literature for members in their regions. That is why we have had difficulty with getting our literature into some access points. Tourism Ireland Ltd will change that. Although the company does not have responsibility for this, it is understood that if we are trying to sell the whole island to a consumer, we must think from that person's point of view. Consumers need information about the whole island when they arrive here. We have had fruitful discussions about this and are making good progress with addressing it, something that was not possible before because of commercial interests. Tourism Ireland Ltd is enabling us to make such progress.
The NITB is responsible for converting some of the Republic's tourism into business for Northern Ireland. We will have access to the database of calls to the call centre and will be able to carry out customer relationship and direct mail marketing with those callers. We will be able to tell them what we have offer. We have never been able to do that before. We will be able to promote the North to everyone who comes to the island. That is a positive, fundamental shift.
Mr Clarke: Another point worth making, and one that Ms Jennings mentioned in the presentation, is that we will retain our information office in central Dublin. People are often more receptive to persuasion and information once they have settled into their destination rather than at an airport.
Mr Shannon: That is a very encouraging response. I am pleased about the monitoring to ensure that the goals are achieved. A greater emphasis is now being placed on year-round, events-based tourism. The Republic has managed to have several such events, for example, the Galway, Errigal and Kilkenny arts festivals. What are you doing to promote the arts here separately? Do you see events-based tourism as important? Could we develop it into something special?
Mr Kearney: The Tourist Board views events tourism as important. When the board started its strategic review it looked at events because they are the tangible bringing to life of what we call culture - people celebrating in the place where they live, and as such fundamental to how the board exposes Northern Ireland to visitors. That has guided us towards a new events policy, which can be made available to the Committee. The policy makes provision for a 500% per annum increase in the board's events budget over the next few years and, as a tangible reprioritisation of events, signals our intention to put events at the core of how we deliver tourism. Cultural events are key to that.
In the events policy we have committed ourselves to reacting to applications and, where necessary, to generating new thinking and new types of high profile events. The Tourist Board will work with people who come up with new ideas. We cannot just sit back or react. We must be proactive - go out and tell people what a consumer puts value on, and if that is not available, tell the organisers to tweak their events to give an international dimension.
Ms Jennings: Incoming tour operators or ground handlers in Dublin bring in a lot of business, and that is another key factor. A number of those specialise in looking for a venue for someone who is thinking about starting an annual event. The Tourist Board was recently contacted by an enquirer, through Brendan Tours, who wanted to set up an international choral festival. He wanted to hold the event somewhere in Ireland, and Armagh was chosen. Having bid against a number of other operators around the world, he looked at the infrastructure in Armagh and at how the event could be staged differently.
The Tourist Board is trying to say how willing it is. If someone wants to organise an event, the board will bring all the players together, be the catalyst that helps them meet the right people and give them the level of comfort they need to make the whole package. It will work hard to facilitate the organisers so that we can play in that arena. Sometimes the Tourist Board may not be successful because it is open to private sector competition, but even getting in the shop window is a big step from where we used to be.
Mr Shannon: You mentioned an annual 500% increase. Is that in resources?
Mr Kearney: It is in revenue finance. Between the Tourist Board's core budget for events and the new EU peace programmes there will probably be an events budget in the region of £480,000 a year, an increase from approximately £120,000. The board may not get all that, but that is what it has built into its programmes.
The nature of the board's discussion has changed, so it will be working strategically with the likes of the Northern Ireland Events Company, the Sports Council for Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Those organisations will come up with big ideas collectively and co-finance and resource them. At present, the Events Company may come to the Tourist Board or we may approach it at a late stage. Now the different organisations will work together, come up with the ideas and manage them better than the Tourist Board did previously.
Mr Shannon: The world boxing championship was a big success. Did the Tourist Board contribute to that?
Mr Kearney: We contributed £50,000 to that, one of the biggest contributions we have made in recent years.
Mr Shannon: The events of September 11 changed a lot of things and even managed to get decommissioning in this country. Do you think that the number of tourists from the USA will reduce?
Mr Bailie: Ironically - and I feel embarrassed to say this - we will probably suffer less than the Republic and other parts of the United Kingdom. Even though the numbers had been increasing, we never had as many visitors from America as those other areas had, so the economic impact will be less. But a reduction is inevitable. One must ask how long the downturn will last, and that depends on a number of factors - will there be another major incident? Will the war escalate?
Two days ago officials from the Tourist Board looked at that and tried to decide where best to spend money to get best results. There is no point in going out on a major campaign to North America if you believe that they will not come. However, we have to keep going. We are certainly coming to the view that next year - and we must think in the short to medium term - we should focus on those areas where we can get the best results, namely Great Britain, the Irish Republic and, interestingly, mainland Europe. While Americans are not travelling, Europeans are not going to America or the far east. They are seeking alternatives, and Ireland could be seen as a safe destination. They do not want to go to London, for it is an iconic city, and they are worried. The American market will be hit, but that is no reason to think that we cannot get the numbers up.
Mrs Nelis: If there is to be a new beginning, I make a plea for my home city, which has two famous walls: Derry's Walls, which form one of Europe's old walled cities; and Free Derry Wall. For nine years I have been asking the NITB to erect a sign directing people to Free Derry Wall for the simple reason that every morning - even at 9 o'clock - there are 30 or 40 people around it. If people come to see Derry's Walls, they also come to see Free Derry Wall, and I make that plug today.
The Chairperson: After that short commercial, we will draw the session to a close. I am sure you can deal with Mrs Nelis's request. I am conscious of the fact that from the time you made your written submission until today, a number of things happened which will have an impact on your views on cultural tourism and our inquiry. If you would like to, do send us additional views. Perhaps some of our questions triggered off thoughts you would like to expand on or add to; perhaps you would even like to develop another line of thought in parallel. We will welcome any additional information you care to provide for us. However, time is short, and we shall need it within a week or two.
Today has been a significant session in our evidence gathering. I should like to thank you all for your contributions. As you know, they will all go into a distillation process from which we hope our report will come with a number of recommendations which will go to different Departments - our own Department, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and so on. Much of it will have a direct impact on you, so it is important for us to get it as right as we can. With your help I am sure we shall be able to do so. On behalf of the Committee, thank you very much for your attention and the effort you made to deal with our questions.
Mr Bailie: I thank you likewise on behalf of my colleagues. I do not know if we have convinced you that we are not as bad as everyone says, but I hope we have persuaded you of our willingness to listen, our enthusiasm and our genuine desire to work with as many people and sectors as possible.