Founder of Northern Ireland's Hastings Hotels Dr Billy Hastings welcomes the return of good economic times to the Irish hospitality industry
Tourism is now top of the agenda for our newly elected politicians in Northern Ireland.
Even though few of them appear to have a complete understanding of the many strands of business that comprise the industry, they can see with their own eyes the activity and effects created by the arrival of so many visitors to our shores.
Tourism caters for business traffic, sport, leisure, conventions, conferences, banqueting, spa treatments, entertainment and cultural activities.
We in Northern Ireland were stripped bare of all our tourism assets with the years of unsafe conditions in our province and, as a result, the absence of visitors - excepting a few friends and relations and a very limited number of traders who had to come here to conduct their business.
Consequently, it is all the more wonderful to once more enjoy the delights and benefits that are re-emerging with such incredible speed, bringing with them massive investment, much-needed employment and an influx of visitors from around the world.
It is amazing how our business has changed over the past 30 years and how it continues to change and replicate the rapid developments in the worldwide centres of tourism excellence.
The creation of Tourism Ireland, our all-island marketing body, has already proved to be highly successful in marketing the island as a whole unit.
We now offer desirable career opportunities for a new generation of university-educated and globally minded young people, who bring to Northern Ireland a new international flavour never before experienced.
Competition has always been said to be good for trade, and certainly it is now more important than ever for hotels to improve accommodation, marketing, training and IT to cope with the invasion of branded hotel companies entering the market with a variety of quality hotels.
The days of agriculture being the top priority in Ireland are no more. And while various manufacturing industries come and go, tourism is here forever. Let us hope that human nature, with its increasing desire for travel and luxury, will ensure that our future is one of continuing growth.
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