Visitors to South West College recently marvelled at the tourist attractions of Northern Ireland. Last week, we hosted staff from Northern College in Ontario Canada, a college with an international reputation in civil and environmental engineering at technician and graduate level, and Aaron R. Klooster described their visit by saying: ‘the staff and everyone around here in general are incredibly friendly and pleasant. Irish people have a reputation worldwide for their hospitality and we can certainly vouch for that now having experienced it first-hand. Since we've been here we've been able to play the part of the tourist, and visit the Giants Causeway and the Titanic Museum. We’ve really been impressed, it’s seemed like a wonderful country in general, and there weather has been brilliant. People keep saying all this sunshine isn't the norm, but as long as we're here, it feels like it is!'

Unfortunately, last week’s weather is indeed rare, and tourism in Northern Ireland isn’t always this easy. With this in mind, Tourism NI’s annual Northern Ireland Tourism Conference this year is taking on the theme of ‘A game of Two Halves’, as 'Team Northern Ireland Tourism' bids to take on ‘The World' in bringing Northern Ireland onto a global stage.

The annual conference, taking place in Enniskillen on 18 May 2017, will involve local and international speakers offering ideas on how to enhance Northern Ireland’s tourism potential.

The event will look to improve Northern Ireland Tourism by asking key questions about tactics and planning

The theme for this year’s event ‘A Game of Two Halves’ is focused around ‘Team NI Tourism’ with an inspirational keynote address from Munster, Ireland and British & Ireland Lions rugby legend Paul O’Connell & current Ireland Head Coach Joe Schmidt. They will also be joined by local talent Claire McLaughlin who plays for Ulster & Ireland women’s rugby teams.

These sporting giants will be joining forces with Tourism NI’s own John McGrillen, Niall Gibbons from Tourism Ireland and Faílte Ireland speaker Joan Crawford. Across the day the event will reflect on the year that’s been and look to the future for NI Tourism. Keynote speakers in particular will be providing insights on tactics for success tailored for Northern Ireland's tourism audience. The event will be presided over by sports presenter Stephen Watson.

In recent years, Northern Ireland has attracted new tourist destinations. Traditional and natural scenic attractions such as the Giants Causeway, the Marble Arch Caves and the Antrim Coastline, have been joined by the recently created Titanic centres and areas made famous for featuring on Game of Thrones. Watched by over 18.4 million viewers, Game of Thrones is a phenomenon and Northern Ireland is it's primary filming location, using various studios and spectacular Northern Ireland locations. Publicly accessible locations today include Ballintoy Harbour, Castle Ward, Downhill Beach and Tollymore Forest Park, and many such sights have been the catalyst for the development of new visitor experiences.

New visitor destinations like this may have helped improve Northern Ireland tourism already. In a report, Northern Ireland Tourism says, 'The latest tourism data released by NISRA shows that performance during Jan-Sep 2016 was positive, overall. Northern Ireland attracted more visitors, who stayed longer and spent more.' A Game of Two Halves will look at how Northern Ireland can build on this by asking some key questions, such as, are our tourism competitors local, or further afield, and is the country as a whole working towards the same targets or could we be doing more to perform better as a team?