NEW YORK--Tourism officials from Northern Ireland, including first minister designate and 1998 Nobel laureate David Trimble, were in New York recently to kick off a tourism campaign called "Feel the Change."

The initiative reflects an optimism fueled by the May peace accord and unshaken by the August car bomb blast in Omagh, officials said.

Citing a new spirit of cooperation both in the public and private sectors, Trimble said Britain is set to invest more than $500 million in Northern Ireland's tourism infrastructure in the next three years.

"Investment is at an all-time high," he said, citing the $40 million, five-star Hilton that recently opened in Belfast. Trimble added, however, that "more has to be done" to expand hotel investment outside the city. He credited the already strong golf market as being a steady tourism draw, adding that Northern Ireland boasts more than 80 courses in an area no bigger than Connecticut.

Also present at the event were Northern Ireland Tourist Board chairman Roy Bailie; Marjorie "Mo" Mowlam, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and deputy first minister Seamus Mallon. Bailie said the country expects to create 16,000 jobs in the tourism sector by 2001.

He noted the following signs of tourism growth:

  • Tourism from North America has doubled since 1992, representing an 18% growth for 1997 from the year before. Of these, half are leisure clients.
  • In 1997 North Americans topped Europeans as the largest group traveling to Northern Ireland.
  • The number of hotel rooms rose by 95% in the past four years.
  • The number of tour operators featuring Northern Ireland climbed to 63, double the figures for 1993.
  • Aer Lingus increased frequency of direct air service into Belfast from New York and Boston to four times a week in the summer of 1997.
  • Previously the service, which was launched in July 1995, operated three times a week. The promotional campaign is set to run all year.

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