Coach tours important to Ireland: CTA Conference

Tourism Ireland’s Chief Executive reiterated the importance of coach tourism to the economy across the island of Ireland at the CTA Conference. The Belfast event attracted over 180 delegates and hosted 800 meetings between suppliers and buyers from the coach tourism industry. Staged at Europa Hotel, Belfast and sponsored by Tourism Ireland, the event took place between 5 to 7 February.

Simon Calder, left, delivered the keynote address

“Coach tour travellers stay longer, spend more, and are particularly crucial during the off-season,” says Niall Gibbons, Tourism Ireland’s Chief Executive. “Tourism is an important industry for communities right around the island of Ireland and coach tourism business plays a key role.”

Keynote speaker, travel journalist Simon Calder, summarised the previous 12 months in tourism and looked to the year ahead. Among challenges for travellers including airport disruption, passport bureaucracy and border delays, as well as recent rail strikes, Simon emphasised the ease and convenience of coach travel.

“Coach travel is the way of getting from A to B, whenever, so if you want assurance, go by coach,” says Simon. “There’s pent-up demand to travel, with lost adventures versus the cost of living, but many people are still travelling and spending.”

Speaking of his CTA Conference weekend experience, Simon comments: “It was a joy to be at Hillsborough Castle, and Northern Ireland hugely rewards the expectation of coach groups.”

During the CTA Conference Q&A session, Niall Gibbons reiterated the benefit of “hassle-free travel” between Great Britain and Ireland thanks to the Common Travel Area. The Tourism Ireland chief also explained how the organisation can help operators overcome the “green haze”.

“Many people in Great Britain know Ireland, but they know about all the many great and already popular things to see and do. Our Tourism Ireland team in GB can connect with coach tour operators and wholesalers, to highlight and remind them of the wealth of experiences our island has to offer,” says Niall.

Tourism Northern Ireland’s Nikki Paterson went on to present the developments for coach tourism coming in 2023, including reopening of Titanic Belfast in Spring following an extensive refurbishment. Titanic Distillers will be Northern Ireland’s first working whiskey distillery to open in nearly 90 years and will include coach tours, while the Belfast Distillery Company will also open for tours in Autumn 2023. Meanwhile, hotel development increased by 15% in 2022 and four new hotels are also opening in Northern Ireland this year.

During the CTA Conference weekend, delegates enjoyed a fam trip preview of Titanic Belfast, as well as Northern Ireland’s Royal residence, Hillsborough Castle. Pre-event fam trips also took in the Giant’s Causeway, Derry-Londonderry, and Belfast.

The CTA Meet the Buyer Workshop session hosted pre-arranged meetings between industry suppliers, and operators and wholesalers. Featuring new supplier members, plus long-standing members with new offers to promote, the event is set to generate a wealth of new product for 2024 and beyond.

“The annual Conference has generated a lot of new business between supplier members and operators and wholesalers. Some re-established their relationships, while others met for the first time to secure future product,” says CTA Chair, Robert Shaw. “So many operators and wholesalers reported that they would be bringing groups to Northern Ireland in future following their wonderful fam trip experiences, which showed the true value of participating in the conference.”

Commenting on the forecast for the year ahead from conference feedback, the CTA Chair says: “The majority of operators are ahead in bookings for 2023 compared to last year. Especially from our 55 years old-plus traditional coach tour market, we’re seeing enthusiasm to travel backed up by financial spend. We expect an upturn in business for the year ahead.”

A fundraising event during the Conference Gala Dinner also raised over £1,600 for People’s Kitchen Belfast which provides meals to marginalised and vulnerable people in Belfast.

The CTA’s next event, Spring Networking & AGM, takes place in Llandudno, North Wales, on 21 and 22 May. Visit to find out more.

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