Embracing the challenge, seizing the opportunity: a pivotal moment for action in NI culture, heritage and tourism
This paper – from the Cultural Heritage & Tourism Leadership Group – is a briefing note and call to action for enhanced collaboration across central and local government authorities and agencies. It sets out the challenge to the sectors from the pandemic, the resilience and readiness to respond – and critically how culture, heritage and tourism can contribute to the new Programme for Government outcomes.
Northern Ireland has been applying today’s global ‘build back better’ manual for the last 20 years, honing its creativity, leadership and resilience – now called upon again through the pandemic. Northern Ireland knows how to rebuild and reimagine, and how to successfully turn dialogue into partnerships. These skills have never been more urgently required as the long-term health and wellbeing of our economy and communities are at risk.
The experiences of Northern Ireland aren’t just for visitors. Government can use this time to help people benefit from what is on offer, be inspired, stimulated and renewed by it. And develop future champions for our amazing heritage rich visitor experiences.
The rise of culture-led tourism is a poster-child of Northern Ireland progress - Tourism spend rose by 38% in the period 2011-2018 in the UK but by 68% in NI. Culture, heritage and tourism can directly contribute to the outcomes set out in the Programme for Government – and do so quickly. Whilst Covid-19 has interrupted progress, and the industry has been disproportionately hit by the pandemic, conversely it can have a similarly disproportionate impact on making life better – and can operate with speed and agility. There is already robust evidence that culture and heritage will be essential to reboot the international tourism levels and ambitions – and despite the current drop in tourism, the destination remains the same.
Now is the time to reactivate cultural-heritage-tourism businesses and renew their benefits to communities. A pivot in focus now – from visitors to local communities – will help change lives and not just as palliative support. It can empower local authorities and places in their own recovery to look beyond the immediate crisis, creating opportunities for wellbeing, as well as protecting skills, capacity and future work pipelines in culture, heritage, and hospitality.