Tourism Northern Ireland FAM
The entire Abbey Conference & Events team kicked off April with a fun few days in Northern Ireland, it was a packed itinerary and we've taken so much from it.
Firstly, we have to say thank you to a lot of people for hosting us beautifully in two of the nicest cities we’ve had the opportunity to stay in. We received warm welcomes everywhere we went and are very grateful to Tourism Northern Ireland, Visit Derry and Visit Belfast for looking after us, making introductions and ensuring we had a great time.
During the week, we loved having the opportunity to reconnect with old contacts after a few years of digital relationships and to meet some new ones too. All of the suppliers, convention bureau representatives, hoteliers and venues we visited were a delight to meet, we cannot recommend doing business in NI enough after this week.
What really came through from both Derry and Belfast is the sense of community among the events and hospitality industry. It’s clear that if you work with Tourism NI, you’re connecting with a team of hundreds who are supportive, collaborative and consider any business in Northern Ireland as a win for them all.
During our days in Belfast, we were blown away by the quality of accommodation available to visitors. We stayed in the iconic Europa hotel and saw several others that impressed us - Crowne Plaza, Clayton, Hilton Belfast, Grand Central, Clayton Hotel, Holiday Inn Express, Radisson, Jurys Inn and Maldron (it really was a packed itinerary!). All of the properties were maintained to high standards and staffed by experienced teams that strived to deliver comfort for their guests. As organisers, it’s reassuring to know that all of your attendees will be well cared for when they stay in Belfast, whatever style or star rating they opt for.
Among the venues we saw in and around Belfast, Windsor Park, W5, Queen’s University Belfast, Titanic Belfast and Linen Mill Studios excited us as opportunities to host networking events which would be memorable for guests. Each offers a chance for fun that is uniquely Belfast and would leave attendees with a story to tell.
During each show-round in Belfast, it was charming to hear our hosts recommend another venue, a suggested partner organisation or an additional idea that could be added into the mix. As a city with so many venues and hotels on offer, it was obvious that while Belfast is competitive against other destinations, they certainly aren’t competitive with eachother, acting as one team to deliver for clients.
We owe a special thanks to Caitriona Lavery at Hastings and to Vicky and Anneka from Crowne Plaza Belfast for providing the facilities for us to meet as a team and collaborate in ways that can only happen face-to-face. We managed to take a professional group photo together and held our in-person full team meeting since 2020, it meant a lot to us to be together and reinforced what we as event planners already knew – You just can’t beat meeting in person!
From arrival in Derry until our departure, we felt spoilt. Odhran and Charlene from Visit Derry went over and above to host the team, sharing stories and ideas for how to use the city, the passionate tourism industry there and their own team within the convention bureau to create outstanding meetings.
Derry was described to us as a “conference village” because everything you need for a successful event is packed into a small space where everyone knows each other. They were right - the convenience and the friendly atmosphere was remarkable, but what we hadn’t expected was the unbelievable value for money, the modernity of the city and the creative spirit Derry has to offer.
The teams at the Millennium Forum and the Playhouse projected a passion for their work and that of their clients that use their spaces that was electric. It was obvious to the team that the people of Derry love visitors, love creative ideas and love to make events happen.
We learned so much about the city, with a walking tour of the city walls, a visit to the historic Guild Hall and from every meeting within our packed itinerary. Derry is a compact place full of enthusiastic people and fantastic event facilities. We’re all very much enamored with the walled city.
With hybrid still very much on our clients’ minds, it was great to see the facilities available at ICC Belfast, Assembly Buildings and Millennium Forum. Each is so different from the others, but they are all examples of venues with all the skills, experience and technology in-house to run seamless hybrid meetings.
In terms of food and hospitality, from Tayto crisps to casual lunch at Bishops Gate through to fine dining at Browns Bond Hill in Derry and James Street South in Belfast, every meal got a photoshoot so we could make our friends jealous and every bite was a treat. With an abundance of local produce at their doorstep, we were so impressed with the exciting regional dishes and pride each restaurant took in their dishes.
Overall, we had a brilliant experience in Belfast and Derry. Getting the team together for the first time in two years was always going to be exciting, but being able to pair that with a trip to Northern Ireland made it really special. As a group, we left feeling bonded, enthused for the next year of events and excited for our next trip to NI.
As a destination, we can whole heartedly recommend Northern Ireland to our clients for events of all sizes and requirements. With so much to offer for organisers including dedicated convention bureaux, city support schemes, passionate ambassadors and outstanding facilities, we can’t wait to do more work in Northern Ireland soon.