The Northern Ireland tourism industry might have been celebrating the silver jubilee of its annual Awards at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast, but nobody could deny that the winners were pure gold.
The saying 'Presentation is everything' couldn't have been more apt, as glitz and glamour prevailed when 350 members of the tourism industry gathered for the 25th anniversary of the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards, at the Ramada Hotel, Belfast.
The event, which recognises and rewards the efforts and achievements of the tourism sector, reflected on the progress that has been made within the industry in the past 25 years while acknowledging the commitment to excellence that is present today.
Speaking at the event NITB chairman, Tom McGrath said: "The last quarter of a century has brought many changes and even more challenges to the tourism sector. What we see today is an industry with resilient players who have faced problems and are still here today. We have seen innovators and entrepreneurs develop new accommodation sites and visitor attractions. The will to succeed is evident in every quarter."
Indeed the will to succeed was borne out in statistics outlined by Tom McGrath:
"Since 1978 the number of hotel beds throughout Northern Ireland has increased by over 64%. Back in 1978 just 39% of our hotels had ensuite facilities. Today that figure stands at almost 99%.
"The number of B&Bs and guesthouses has increased by 70% while income from tourism has increased almost nine-fold from £31m to £274m. Visitor numbers have also grown from 628,000 to almost 1.8million.
"But most amazing of all is the fact in 1978 Northern Ireland had the princely sum of two registered self-catering premises whereas today there are 589!"
Developments in the accommodation sector were reflected in a revised awards category for the sector. To mirror the greater choice of accommdation now on offer, there were seperate awards for Hotel of the Year, B&B / Guesthouse of the Year and Hostel / Self Catering Premises of the Year.
The prestigious Hotel of the Year was awarded to Canal Court, Newry. The Hotel enjoys 4 star status, employs 95 full time and 80 part time staff and has a strong commitment to investing in people and staff development.
It was clear that competition was going to be stiff for the coveted title of B&B /Guesthouse of the Year, given the dramatic increase in the number of B&Bs and Guesthouses since 1978. A tru 'country haven' - the Grange Lodge Guest house, Dungannon took the title back to Co.Tyrone, much to the delight of proprietors Norah and Ralph Brown.
From the contenders for the title Hostel / Self Catering Premises of the Year, Golfkeel Self-catering Cottages, Banbridge, emerged victorious . Located just two miles from Banbridge, the buildings, two self catering units named Dovedale and The Loft, are both newly converted to the NITB 5-star staus from former 200 year old barns.
Hostelry of the Year went to the Harbour Bar & Lounge, Portrush. Regarded as one of the oldest bars in Ireland it is something of an institution in the Port and a firm favouritie with locals and tourists alike.