With large-scale hybrid conferences now the norm, ICC Belfast is emerging from the pandemic as a market leader with a reputation for innovation thanks to Tourism Northern Ireland’s Experience Development Programme.
As the first industry to shut down and the last to reopen, the events industry was one of the hardest hit by coronavirus. Recognising how crucial this industry is to economic prosperity, Tourism Northern Ireland launched a number of programmes and initiatives to support the Northern Ireland tourism industry to rebuild, recover and compete in a fiercely competitive sector.
One such initiative was the Experience Development Programme, which focused on destination demand generators such as attractions, venues and other experience providers. This programme supported tourism businesses to adapt their offering to meet the changing needs of their target markets, ensuring continued investment during an otherwise commercially challenging period.
Following a successful application, ICC Belfast’s technical infrastructure has expanded significantly, and the convention centre is now fully hybrid by design. Technological enhancements made include 4K PTZ BirdDog P400 cameras in every meeting space as well as a suite of encoders and decoders to allow connectivity between video sources and NDI installation across the venue controlled by a central ‘gallery control’ allowing full vision mixing and streaming of spaces.
The interactivity of conferences has increased exponentially too, with remote and in-person delegates using Glisser, a hybrid delegate platform, to influence discussions and content themes through live Q & A sessions, polls and gamification.
Julia Corkey, ICC Belfast | Waterfront Hall | Ulster Hall Chief Executive, highlighted the positive impact this investment has had saying:
“We are incredibly grateful to Tourism Northern Ireland for this support. The Experience Development Programme has enabled us to showcase the very best that Northern Ireland has to offer in terms of people and technology and the response from clients has been overwhelmingly positive.
“In September, we successfully delivered our first fully hybrid large-scale event, the European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (EABCT) Annual Congress.
“Over a period of four days, we seamlessly streamed nine simultaneous live sessions, with a mix of in-person presenters and 150 remote ones. There were also 20 remote workshops where experts presented from their own homes. On-site delegates were able to interact with speakers via their own devices, as well as with the 1,400 participants at home.
“The expertise of our team, coupled with state-of-the-art hardware and software made this possible.”
David Roberts, Director of Strategic Development at Tourism Northern Ireland also praised the convention centre’s achievements saying,
“ICC Belfast’s innovative enhancements are an excellent example of how Tourism Northern Ireland has been able to support the development of an economically and environmentally sustainable tourism economy.
“As Northern Ireland’s only purpose-built international convention centre, we know that the benefits of ICC Belfast welcoming tens of thousands of delegates each year, both virtually and in person, are felt across the region as we can communicate our compelling offering and ultimately welcome more visitors to experience all that Northern Ireland has to offer.
“Through close collaboration with the industry, we are confident that Northern Ireland will continue to gain global recognition as one of the most vibrant exciting destinations to visit, be that for a conference, a staycation or a transatlantic trip.”
An e-commerce platform for use by event organisers has also been created by ICC Belfast which equips its clients with a digital toolkit to offer hyper personalised conference experiences. In addition to boosting the profile of tourism businesses of all sizes, it is envisioned that this product will incentivise longer stays and repeat visits to Northern Ireland, supporting regional and seasonal extension.
Furthermore, the data capture functionality will foster tourism clusters in key growth sectors through the creation of highly engaged, qualified audiences that can be targeted with relevant content that is distinctively Northern Irish and unique to the lucrative business events sector.
These innovations have earned ICC Belfast a spot among the most forward-thinking event industry suppliers. In addition to being shortlisted in the 2021 Digital Event Awards ‘Best Venue offering Digital Event Facilities’ category, the venue retained its ‘Most Innovative and Tech-Friendly Venue’ title for the second year in a row at the 2021 Event Technology Awards.