A mentoring project aimed at ensuring longer-term sustainability for tourism businesses in Northern Ireland has been described as an “instrumental support programme” following completion of its latest phase.
Funded by Tourism NI, the Kickstart programme provided almost 630 mentoring days to 45 businesses in four main areas including financial and business model restructuring, digital innovation, recruitment and talent development and sustainability.
The programme, which provides free access to a range of independent expert advice and support, was initially launched in October 2021 to drive innovation, sustainability and competitiveness amongst tourism businesses as the industry worked to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those who took part in the second phase of the programme, who had to meet eligibility criteria, collectively attract more than three million visitors per year and employ 4,000 full-time staff.
The most reported concerns for the businesses involved, prior to engagement with the programme, were increasing costs, high VAT, cash flow issues, availability of funding, financial stability and recruitment and retention.
Through the programme, expert independent mentors were able to support the businesses by delivering activities in areas including the review of existing business models, recruitment and retention support, and sustainability policies.
Eimear Callaghan, Head of Experience & Industry Development at Tourism NI, which invested £890,000 in the second phase of the programme, said: “Tourism NI’s Kickstart Programme has provided tangible expert support to more than 40 businesses this year, focusing on some of the many challenges facing the sector including operational effectiveness and the pressing need to be more sustainable.
“This support will enable Northern Ireland businesses to compete more effectively and continue their recovery in what continues to be a very challenging operating environment”.
Catherine McKeever, from Long Meadow Cider in Portadown in Co Armagh, said she found the programme had “provided some valuable help and support for our family business and highlighted key areas which we are now working on.
“We are delighted to have been part of it”.