The Northern Ireland Tourist Board is signed up to an all Ireland advertising campaign that draws sighs of envy from other tourist boards and which was successfully launched last November.

World class events such as the World Optimist Dinghy Championships, hosting hundreds of young yachtsmen and women from around the globe in Carrickfergus, the British Seniors Golf, the Milk Cup international football tournament and many others continue to be staged here. Importantly, during the past sixteen months, they contributed to a spirit of hopeful optimism for the future.

Jurys, Stakis, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Radisson and Choice International did not lose faith and nor did the vast majority of tour operators from Europe, North America, Great Britain, the Republic and further afield who have Northern Ireland in their programmes.

The faith of the visitor, however, was somewhat damaged.

Last year while we watched the Republic of Ireland generate 4.7 million overseas tourists with a revenue of £1.45 billion, its best year ever, Northern Ireland's visitors and earnings were both down on the previous year. Scotland, Wales and England, like the Republic, showed increases in 1996.

Of course the caution that witnessed this new ceasefire in July may endure in the mind of the potential visitor for some time but already there is further interest in international investment, reflecting that the possibilities that existed before can become probabilities.

It is vital that the opportunities of the new ceasefire are thoroughly exploited by all in the business community in Northern Ireland, as tourism will mean very big business for the north.

The ad simply says: 'Northern Ireland. You'll never know unless you go.' However, most of us know that Northern Ireland's image as a holiday destination has not exactly been consistent in recent times.

Yet Northern Ireland boasts the very assets that a fully matured holiday destination such as Spain, Italy or England has developed. Northern Ireland has the lowest crime rates in the UK, an infrastructure of top-grade accommodation including country houses, inns and four-star hotels, internationally awarded museums and visitor centres, world-class golf courses, salmon and trout rivers, miles of walks in the wild and a people absolutely committed to making visitors feel welcome.

But this 'flip side' which the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has been promoting since its inception in 1948 is often overshadowed by the darker aspects of life in the province.

Despite the negative image created by the troubles, now hopefully past, promotional efforts to help build the province's tourism industry are working. What is more, they have been working successfully for years. While the 1994 ceasefires had their effect, tourism had already been increasing steadily each year since 1989.

The boom year of 1995 brought almost half a million holiday makers to Northern Ireland, a rise of 67 per cent more than in the previous year which generating £250 million in revenue and accounted for about two per cent of Northern Ireland's gross domestic product.

Despite the collapse of the ceasefire in 1996, the tourism business kept its focus throughout that year and into 1997.

A new air route from Zurich has just opened up the lakeland county of Fermanagh to Swiss visitors. Aer Lingus and all the sea carriers also followed through their commitment to providing quicker or more direct access to Northern Ireland.

The experience of the visitor in Northern Ireland, that flip side, is so genuinely unique, charming, and, well, Irish, that once they break through the doubt barrier, they come again for more. They also tell close friends because the idea of a well-kept secret is still the most appealing to visitors.

The golfer can choose from any number of top-grade links courses. Royal Portrush and Royal County Down are still in the top ten in the world according to the American Golfer Magazine. The game and coarse angling is abundant, with rivers teeming with native wild dollaghan and gillaroo trout, and wild salmon. Nature trails are empty and vast swathes of unspoilt countryside and coastlines open up real get-away-from-it-all heaven. Restored, whitewashed Ulster cottages (with central heating, colour telly and all the modern necessities) are dotted around cliff tops and mountains and are available for rent to anyone in search of rural sanctuary. Also, the pubs and music have not suffered from excessive repackaging.

Northern Ireland, despite its past reputation, will continue to attract tourists. Not the voyeuristic kind but, ironically you might think, those looking for peace and quiet. Ask anyone who has been to Northern Ireland and they will say the same: you'll never know unless you go.