The hit TV series Game of Thrones generated more than £8.6 million worth of publicity for Northern Ireland this year, it has been disclosed.
Tourism chiefs, who capitalised on the global success of the HBO show for their best digital media campaign, hope to exploit the links even further and boost visitor numbers by at least 6 per cent next year.
Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said: “The campaign cost us £200,000. If we were to buy the publicity, that would have cost us £8.6 million. It was the most successful Twitter campaign that we have ever run – and we have run a lot of them. It allowed us to sell Northern Ireland to an audience who wouldn’t have heard of it before.”
The series, which has thrown the spotlight on beauty spots such as the Dark Hedges and Ballintoy harbour in north Antrim as well as Castle Ward in Co Down, is just one of a number of tools being used to promote Northern Ireland overseas next year.
Tourism Ireland hopes to attract 1.9 million visitors to the region during 2015 and generate £552 million for the local economy.
The Titanic and Belfast’s maritime heritage, the Giant’s Causeway and golf are also seen as key selling points.
It is hoped the re-opening of the Gobbins cliff path in Co Antrim and the newly refurbished Mount Stewart House in Co Down will be a new draw for holidaymakers while the extension of the Waterfront Hall in Belfast will appeal to the business community.
Among the calendar highlights next year will be the Irish Open at Royal Co Down in May and the Tall Ships in Belfast in July.
Mr Gibbons said the organisation had ambitious plans to promote Northern Ireland as a must-see destination.
He added: “Following a successful 2014, ambitious targets have been set for 2015. We will continue to highlight iconic experiences all over Northern Ireland -- including Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway and our unique National Trust properties. The Causeway Coastal Route and driving holidays to Northern Ireland will also be promoted widely.
“Next year we will be working hard to maximise tourism potential of the Irish Open at Royal County Down and the return of the Tall Ships to Belfast, as well as the opening up of the Gobbins cliff path. We will continue to target people of Ulster-Scots descent; and to promote Northern Ireland as a top golf destination.”
As well as the north American market, focus will move towards emerging markets such as China and India where it is hoped visitors will use the new visa scheme which enables them to visit the UK and Ireland on a single visa.
Meanwhile, Brian Ambrose, chairman of Tourism Ireland, said although there was still a nervousness among some about travelling to Belfast, feedback was positive.
He said: “For first time visitors there is a nervousness about coming, they are not quite sure what things will be like when they get here. But the best form of advertising is word of mouth, so people come and enjoy the experience.
“As far as the feedback is concerned, the experience generally exceeds expectations, which is a good place to be.”