Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA and a UUP Chairman of the Stormont Public Accounts Committee, has called on the Executive “to put its money where its mouth is and guarantee there will be more than adequate funding to kick start the constituency’s economy by boosting the North Coast tourism and leisure industry”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim UUP Chairman, issued his challenge following a written question to the Stormont Economy Minister.
Mr Swann had asked the DUP Minister for the Economy what plans are in place to promote the tourist and leisure industry on the North Coast.
Responding to Assemblyman Swann, the Minister said: “Both Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland promote the North Coast as a key tourism destination in Northern Ireland.
“Campaigns include TV, radio, press, outdoor promotions and digital marketing coverage. In addition, all activity is underpinned by extensive PR and media relations activity.
“The Causeway Coastal Route has proven very popular with visitors from all markets and both tourism organisations continue to market it to attract new and repeat visitors.
“The promotion of the tourism product and experiences on the Causeway Coastal Route are highlighted through other promotional materials including brochures, and the organisations’ consumer websites. In addition, Tourism NI works with Tourism Ireland to host international media and the Causeway Coastal Route is prominently featured in many itineraries.
“Screen tourism is a growing trend and building on Tourism Ireland’s unique partnership with HBO in previous years, a third Game of Thrones campaign, aimed at capitalising on the global success of the hit TV series and highlighting its connections with Northern Ireland, was rolled out recently, highlighting filming locations such as Ballintoy Harbour, Murlough Bay and The Dark Hedges. Tourism NI rolled out elements of the campaign in Northern Ireland and RoI.
“Tourism Ireland continues to place a major focus on iconic experiences and the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the Dark Hedges all feature in Tourism Ireland’s new film – Ten amazing places in Northern Ireland – which is currently being promoted via its social media platforms, Facebook (3.6 million fans), Twitter (346,000 followers) and YouTube.
“Tourism NI is currently supporting Tourism Ireland in a six figure promotional campaign with Trip Advisor focusing on promotional activity along the Causeway Coastal Route.
“This will involve marketing and selling the area’s visitor assets and presenting offers and experiences from the local tourism industry. To date 50 offers have been submitted by a number of businesses for the campaign.
“Tourism Northern Ireland has facilitated the establishment of 2 Pilot Tourism Cluster Business Networks along the Causeway Coastal Route designed to encourage tourism businesses to work collaboratively together to deliver an improved experience for visitors in each of their areas.
“The Glens of Antrim cluster involves 27 businesses from the area. There are plans in place to develop and establish pilot cluster networks in the Causeway and Binevenagh areas,” the Minister told Assemblyman Swann.
Mr Swann added: “While I welcome the Minister’s enthusiasm to provide a colourful response to my urgent query, I do wonder where he will find the finance to make these fine words become an economic reality.
“The North Antrim constituency has faced some very bitter job losses in recent years, and still faces the devastating economic threat posed by any lignite mining proposal.
“The Minister needs as a matter of urgency to give a cast iron guarantee that appropriate funding will be made available to ensure these measures he outlined to me are put in place.
“North Antrim cannot afford for the Stormont Executive to live in the land of fantasy politics. My constituents need firm commitments, not empty rhetoric,” said Assemblyman Swann.