Backed by an ambitious tourism blueprint for growth, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has real appetite to be a major player and a beacon for the fast-growing visitor economy in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s tourism growth continues apace. Now firmly identified as a sector to drive economic growth, a region-wide goal to generate a £1.7 billion annual spend from out-of-state-visitors by 2030, creating 20,000 new jobs, has been agreed.
For its part, ABC Council is targeting a sizeable 10 per cent annual growth in its own tourism economy.
Recognising the potential of its outstanding tourism assets and a shared goal for fast-track growth, ABC Council is ambitious – and rightly so.
With a complementary tourism offer which takes in iconic and historic Armagh City, abundant apple orchards, thriving artisan cider farms, a unique linen heritage, top class arts and visitor attractions and award-winning chefs, restaurants, cafes and bars, this is a borough on the rise.
Recognised for the quality and provenance of its food produce, it has also earned its right to be known as Northern Ireland’s official Food Heartland.
For the visitor, Northern Ireland’s second-largest council area offers much to enjoy and experience, with a range of world class attractions, quality accommodation, a growing cultural and festival programme and constantly developing retail, café and restaurant options.
Though the council only formalised its tourism strategy in 2017, it has for several years been preparing the groundwork for growth by looking strategically into the future, examining its objectives, its priorities and its current and future investment needs in a process that was always about safeguarding its strengths and adapting to the future needs of increasingly discerning international visitors.
“The focus for tourism across the borough is defined by drawing out our biggest tourism, cultural and heritage assets and ensuring they act as visitor and business generators for the region,” says Roger Wilson, the council’s Chief Executive.
“For example, Armagh City will act as the hub destination, with benefits extending to locations and attractions throughout the borough, including Banbridge – home to the award-winning FE McWilliam Gallery & Studio – to celebrating our legacy in linen-making, in literacy and in the development of the Orange culture.”
The borough’s bustling town centres, including Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge, remain a key focus, with millions of pounds already invested in public realm and other regeneration-led initiatives, all of which have had a dramatic impact on bolstering the attractiveness of these important economic hubs.
After significant local, national and international tourism success in recent years, the council is confident in its vision and in the areas of focus required to achieve it.
“The entire council area is rich in history, heritage and culture, with countless unique attractions, stories and places to visit which convey our past and our present and which cannot be replicated anywhere else. These are the points of attraction that are in demand from a growing ‘culturally curious’ visitor keen to experience real authenticity with quality and depth,” Roger Wilson says.
Vitally, the borough is strategically located, with easy road access from both Dublin and Belfast. It also benefits from a major rail transport hub in Portadown, opening multiple travel opportunities from key urban centres across the island.
With visitor numbers growing every year to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, the benefits are clear. Ensuring that more visitors will spend more is the goal, according to the council’s Head of Tourism, Arts and Culture Brian Johnston.
“Our overarching aim and objective is to continue to cultivate a quality visitor experience, to raise the profile of the borough as a compelling destination that drives economic growth and prosperity for everyone in the region. Unique, landmark festivals and signature events that relate to the place and which resonate with national and international audiences effectively in a crowded marketing environment are pivotal for growth.”
“The borough is ideally placed to capitalise on the growth of tourism to Northern Ireland. We have been actively promoting the borough internationally, seeking opportunities for our broad range of sectors that comprise the hospitality and tourism industry here.”
Collaboration is key
Johnston adds: “Working with our industry bodies and partners, including Tourism Northern Ireland and Tourism Ireland, and leveraging their experience and knowledge with our local and regional expertise, and that of our private industry partners, has been a recipe for success. Together, we’re committed, and collectively, we are delighted with what we have achieved.”
Buoyed by international recognition for its Orchard County produce which now supports the global growth ambitions of companies including Long Meadow Cider, Armagh Cider Company and MacIvors, this thriving borough identified early the value of food tourism and the importance of a quality product – with heritage built in.
“It’s about showcasing our best, demonstrating what we’re good at and promoting it well,” explains Johnston.
Armagh’s Food and Cider Festival has already become an iconic and highly-anticipated annual event, showcasing the region’s eminence in quality food and drink production and the blooming hospitality industry which supports it.
For almost 15 years, the internationally-renowned Georgian Festival has established itself as one of Northern Ireland’s largest festivals, annually attracting around 30,000 visitors to the city for an exciting programme of events and activity, celebrating not only its stunning Georgian beauty but the richness and quality of its food.
Food remains a major theme
The borough is uniquely home to two of Northern Ireland’s three world-renowned PGI (protected geographical indication) products, in Northern Ireland, namely Lough Neagh Eels and Armagh Bramley Apples.
A unique collaborative effort which has at its heart people who love great food, are passionate about what they do and where they are from, has been a key ingredient in achieving its goals.
“Partnerships are critical and by working together with shared goals, we’ll realise our ambition,” says Roger Wilson. “With a blueprint for growth already agreed and progress made, I look forward to enabling greater growth in this exciting sector and to realising an even greater impact on job creation and economic return.
“The promotion of our tourism offer has been designed to align product strengths with key market segments and target those potential customers that offer growth opportunities.”
Speaking at the borough’s second major Tourism Conference at the stunning Brownlow House, Lurgan, John McGrillen, Chief Executive of Tourism NI, says the sector was central to the region’s economy and committed his organisation’s support to realise its ambitions.
“The ABC area is rich in history, culture and heritage and is fast gaining a reputation for the quality of its cultural heritage, signature events, food, drink and hospitality offer,” outlines McGrillen. “Working together, we will assist the council to deliver on its vision so that the area can realise its full potential.”
In the second year of its five-year strategy for tourism growth, the council has much to be proud of.
The borough’s Lord Mayor Alderman Gareth Wilson, says: “The borough is ideally placed to capitalise on the growth of tourism to Northern Ireland. We have been actively promoting the borough internationally, seeking opportunities for our broad range of sectors that include hospitality and tourism.”
“We have the attention of international tour operators and they are excited about our offer and we look forward to welcoming an increasing number of visitors who now wish to come to our shores to see, taste and enjoy the experience.”
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
T: 0300 300 900