A five year strategy (2017-2021) for developing tourism in Newry, Mourne and Down sets out ambitions to aid the overall Northern Ireland target of growing overnight stays by six per cent annually.
Tourism in Newry, Mourne and Down is estimated to be worth close to £50 million per year, supporting up to 5,000 jobs. Basis for growth lies in the most recent statistics on tourism performance in the district.
The district council, which covers the south east of Northern Ireland, incorporates three of Northern Ireland’s areas of outstanding natural beauty, including Strangford and Lecale, Slieve Gullion and the Mournes. It has an extensive coastline stretching from Strangford Lough and borders on Counties Louth and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland.
Tied in with a unique link to Ireland’s patron saint, St Patrick, the area’s strengths lie in its offerings of beauty, heritage, maritime and gateway communities. These areas have been identified as strengths on which the district council area can build upon. However, attempts to boost the local economy through tourism also faces challenges.
To date, an over-dependence on visitors from within Northern Ireland (66 per cent) and a high degree of seasonality has been identified. As too, has the lack of a cohesive approach to the district’s tourism offerings. The lack of this market identity has made marketing the area more difficult. Finally, infrastructure relating to access has also been a challenge.
The five-year strategy developed by the council sets out three main strands in which to boost the economic return from tourism. These include:
• focusing on developing visitor destination experiences that will develop experiential, personalised, iconic and immersive and creative (EPIC) moments;
• building a unified and entrepreneurial industry that is customer-focused;
• ensuring that the development of tourism is undertaken sustainably and contributes to the enhancement of social, cultural and environmental values.
The strategy aims to make Newry, Mourne and Down: the destination of choice in Northern Ireland; to become Northern Ireland’s premier outdoor/adventure destination; and to become one of Northern Ireland’s finest events destination.
A greater focus has now been put on experience, not simply promoting assets for their beauty but also utilising the unique landscape, such as the mountains and the coast, for their potential uses in outdoor adventure. Another strand of the strategy is the animation of stories of the area to enrich visitor experience, “stitching much of the rich cultural tapestry together”.
Included in improving the destination experience is the role to be played by gateway communities. The Strategy identifies towns such as Downpatrick, Newcastle, the City of Newry and Warrenpoint/Rostrevor as areas that can play a function in acting as a hub for primary destinations, while increasing their own profile by association.
The key target market being pursued largely mirror those of the overall strategy for Northern Ireland: the culturally curious; the great escapers; and the social energisers.