Providing the environment for local tourism

Businesses in the Carrickfergus area are growing by tapping into the area’s tourism potential and its attractive visitor experience.

Carrickfergus Enterprise has been operating in this area for many years. During this period the agency has expanded its physical presence to three distinct phases, the most recent of which was completed in 2005. Carrickfergus Enterprise has during this period produced and managed numerous programmes aimed at promoting and enhancing the economic well-being of this area. Many of the traditional industries that existed have now closed or moved away (tobacco and textiles). These labour-intensive industries were once the backbone of this area and replacement of these has proved difficult.

One redeeming facet of this coastal area is that it has some of the most interesting geographic and historical features which lend themselves to the promotion of the tourist experience. Tourism NI has successfully promoted the Causeway Coastal Route as part of its overall plan for Ireland and Northern Ireland, but ‘hidden gems’ remain undiscovered off the major routes. This has been recognised by Carrickfergus Enterprise which decided that local initiatives could best exploit these ‘hidden gems’ as a complementary effort alongside the overall Tourism NI plan.

To this end, Carrickfergus Enterprise has obtained Lottery Funding for a local Coastal Tourism Hub based on the Islandmagee-Carrickfergus-Newtownabbey coastal region. This funding will be put to good use in developing the tourist potential of this historically rich and geographically beautiful area which includes the Gobbins Coastal Pathway (to be reopened July 2015), running across bridges, past caves, through a tunnel and opening upon an area of rich birdlife, geology and natural aquariums.

First opened in 1902 but closed during the 1950s, the Gobbins at one time rivalled the Giant’s Causeway as a tourist attraction. This unique coastal pathway has been re-engineered to 21st Century safety levels and offers visitors an experience of the dynamic interface of sea on cliff face. A new visitors’ centre at Ballystrudder completes this attraction and guided tours will operate from this point.

Business mentoring
This initiative is taking place at a particularly important time in that it takes place as the new Northern Ireland council structure ‘kicked in’ during May 2015. Carrickfergus Enterprise will provide mentoring for businesses involved in the hospitality, catering and retail businesses in the area which have been identified as having potential to benefit from increased tourist footfall in the area.

Tourist traffic to Northern Ireland arrives by sea, air and by land from the Republic of Ireland. In many cases, these arrivals know of some of the major tourist destinations such as the Giant’s Causeway, but tend to be unaware that there are other worthwhile tourist attractions that will help build a more complete experience.

The completion of the A2 dual carriageway (Newtownabbey-Carrickfergus) in mid-2015 will ease traffic flow through this choke point and make travel time shorter. The corollary to this is that it will be important to make sure that this does not make potential tourists just drive straight through without taking in some of the worthwhile ‘hidden gems’ on this route.

Kelli Bagchus, Manager of Carrickfergus Enterprise, says: “The Coastal Tourism Hub is designed to equip local tourism providers to develop their ‘know how’ and ‘know who’ in order to take advantage of the many opportunities that tourism can offer. The package of support includes one-to-one mentoring in areas such as marketing to increase awareness of their business. There is also an opportunity to develop their social media or develop/upgrade their website to promote their business. Participating businesses can also benefit from access to World Host training and mystery shopping.”

Participant Anna Arnold, of Billy Andys, is feeling optimistic about the many opportunities tourism can bring her business, particularly with the opening of the Gobbins in July. Billy Andys can offer the whole package to visitors in terms of food, music and B&B accommodation in a traditional Irish pub setting which is fast declining elsewhere. She hopes by participating in the Coastal Tourism Hub she can improve her knowledge of her target market and assist her to grow and develop the business.
A key aspect is the development of a joint marketing approach that will include a website and visitor map of the area. This will showcase the excellent examples of quality tourism providers in the local area that may not be as viable or have the same profile as those along the main Antrim Coast route.

We also aim to develop linkages with complementary businesses in the area in order to enhance the overall visitor experience.
This approach fits in with the draft Tourism Strategy for Northern Ireland, which aims to attract visitor numbers in excess of 4 million and general revenue of £1 billion per year by 2020.

The programme to promote these “hidden gems” is well under way and the target number of businesses is nearing completion. The programme is free and available to tourism-related businesses within the designated coastal areas.

Participating business Fools Haven is a gem of a thatched cottage that is over 250 years old and is available as a holiday let. The cottage is situated at the start of the Causeway Coast and Glens route and opposite the Andrew Jackson Cottage on the shores of Belfast Lough. Owner Alison Brennen is excited by the current buzz within the tourism sector, particularly with the expected increase in visitors who are coming to the area to visit the Gobbins. She feels the quirky nature of her self-catering accommodation, together with its Titanic connections, can really take advantage of the opportunities there for the taking.

As a participant on the Coastal Tourism Hub, Alison is hoping to benefit from increased networking opportunities as she feels businesses in the coastal route cannot operate in isolation. There need to be opportunities for linking up with complementary businesses that can offer potential visitors the whole package.

The Coastal Communities Fund, which supports the hub, is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estate’s marine assets. It is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


For further information contact
Kelli Bagchus at kelli@ceal.co.uk or telephone 028 9336 9528

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