Newry, Mourne and Down has long been recognised for its unique opportunity to experience the outdoors against a composite backdrop of landscape and culture.
With a coastline of approximately 150km, three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Mourne, the Ring of Gullion, and Strangford and Lecale, and its location on the strategically important Eastern Economic Corridor, tourism is a key driver for growth in the district.
During the term of the Council’s Tourism Strategy from 2017 to 2022, a key priority has been on developing destination experiences, with a commitment to delivering transformative projects and critical infrastructure.
The growing demand for developing new authentic visitor experiences with an immersive connection to local culture has been the focus of council’s industry engagement to date. The Council has worked in collaboration with Tourism NI and local tourism providers to bring to life new and unique experiences which are aligned to the ‘Embrace a Giant Spirit’ brand for Northern Ireland. The core of building these new experiences has been based on storytelling, using stories to help visitors connect with the past and gain unique insights on the present, whether it is the geology of the area, its history and traditions, its contemporary culture or simply the way local people make a livelihood. Where landscapes and distinctive settings have inspired art, literature, music and films, these have added another dimension to presenting local towns and villages to new visitors of the region.
The tourism industry has been building destination experiences that are distinctive and of sufficient scale to provide visitor appeal. A cluster of businesses are collaborating to utilise produce from farmers, chefs, foragers, distillers and artisans to shine a light on the wonderful produce in the region and to tell the story of the important role the local landscape provides in the distinctive experiences that have been developed in this area.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has developed, implemented and taken part in several ambitious projects and programmes, all of which are designed to enhance the district’s well-deserved reputation as a place to be for tourism, leisure and business activities.
The most ambitious of these investment programmes is the Belfast Region City Deal.
The Deal represents a new way of working between central and local government and regional partners, and secures a bespoke package of investment from central government and the BRCD partners of more than £850 million to support the delivery of a shared vision of inclusive economic growth that delivers more and better jobs, a positive impact on the most deprived communities and a balanced spread of benefits across the region.
The Mourne Mountains Gateway project is a major tourism project within the City Deal aimed at enhancing Northern Ireland’s tourism offering and which will redefine this visitor experience associated with the Mourne Mountains. The £44 million investment will support sustainable growth of tourism in the Mournes, whilst protecting and enhancing the natural heritage and habitat of the region. A new Gateway Visitor Centre will provide visitors the opportunity to connect with nature’s rugged beauty, and will create improved, and more sustainable access to the Mournes.
In addition to key priorities within Belfast Region City Deal a series of catalyst projects have been identified to be transformative in terms of growing the tourism economy.
A bid to secure UNESCO Global Geopark status for Mourne, Gullion, and Strangford has been ongoing with the region operating as an Aspiring Geopark since 2018. The international significance of achieving UNESCO Global Geopark Status will play a key role in differentiating the region and will provide an important focus for sustainable tourism delivery, whilst developing the area’s geological heritage along with all other aspects of the natural, cultural and intangible heritage.
The quality of the forest parks, beaches and outdoor spaces across the district has been key, particularly more recently in providing an opportunity for local communities to have easy access to outdoor spaces. However, these facilities are also an important element of the tourism offering, providing visitors with opportunities to engage in local culture, heritage, and the myths and legends associated with the region.
With three Blue Flag Beaches stretching along the expansive coastline, investment is planned in new visitor amenities at Tyrella Beach, providing a more visitor-friendly welcome and enhanced visitor experience.
Providing sustainable ease of access for visitors to the outdoors is a priority for the Council and investment in a major new mountain walking trail in Rostrevor Forest will provide an important addition to the current opportunity available for mountain biking and low impact walking in Rostrevor and Kilbroney Park.
In the Ring of Gullion, the Council are transforming the visitor experience at Slieve Gullion Forest Park and Camlough Lake. At Slieve Gullion this will be achieved through a new outdoor amphitheatre, and immersive storytelling that blends new technology with music and drama, in the unique natural setting of the Forest Park. At Camlough Lake plans are being developed for a new £3 million cross-border Activity Tourism Hub to enhance the recreational and water-sports offering of the area.
In Delamont Country Park, on the shores of Strangford Lough, a significant investment is planned to enhance the visitor facilities and to maximise the setting of the location, with proposals to develop an iconic viewpoint, trail enhancement and a new visitor hub.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has been prioritising investment of circa £8 million across these key visitor sites in its current capital programme, in addition to the major investment that the Belfast Region City Deal programme will deliver. This investment from the Council, combined with a focus on developing authentic visitor experiences, and in continuing to build on the strong working partnership with the local tourism industry, can help to ensure the district is well-placed to continue on course for sustainable economic growth of the tourism economy in the next five to 10 years.
For further information:
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council