Councils link up to promote Lough Neagh as a tourist destination as visitors return

ANTRIM and Newtownabbey Borough Council is set to link up with Mid Ulster Council to market the Lough Neagh Shoreline.

Council agreed in September 2020 to submit an application to DAERA for the development of experience tourism and product development clusters with a maximum match funding contribution of £16,666 from the council.

Opportunities to develop a collaborative project with neighbouring councils under the themes of ‘Living Loughs’ and ‘Castles and Gardens’ were also to be explored.

Council officers now report that the funding application to DAERA has been successful for an Ancient Buildings, Castle and Gardens Cluster and also a joint Lough Neagh Shoreline cluster with Mid Ulster District Council.

Mid Ulster has proposed to take the lead on the Lough Neagh Shoreline Cluster and to enter into a partnership agreement with Antrim and Newtownabbey, subject to approval from both councils.

The funding is for £50,000, with the match funding of £16,666 from council and the project must be complete by March 31 2022.

Officers are in the process of procuring a consultant to develop the Ancient Buildings, Castle and Gardens Cluster.

The facilitator will engage with rural tourism businesses, attractions and experiences to develop individual and collaborative experiences which will be marketed in the media and online.

The key tasks for both clusters are to identify and bring together members of the Ancient Buildings, Castles and Gardens and Lough Neagh Shoreline clusters, develop an action plan on how to bring the experiential tourism offering to the marketplace and identify any skills/digital gaps and how to address these.

They must also develop and implement a marketing plan and identify stakeholders and partners who could benefit from the new experience offering

The expected outcomes as a result of the investment are improvements to the visitor experience, enhanced visibility and accessibility, increased visitor satisfaction, visitor numbers, spend, dwell time and employment opportunities.

Meanwhile at the full monthly meeting this week, members are also due to be reminded that the council agreed in April 2019 to fund Visit Belfast in 2019/2020 at a cost of £20,000, giving it access to a wide range of marketing networks and media to promote the borough.

Visit Belfast operates the Welcome Centre in Belfast and also Visitor Information Services at Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport.

In 2020/2021Visit Belfast reduced their request to £5,000 due to COVID-19.

The funding requirement from council to remain as a key partner in 2021/2022 would be at a reduced rate this year again of £5,000 per annum.

The benefits package for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council as a partner and key funder at Belfast International Airport Visitor Information Centre include the handling of hundreds of thousands of enquiries, council branding and provision of leaftlets and booklets.

Other benefits include screen displays and PR opportunities.

A report by council officers said that this year, all efforts will be made by Visit Belfast, Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland to build back Tourism Business as soon as it is safe to do so.

The main markets that will drive the return of business are said to be the English, Scottish and Welsh markets returning first, with European markets estimated to start returning when travel restrictions are lifted.

Visit Belfast has targeted to handle 450,000 enquiries in 2021/22, approximately 55% of what was handled in 2019/20.

There are many sentiment surveys indicating high levels of demand for staycations and the appeal of smaller cities such as the Belfast Metropolitan area including Antrim and Newtownabbey.

Visit Belfast expect a slow start to Quarter one in April and May until travel restrictions are lifted and will tailor shifts at Belfast International Airport to meet the flight patterns reducing to five day opening and as demand builds services will return to seven day opening in the summer season.

Visit Belfast has also asked council down the line to consider Regional Tourism Partnership Membership alongside Ards and North Down Borough Council, Lisburn and Castlereagh and Belfast City Councils.

The 2020-21 proposal does not preclude the council from participating in Visit Belfast’s other marketing and promotional platforms at a later date should the council wish to avail of such a collaborative opportunity.

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