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Game of Thrones props are golden chance to attract visitors

By John Mulgrew

Props from TV show Game of Thrones - from dragon eggs on show at Belfast's St George's Market to three-eye ravens - are being used to tempt and tease thousands of tourists to Northern Ireland.

Tourism Ireland is hoping its latest major Game of Thrones international campaign, which is backed by the makers of the show, HBO, will help "build up a legacy" for Northern Ireland, where much of the cult fantasy is filmed.

Locations linked with the show include Castle Ward, Downhill beach and Ballintoy harbour.

And the latest viral marketing drive - which saw a host of teaser items from the hit show strewn across Northern Ireland - is expected to draw in even bigger crowds to our shores, according to Tourism Ireland's Niall Gibbons.

"Last year, we ran a campaign which reached 100 million people on social media. We've now joined forces again with HBO," he said.

"Social media has underpinned what we have done. The biggest market will be Great Britain, the US and France, as well as other parts of Europe."

Photos and videos taken of the props in the various locations will now be thrust onto social media channels across the world - coinciding with the broadcast of the fifth series, which was largely filmed on the north coast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

"We have had three teasers out there, dragon eggs in St George's Market, as well as signs pointing to locations from the series," the Tourism Ireland chief executive said. "It's a cost-effective use of resources. Television ads are very expensive - it gets a lot of eyeballs, but costs a lot more."

And as far as making a direct impact here, he's confident there will be more "jobs on the ground".

"You can never just take one campaign, but it's part of getting 1.9 million tourists to Northern Ireland in 2015.

"We are reaching out to an audience we wouldn't normally be able to reach.

"There is a huge following for this thing, and it is building up a legacy.

"Films being shot here is a good thing. In relation to the feedback, there are people who are investing in small businesses - they will grow jobs, and make the tourism interesting, which brings the brand to life."

The latest big push will run for 14 weeks, targeting potential tourists from areas including Canada, Australia, France and Scandinavia.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the latest campaign will "help to encourage audiences from around the world to visit the filming locations and not only experience for themselves the majestic beauty of our countryside but also our local cuisine, restaurants and hospitality".

And Niall Gibbons says he's hopeful Game of Thrones will continue well into the future.

"This is the fifth series, and they have said they will do another three - it's helping to build the brand."

As part of the latest promotion, replica dragon eggs were placed in a market stall in St George's Market in Belfast. The eggs were on sale for the price of 125 Gold Dragons - the currency used in Game of Thrones.

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