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Mid and East Antrim on right path by promoting magnificent attraction

By Joris Minne

It's too easy to take pot-shots at local authorities when they spend money promoting their areas. When I worked at the NI Tourist Board we competed with the promotional agencies of places like Australia, California, Brazil, their vast marketing budgets and attendances at trade shows.

Even Scotland's and Bord Failte's trade show budgets were colossal compared to ours. We did what we could to put the North on the map. But mean little budgets dictated by tightlipped critics who didn't like the idea of anyone travelling to foreign shows meant a modest marketing effort.

Council areas such as Mid and East Antrim now attending shows like Milwaukee previously faced additional challenges. They didn't have a Giant's Causeway, Mourne Mountains or the lakes of Fermanagh, which created international attention.

So what did the council do? It concluded that The Gobbins is its most strategically important tourism asset, gained cross-party consensus and embarked on a radical development plan to create something world-class. By restoring The Gobbins and building access galleries, the council has shown as much bravery, daring and ambition as the very engineers who, 100 years ago, created the path in the first place.

And what a world-beating asset it is. This is no dander down to the Giant's Causeway. This is a place worth going to see, an adventurous walk along the very face of mighty cliffs that takes you past puffins and under water as well. Nowhere in Europe is there anything quite so audacious as The Gobbins. The price of restoring it and putting it together as an internationally attractive place of adventure is the risk of heavy weather and land movements. But when it reopens, the rewards will be huge and the world must know about it.

I've been on this fantastic walk and it compares to the thrill of the Grand Canyon trails and the disbelief you face on the northern Thai cloud forest hikes I've enjoyed. This is a pukka international class attraction which presses all the buttons: adventure, wildlife (this is the only place on mainland Ireland with its own puffin community), aerial and submarine expereince and dramatic weather. It's everything an Irish tourist attraction should be. So bon voyage councillors: spread the word, shout it from the rooftops of Milwaukee and any other foreign show you can afford to go to and get the punters in!

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