£10,000 trip to promote shut Gobbins in US is good value, insists Mid and East Antrim Borough Council
Council chiefs have set aside £10,000 for a promotional visit to the US to boost a tourist attraction that has been closed for more than half its first year.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said it thought the outlay for this week's trip to promote the troubled Gobbins pathway was good value for money.
Four councillors and one council official are visiting an Irish festival in Milwaukee for a second year. Last year, a similar delegation ran up a £9,754 bill.
Councillors have been given a verbal update on the ongoing maintenance work to the cliffside tourist attraction.
Despite this, the council admitted that a definitive reopening date had not been confirmed "as yet".
Lobby group The TaxPayers' Alliance said the public would be outraged that the council was spending the money on a "jolly".
However, the council issued a robust defence of its decision and said that its visit to the Irish Convention in Milwaukee had won over customers who had never otherwise considered coming to Northern Ireland.
The spectacular Gobbins cliffside walk missed out on its two biggest potential periods for attracting visitors - its first summer season and the Easter period - because it was shut down for lengthy stints.
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton, whose job takes in tourism responsibilities, has been urged to prepare a full report for the Assembly when it resumes next month.
Initially, it was estimated the £7.5m Gobbins project would draw in more than 70,000 visitors in its first year. But because of various setbacks, just 23,914 have visited the tourist attraction so far.
Business was first disrupted between January and April due to storm damage.
The path was shut again on June 20 because of increased levels of rockfall, and it has not reopened since then.
"Mid and East Antrim Borough Council will be promoting the borough and all it has to offer, in particular the Gobbins and Carrickfergus Castle," a council statement read.
"The decision was discussed by elected members and the council agreed that the trip represented value for money in terms of the networking opportunities and scope to promote the borough.
"Similar promotional trips to the Nordics have previously demonstrated a positive return on investment for the borough in terms of tourists visiting the area."
A spokesman went on: "Evidence from the Milwaukee show last year indicated that visitors' travel plans were being formed for 2016 or 2017 onwards and that many had never considered travelling to Northern Ireland before meeting people from the area. They then reported they would certainly consider travelling to Northern Ireland.
"In 2015, five elected members and one staff member took part at a cost of £9,753.92. This year, the maximum sum approved is £10,000."