Council defends decision to send team of six to US to promote Gobbins path
A local council is standing by a decision to send six people at ratepayers' expense to America to attempt to lure visitors to The Gobbins coastal path in Co Antrim.
A spokesman for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council says five councillors and one council staff member are needed so a promotional stand on the refurbished attraction can be staffed on a rotational basis and ensure would-be tourists are not greeted with jaded personnel.
Attempting to justify using half-a-dozen representatives, the spokesman added: "Such intense interaction over four days is hard work, each 'customer' who approaches the stand needs to be greeted with enthusiasm and a friendly outlook."
The council has not confirmed the cost of the trip to Milwaukee in the US mid-west state of Wisconsin.
However, a spokesman was able to say that the partner of one of the council group is also travelling, but at no cost to ratepayers.
The 3,500-mile transatlantic mission to drum up tourists for the attraction has been greeted with anger by many ratepayers, who say the money would be better raising awareness of The Gobbins at home, and they have questioned the need for six people to go stateside.
A council spokesman said the trip would provide an excellent opportunity to boost tourism at The Gobbins coastal walk near Larne, which is due to reopen to the public in August.
He added: "Mid and East Antrim Borough Council is working to maximise The Gobbins as a major tourist destination by marketing it across North America and Europe.
"During the past number of years, Larne Borough Council sent a delegation of elected members and officers to the prestigious Milwaukee Irish Fest.
"This is an event that attracts 50,000 visitors over the four days of the show.
"As the largest celebration of Irish culture and heritage in the United States, attendance requires a concerted effort on behalf of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to ensure that a positive impact is made in one of the world's biggest tourist markets.
"On top of a day's travel each way (out on August 12 and back on August 17), members will be required to staff The Gobbins' promotional stand on a rotational basis.
"This requires at least two people to be present at any time the stand is open, for up to 12 hours per day (nine hours on average) throughout the four full days of marketing at this festival."