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Ratepayers pick up £76,000 bill as mayor's globetrotting entourage follows the fleet

BY Donna Deeney

Ratepayers in Londonderry are shelling out up to £76,000 for six trips by the mayor and council officials to ports of call for the city's entry in the Clipper Round the World yacht race.

The first trip is to Singapore to meet the Derry-Londonderry-Doire boat and crew as it completes the latest leg of the race.

The delegation to the south east Asian economic powerhouse is made up of mayor Martin Reilly, mayoress Bronagh Reilly, Derry City Council strategic director Stephen Gillespie and investment officer Aeidin McCarter.

The trip is budgeted at a maximum of £10,000, with the mayoress paying all her own flight and accommodation costs.

The council said it hopes the final cost for the visit will be around £5,000.

The group will also link up with a UK/Ireland trade mission currently in Singapore to forge business and cultural links and to promote the city for a stopover and homecoming festival in June.

The next visit is to Qingdao in China with a budget of £6,000.

The final four visits are to San Francisco and New York, each for four people and each with a maximum budget of £20,000, plus visits to The Netherlands and London. A maximum budget of £10,000 has been set aside for each of these final two trips.

Derry City Council development committee approved the trip to Singapore and the second visit to Qingdao yesterday.

Committee member councillor Eric McGinley said that before approving all of the future proposed marketing trips, feedback from the first two and proof that they are providing value for money would be necessary.

A number of delegations from the council took part in marketing visits during 2012 when the council also had a sponsored yacht taking part in the Clipper race.

Councillor Brenda Stevenson was involved in some of those marketing trips. She told the committee meeting that the promotional visits were too good an opportunity for the city to miss.

She said: "As someone who went on one of the promotional trips last year, I saw for myself how valuable they are in promoting Derry as a destination and the evidence of that was there in July when every bed space in the city was taken and thousands were here for the homecoming."

Mayor Reilly said it was a unique opportunity for city representatives to meet with the Derry-Londonderry-Doire Clipper Race crew at this significantly important race stopover port, but establishing links with the trade mission was equally vital.

He said: "It's an opportunity for us to meet with key Irish diaspora and forge long-term business and cultural links that will promote the city for investment.

"We will be actively encouraging delegates to look at what our city has to offer in terms our competitive business costs, digital connections, super talented labour market and excellence in research as well as inviting them to put Clipper Race Derry stopover in their diary as a must-see event."

During the six-day trip the Derry group will attend a series of events including the Aerospace Networking lunch at the Irish Ambassador's residence, clipper-related events as well as a host of business connection meetings.

Mayor Reilly said the city's participation in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and representation at the trade mission provided a unique opportunity to showcase and promote the city.

He continued: "It's an opportunity for us to maximise the city's presence in the international market and will open up opportunities for us for more companies in international markets."

FACTFILE

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race first ran in 1996. It gives paying amateur crew members the chance to sail around the world. The organisers own a fleet of identical yachts, and provide qualified skippers to lead each team. Crew can either sign up for the whole race or one or more legs. In 2011 the Derry/Londonderry boat came eighth out of a field of 10 finishers, but with the city voted the best stopover of the race by crews.

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