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US trip to promote Gobbins is justified

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 10/08/2016

The Gobbins coastal walkway reopened last year after a £7.5m revamp
The Gobbins coastal walkway reopened last year after a £7.5m revamp

The Gobbins coastal pathway, which was conceived and opened in 1902, was an incredible feat of engineering. A walkway was literally carved out of the basalt coastline and linked up with a series of bridges to create a dramatic and awe-inspiring tourist attraction, giving visitors access to a vista normally reserved for seabirds.

The white knuckle walkway remained open until the 1950s when post-war austerity meant a dramatic fall off in visitor numbers.

The decision to rebuild and recreate the walkway at a cost of £7.5m seemed like a good idea at the time, adding another attraction to the tourism menu in Northern Ireland. But the project has been bedevilled by problems since it opened just under a year ago.

As this newspaper revealed a couple of weeks ago, it has been closed for almost half that period because of the potential dangers from rock falls. Instead of the hoped for 70,000 visitors, it has brought in just 23,000, though given the negative publicity of two enforced closures, that still demonstrates that there is a considerable public appetite for the attraction.

Having spent such a considerable sum of public money in developing the walkway, it makes sense for the council now to spend some more in drumming up positive publicity for it. Hence the decision to send a delegation to an Irish festival in the USA.

Some ratepayers may feel justified in criticising the need to send five councillors and an official on the cross-Atlantic trip, but the principle of promoting the attraction and other tourist lures in that part of the province is a sound one.

The council probably feels duty bound to drum up tourism wherever it can and councillors can deflect criticism that this is just a nice trip by ensuring that they have a presence as well at tourist fairs in the UK and Republic of Ireland - which are the two chief tourism markets for Northern Ireland.

After all, it is not the council's fault that nature has conspired against its best laid plans to bring more tourists to the east Antrim area. It has a duty of care to anyone who visits the attraction and quite properly has closed the walkway until a solution to the dangers is found.

The remedial work should be expedited to ensure that the walkway re-opens as soon as possible, before the effort to sell the area to visitors fades from their memories. Public money is precious and any use of it must show a good return.

Belfast Telegraph

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