Ballintoy hotel’s £200k revamp as Game of Thrones and Lonely Planet recommendation bring the crowds
A hotel on the north coast has unveiled a £200,000 refurbishment as it looks to take advantage of a growth in visitors, partly fuelled by interest in cult TV series Game of Thrones.
The Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy, run by husband and wife Sean and Geraldine McLaughlin, has now refurbished its 10 bedrooms and bathrooms - creating three new jobs in the process.
The couple acquired the property two years ago and have been running it as tenants.
Now they are in the early stages of negotiations to buy it from the landlord.
Mr McLaughlin said turnover at the business had almost doubled over the last year, such was the growing demand for accommodation on the north coast.
And he said the business had enjoyed a boost from Game of Thrones, the fantasy TV series which is part-filmed nearby.
Travel guide the Lonely Planet has also named Belfast and the Causeway Coast as top travel destinations for 2018.
The Fullerton Arms also features a Door of Thrones modelled on an episode of season six of the series - one of 10 commissioned by Tourism Ireland to capitalise on tourist interest in the drama.
Mr McLaughlin said tourism to the region had never been stronger.
"Northern Ireland Inc has really increased its foothold in the tourism market. It's now a world-class product, and Game of Thrones has been a massive boost," he said.
"We also had a special mention in the Lonely Planet and overall, it's 20 years of hard work coming to fruition."
And he said the venue had also been flooded with enquiries about rooms for next year's The Open golf championship, which will take place at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
He and his wife Geraldine - who's due to give birth to the couple's third child in a few weeks' time - are both veterans of the hospitality trade.
Mr McLaughlin also used to own Kargo 56 in Portstewart. "My family run McLaughlin's pub outside Killylea near Rasharkin.
"After that I was a student at catering college in Portrush. So I have always been active on the north coast with the tourism business, but from my point of view, I've never seen it so busy."
However, he said available information regarding the history of the Fullerton Arms was sparse.
"Ballintoy Hotel and Fullerton Arms both opened up around the same time - around the turn of the 1900s as the village of Ballintoy was growing. It started out as a four-bedroomed venue serving food for weary travellers, and has really continued on in that format until today."
He said the couple had improved the star rating of the hotel's bedrooms.
"Effectively, when we opened the rooms were given a two-star standard. We're now hoping to achieve at least a very good four, if not five, when we go through grading with Tourism NI."
And in future, he's hoping the venue can also capitalise on the growing trend for pet owners to take their animals on holiday with them.
"It's a massive growth area and people are getting more and more pet-friendly. We've noticed it's a huge growth area for people coming from the UK. Tourists also love to see dogs in a bar as it's really part of a normal cultural identity in Europe. We're starting to catch up on that."
He said the venue's food offering had also received Taste of Ulster accreditation for the second year in a row, and has specialities such as Northern Ireland chorizo from Corndale Farm in Limavady. The venue features Ireland's own specialist 'moulerie' for serving mussels.