Belfast Telegraph

Cycling can be Northern Ireland's draw for visitors, say tourism chiefs

By Margaret Canning

It already attracts about 25,000 enthusiasts every year - but now Tourism NI wants cycling in Northern Ireland to become an even bigger draw to tourists.

Northern Ireland this weekend hosts the Gran Fondo - a special closed road race for amateurs known as a 'sportive' and linked to the famous Giro d'Italia, which held a stage here last year.

Kathryn Thomson, Tourism NI's chief operating officer, said it would be using the Gran Fondo this year - and in 2016 and 2017, when it will also visit here - to build on Northern Ireland's reputation as a location for cyclists to holiday.

She said Northern Ireland had developed a good relationship with the Giro d'Italia's organisers after hosting its Grande Partenza/'big start' last year. Securing the Gran Fondo was part of building a "legacy" on last year's successful hosting of the Gran Partenza.

"It's clear that Northern Ireland has a unique way of embracing events. We don't have event fatigue and people in Northern Ireland are so proud of where they're from.

"These events, and others like the Irish Open, bring out the best in us and take us to a new level."

Around 3,200 riders have registered to take part in the Gran Fondo, which takes place on Sunday. Ms Thomson says over 80% are from Northern Ireland, 14% from the Republic and around 5% from outside Ireland.

Of the 5%, there will be participants from South America, New Zealand and around Europe, Ms Thomson said.

Ms Thompson added that Tourism NI would hope to build Northern Ireland into a cycling destination - in a similar way to how it has developed a reputation for drawing golfers.

She said there was no figure to quantify the current value of cycling to tourism - but that the sport was estimated to be worth €232m (£166m) to the economy in the Republic.

Northern Ireland's terrain lent itself to both road cycling and mountain-biking, she said - with paths at Kilbroney in Rostrevor, Co Down, and in the Mournes, already having a world-class reputation, Ms Thompson said.

There was a possibility the organisers of the Giro could bring their Big Start back here. "They've said they would consider bringing it back here in the future - that's something we can work towards."

Belfast Telegraph