Viewers of the latest series of ITV’s popular ‘Ulster Giants’ programme in July and August will have witnessed the breathtaking scenery of a range of tourism destinations across Mid and East Antrim – all showcased in a portfolio of television ads specially commissioned by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
Airing throughout each episode, the ads formed part of the council’s headline sponsorship of the series – just one of many new council-led initiatives aimed at driving the recovery of the tourism sector across Mid and East Antrim.
“The local tourism industry is absolutely vital to the borough’s economic, social and cultural health – creating employment and wealth, boosting exchequer returns and enriching local communities across,” Councillor Peter Johnston, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, said.
“As a council, we want to proudly showcase our compelling tourism offering of destinations, attractions and activities along the Causeway Coastal Route and across the borough.
“Our decision to sponsor this hugely popular series does exactly this and forms part of our wider tourism strategy and post-Covid recovery plan, led by our Hospitality and Tourism Recovery Task Group.”
Driven by the council and headed up by its chief executive Anne Donaghy, the Mid and East Antrim Hospitality and Tourism Recovery Task Group – which includes Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Hospitality Ulster, the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation and a number of local businesses – is working collaboratively to deliver a recovery plan to restore and sustain growth in the industry locally.
The Task Group has established a range of practical support interventions focussed on delivering solutions to the immediate needs of local businesses across the Borough. This work has been underpinned by a bespoke, phased marketing and communications plan under the tag #RediscoverMEA, targeting specific segments such as ‘staycations’, day-trippers and visitors from GB and the Republic of Ireland.
The initiative quickly attracted praise from political and business leaders far and wide, with East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson commending council and its partners in the Task Group “for their initiative and proactivity in taking steps to develop a clear strategy with very realistic, tangible and measurable outcomes”.
Speaking about the council’s proven track record for delivering economic recovery, meanwhile, North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley said: “I am confident that the efforts of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and its Task Group partners will bring about a much-needed boost for hospitality and tourism businesses in Mid and East Antrim.”
Alongside the re-opening of hotels, restaurants, cafés and bars across the borough, this boost has come in the way of several ‘good news’ announcements by the council this summer.
In June, formal approval was granted for the sale of three council-owned plots of land in Glenarm as part of wider plans to regenerate and revitalise the village.
“The village of Glenarm has always been a celebrated jewel in the crown of Mid and East Antrim’s outstanding tourism offering but, like any tourist destination, it requires ongoing investment and regeneration,” Mayor Peter Johnston, said.
In a second boost for the Causeway Coastal Route, the Homefest ‘Camp Dalfest at Home’ in July saw stars such as Alexandra Burke, Nadine Coyle, Nathan Carter and Pat Sharp all take to the stage to broadcast live from Glenarm Castle. Delivered in partnership with council as part of its #RediscoverMEA campaign, the virtual festival presented a digital response to ensure the spirit of the internationally-renowned Dalriada Festival was kept alive until it returns in 2021.
Virtual festival-goers were invited to add to the ‘festival at home’ experience by ordering a Homefest festival pack which include food, drink and merchandise, delivered to their homes in advance.
“Dalfest is rightly renowned as Northern Ireland’s top festival, drawing in tens of thousands of fans and really placing Mid and East Antrim on the map as the ideal place to visit and stay,” Councillor Johnston says.
“It was important, therefore, that we found a way of ensuring that it happened in some guise this year, despite restrictions brought about by Covid-19. Homefest ‘Camp Dalfest at home’ is a fun example of how we as a council have had to be prepared to be agile and innovative in supporting the delivery of creative alternatives.”
Further south in the borough, meanwhile, council re-opened its much-loved Blackhead Path in Whitehead to the public, following a multi-million-pound restoration project carried out over the past year. Repair works covered four main areas along the coastal path and included rock armour protection, new steps and handrails, and extensive scaling, fixing and netting of rocks.
The Mayor said: “Whitehead is a beautiful village, with lots of eateries, shops, art events and stunning scenery to explore – all of which will only be enriched further by the much-anticipated completion of these works. Blackhead Path is not only a treasured part of life for locals in the village, but one of the area’s greatest tourism assets.
“The re-opening of the path in July was a timely boost for the local community and businesses as we emerged from lockdown, meaning that they can once again benefit from the many thousands of visitors who flock to what is one of Northern Ireland’s most popular walking destinations every year.”
But all of this is only just the start for Mid and East Antrim according to the Mayor, who gave his commitment that the council will do all in its power to drive the recovery of tourism in the area.
“The Covid-19 lockdown period served to remind us just how greatly our local tourism and hospitality industry is valued and how much every attraction, eating and drinking establishment and accommodation provider in Mid and East Antrim – no matter how large or small – contributes to the wider local economy, lifestyle and culture in Northern Ireland.
“As such, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council remains committed to doing everything we possibly can to support their journey to recovery in the months and years to come,” he said.