Gobbins pathway to remain shut for another six months
The historic Gobbins path may not reopen to tourists for another six months, it has emerged.
The spectacular Victorian cliffside walkway has already been closed over most of its first 18 months of operation since being reconstructed, because of the danger of rockfalls.
The path was first opened in 1902, but shut in 1954 after falling into a state of disrepair.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said it is hoping the attraction will be back on track in time for the summer.
A statement said the council "is working towards reopening The Gobbins prior to the peak visitor season in 2017. However, there is no date fixed for this at this point".
A group of 30 major tour operators have been shown the problem-hit pathway - even though it remains closed.
Instead, they were able to view the mile-long cliff walk from a boat.
Tourism Ireland invited the group of UK tour operators for a familiarisation visit to Northern Ireland.
The visit, organised by UKinbound, a trade association for inbound tour operators, was based in Galgorm Resort and Spa near Ballymena, and as well as The Gobbins, took in Belfast and the Causeway Coast.
David Boyce of Tourism Ireland's said: "We are delighted that these influential tour operators have taken the time to come to Northern Ireland to meet with our tourism industry partners and to experience for themselves what a great destination this is.
"The majority of our overseas visitors come from the core markets of Great Britain, North America and mainland Europe.
"And while this will continue, it is important that we expand our focus beyond these markets.
"We are looking to the long-term opportunities presented by new tourism markets, which we believe will play an increasing role in the future of the travel and tourism industry. It is therefore crucial that influential operators working in these markets get to experience Northern Ireland, and the high standard of our tourism offering at first-hand."
Mid and East Antrim Council has voiced its disappointment over the lengthy closure.
But it insists interest in the unique walkway continues to be high despite the current lack of access.
Mayor Audrey Wales said: "We remain extremely encouraged by the initial popularity of the attraction and in particular the high number of international visitors we welcomed during our first year of operation.
"Around 55% of people visiting came from overseas.
"The feedback on TripAdvisor and through our visitor centre was exceptional.
"And so we are very much looking forward to reopening during 2017."
A council statement to the Belfast Telegraph said the attraction had been on course to meet visitor target numbers.
"Our year one target was 37,500 visitors, and although only open for seven months of uninterrupted business, the attraction was set to exceed this target," it said.
Business was first disrupted between January and April of this year due to storm damage.
And then its reopening was shortlived when it was shut again on June 20 because of increased levels of rockfall on the cliffs.
Later in the year a full scaling of the cliff face by specialist geologists involved forcing any loose rocks and debris to fall, rather than waiting for them to dislodge naturally.
A report for the council said: "The path should not be opened to the public until remedial measures for the areas abutting the bridges have been put in place, as our focus remains the safety of the public."