Belfast Telegraph

Portrush leads the way with canine-friendly tourism treks

By Tess Davidson

Food tours are booming business, and now our beloved pets are getting in on the tasty trend following the launch of a new dog-friendly experience on the north coast.

Organiser Jo Crossley said she was inspired by her own dog, and her love of being able to take him everywhere she goes.

It seems she is not alone - her tour already has its own page on the Discover Northern Ireland website and certificates from Tourism NI for excellent customer service and business.

The walking tours are up to 5km long and can be enjoyed by up to eight dogs and 12-14 owners. They are designed to combine the key tourist sites in Portrush with local cafes and bars, and claim to be Northern Ireland's first dog-friendly walking tours.

Each tour takes in six or seven pet-friendly establishments where owners and pets receive an equally warm welcome.

Ms Crossley told the Belfast Telegraph people loved to find an outing where they can include their dogs in the fun, instead of having to leave them behind.

She explained how her own pooch Georgie, a four-year-old Lhasa Apso who goes everywhere with her, was the inspiration behind her food tour.

"It was an idea I had always had in mind," she said.

But it was only during a trip to Fermanagh that she had the "lightbulb moment" and decided to take the plunge.

Collaborating with local businesses in the seaside town such as the Harbour Bar and Tillys Cafe, Ms Crossley devised two options for dog owners: The Big Woof Tour and Weekend Walkies.

Priced at £40 and £35 respectively, the costs include all of the food and drink on the tour, as well as accessories for the dogs such as bandanas.

The Big Woof Tour also has an opportunity for beer tasting at a local co-op brewery towards the end of the walk.

From each ticket, £2 goes to local charities Willies Orphan Fund and RNLI Portrush. "My intention all along had been on local produce and local foods, it was part of the attraction," Ms Crossley explained, adding that local businesses had been really positive.

One such venue is the Harbour Bar, where manager Willie Gregg, a dog lover himself, offers a warm welcome, a glass of Guinness with locally sourced salmon and wheaten bread, and a bowl of water for the canine guests.

Choosing Portrush as the first destination for the tour was both a practical and business decision. With a family holiday home and several dog-friendly cafes already in the area, it proved ideal.

Despite the fact that Portrush is best known as a "seasonal town", Ms Crossley says she will be running the tours all-year round.

With more than eight million pet dogs in the UK and the increasing growth of the "pet pound" market, the significance of this for tourism in Portrush has not escaped Ms Crossley, who argued that "small or little adjustments can impact on the economics of your business".

Having that "little hook", such as walking tours for pet owners, is one way of achieving this.

For more information log on to www.dogfriendlytours.co.uk.

Belfast Telegraph

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