MLAs have asked the Minister for the Economy to make East Antrim a “signature tourism project” with the Gobbins the focus of a “master plan”.
The requests were made by East Antrim DUP MLAs Gordon Lyons and David Hilditch during a Stormont adjournment debate on tourism in East Antrim on June 7.
Mr Lyons said he wanted East Antrim to experience a “resurgence” in tourism to “improve our local economy, as well as show people in the world what we have to offer.”
The elected representative told Minister Simon Hamilton that East Antrim now possesses both a tourism product, with attractions such as The Gobbins and Carrick Castle, and the infrastructure to support it after improvements to the A8 and A2.
Mr Lyons requested that the Minister or his officials help mid and East Antrim Borough Council develop its tourism strategy, and asked that he speak to Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland about what steps can be taken to promote local tourism.
Meanwhile, Mr Hilditch suggested the development of a “master plan” focussing on the Gobbins. He said that this would link Islandmagee and Blackhead into existing master plans in Whitehead and Carrick, stretching through Larne, Glenarm and towards the Glens.
“We have touched the surface for the potential of tourism in East Antrim,” he stated.
“It is only with a collaborative, cross-departmental and partnership approach that we can raise the bar and make it work.”
Mr Hilditch described the closure of the Larne to Troon ferry route as “one of the biggest blows” to the area and said that he hoped any strategy would consider the impact that this had had on the accommodation sector. He called for a focus on “smaller, more localised events.”
Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan said that local tourist attractions were “still not being promoted on an all-Ireland basis.”
He stated that the area had failed to capitalise on the Giro d’Italia, and called for Tourism NI to work with Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council to create a programme.
MLA Stewart Dickson called for action on train connectivity between Dublin and Belfast and on “archaic, outdated licensing laws.”
During the debate on East Antrim tourism, Minister Simon Hamilton revealed that he intended to bring forward a new tourism strategy for Northern Ireland for the next 10 years.
“The new strategy will set the future direction for tourism within the context of a refocused economic strategy,” he said.
“The East Antrim area is a key part of the Causeway coastal route, and this represents a huge tourism opportunity for the area. East Antrim has iconic visitor attractions with the potential to be showcased in international markets.”
Mr Hamilton vowed to visit The Gobbins, which he described as a “truly unique coastal experience.”