Gobbins path will help attract two million visitors next year
THE spectacular Gobbins cliff path will be the jewel in the crown of Tourism Ireland's 2016 marketing campaign to attract two million visitors - with a collective spending power of £476 million - to the north next year.
Setting out its key tourist targets, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, Niall Gibbons, said the re-opened attraction at Islandmagee was central in reaching the 'culturally curious', 'social energisers' and 'great escapers' from destinations world-wide.
The £7.5 million new-look Gobbins path has been incorporated into a glossy new advert which will launch in January in 23 markets around the world - reaching 26 million potential holidaymakers in France and Germany alone.
Speaking at the launch of the new marketing agenda on Thursday, the tourism chief said it had been a "fantastic" year for Northern Ireland, with the Giant's Causeway alone having attracted 28,000 Chinese visitors during the first nine months of the year.
Helping facilitate this, he said, was a new 'one-stop' British-Irish visa which has resulted in a 43 per cent surge in Chinese applications.
Overall, visitor numbers increased by 7 per cent during the first six months of 2015, while latest estimates indicated 1.9 million tourists toured the region last year - including 28 per cent of foreign visitors to the Republic who now make the trip up north.
A key factor has been improved direct access - an increase in flight routes accounted for 87,332 seats-per-week on flights into the north during winter (13 per cent higher than in the previous season) and 93,323 seats-per-week during summer.
"We have been scaling new heights and we're not finished yet," Mr Gibbons said.
"Next year we will place a major focus on Northern Ireland's Year of Food and Drink, while continuing to promote Titanic Belfast, the Giant's Causeway, Marble Arch Caves and our unique National Trust properties - particularly the renovated Mount Stewart where 22 miles of new cycling and walking paths are currently under construction.
"'Screen tourism also continues to be a significant area for us - Game of Thrones locations have brought an extra 20,000 visitors to Northern Ireland and we are excited to be promoting the new Star Wars movie which was partly shot in Ireland."
A boost in business tourism is also expected due to the new extended facilities at the Waterfront Hall, while Tourism Ireland will be capitalising on the island's Christian heritage with a 'Global Greening' initiative planned for 2016 in which iconic landmarks around the world will be illuminated to celebrate St Patrick's Day.
Welcoming the launch, enterprise minister Jonathan Bell, said there had had never been a greater time to visit Northern Ireland.
"The cranes are back in the skyline again and we have several new hotels in the pipeline to accommodate an expected increase in visitors," he said.
"With our world-class golf offering, great food and great scenery, Northern Ireland can easily compete with the best holiday destinations in the world."