Political tourism is a potential growth market for the north says Conor Murphy

Causeway coast could soon be included in Wild Atlantic Way promotion, economy minister tells Tourism NI conference

Signing the 'peace wall' at Cupar Way, Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann
Visitors sign the 'peace wall' at Cupar Way, Belfast. Picture by Mal McCann

The north has potential to grow its market for political tourism, the economy minister has said.

Setting out his plans to grow Northern Ireland’s tourism industry on Tuesday, Conor Murphy said: “Many people want to learn more about our political history and this offers particular opportunities to ensure that communities which suffered most from the conflict share in the peace dividend.”

In a speech delivered at Tourism NI’s annual conference at Titanic Belfast, the economy minister also announced that the north’s contribution to Tourism Ireland will be fully restored in the current financial year.

Tourism Ireland was established in 1998 to promote the island of island overseas.

It was originally funded on a 2:1 ratio by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.

But Stormont’s contribution has fallen behind Dublin in recent years.

Conor Murphy said: “Tourism Ireland will be properly funded to showcase the north’s tourism offering internationally.”

Mural based on images sent by Palestinians was unveiled at the International Wall on the Falls road
The 'International Wall' on the Falls Road forms part of the famous black taxi tour in Belfast. (Mal McCann)

He also confirmed that discussions are underway on extending Fáilte Ireland’s tourism brands into the north.

It could soon see the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ extended to include the Causeway Coastal Route and Fermanagh rolled into the Republic’s ‘Hidden Heartlands’ promotion.

Places such as Downpatrick and Armagh could also be included in ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’, which promotes the east coast of the island, but currently stops at the border.

Economy Minister Conor Murphy addresses Tourism NI's annual conference at Titanic Belfast on Tuesday.
Economy Minister Conor Murphy addresses Tourism NI's annual conference at Titanic Belfast on Tuesday. (Philip Magowan/Philip Magowan)

Meanwhile, Mr Murphy told the conference he is working with Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald to make the case in London to harmonise the north’s rate of VAT for tourism and hospitality with that of the Republic.

He also spoke of “the threat” to tourism posed by the electronic travel authorisation scheme, which will require international visitors crossing the border into the north to apply and pay for permission t do so.

“The hassle and cost of this will mean many visitors will simply not travel north,” said the economy minister.

“This would have a devastating impact and so I will lobby the British Government to abandon this policy.”

Mr Murphy also said the north’s bids for major events “could be less ad-hoc and more strategic”.

Mussenden Temple, Downhill, Limavady, County Derry, Northern Ireland.
Could Mussenden Temple and Downhill Beach become part of the Wild Atlantic Way? (gareth wray/Getty Images)

“So we will look ahead to the next 10 years and strategically identify major events we can host, either on our own, or as part of an all-Ireland bid,” he said.

Describing tourism as a true success story of the Good Friday Agreement, he added: “The number of external overnight visitors has more than quadrupled.

“Spending by visitors has increased more than six-fold in real terms. 

“With 70% of jobs located outside of Belfast, the benefits of tourism are spread throughout the region.

“And given that the industry is primarily made up of local SMEs, we can be confident that these benefits are retained and reinvested locally.”