£17M TOURISM BOOST
Tuesday, 17 December 2013
OVER 70,000 overseas tourists visited the Newry and Mourne district in 2011/12 - bringing in around £17m into the local economy.
And a senior council official believes these figures are set to swell as the council looks to further develop its top attractions - Slieve Gullion and Kilbroney mountain bike trails - as well as plans to redevelop Cranfield.
Figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency (NISRA) revealed that 72,000 people from outside Ireland visited the district over the 12-month period, spending £17m in the process.
The district was the eighth most popular tourist destination of the 26 council areas in the north.
However, the Newry and Mourne figures amount to just three per cent of the overall total number of visitors to Northern Ireland with Coleraine (156,000 visitors) making the top three destinations alongside heavyweights Belfast (759,000) and Derry (158,000).
Neighbouring districts fared less well (Banbridge, 20,000) and (Armagh, 35,000), while Down District Council - which is set to merge with Newry and Mourne in 2015 - did slightly better with 74,000 visitors.
Jonathan McGilly, Assistant Director of Development with Newry and Mourne Council, predicted a rise in the number of tourists to the area over the next 12 months.
“The figures show the scale of what tourism does for the area; they show the volume of tourism and that it's a very significant industry," he said.
“The figures are for 2011/2012, so the statistics wouldn't reflect the development of Slieve Gullion Courtyard for example or the mountain bike trails in Kilbroney Park.
“We hope that when those sort of developments are factored in, the figures would increase."
While the district attracted over 70,000 overseas visitors, around 120,000 people that live in Ireland also visited Newry and Mourne over the 12-month period, raking in a further £9m, with the Mourne Mountains outlined as a key attraction.
Mr McGilly said a number of new businesses have emerged in South Down following the completion of the £1.9m trails in Rostrevor and pointed to the success of Grounded in the award-winning Slieve Gullion at how businesses can flourish on the back of major tourist developments and investments.
He added: "We're already looking at how we can develop facilities further.
“We now see play areas, if built right, being tourist attractions. Our analysis of the Slieve Gullion site shows that people are travelling from a lot further south than just Dundalk; they're coming from Dublin and further down south, while lots more people are travelling further distances from across the north to come to Slieve Gullion - the confidence there is underpinned by how successful Grounded is doing.
“So we will be looking at further developments, not just at those facilities, but, for example, we have applications pending looking at how we can enhance Cranfield as an amenity.
“There's a total of £26m generated into the local economy from those statistics, and we would be very confident that that will have grown by this time next year."
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