Newry/Mourne Guides celebrate 30 years

Peter Bayne


Peter Bayne


Wednesday 23 February 2022 1:00

Newry and Mourne Blue Badge tourist guides joined in the celebrations for the Northern Ireland Tourist Guide Association’s 30th anniversary.

Gwen Chambers, Mairead Sweeney and Silvia Ballocchi are locally based members of the organisation helping to boost tourism and visitor numbers in the Mournes, one of Northern Ireland’s outstanding areas of natural beauty.

NITGA Chairperson Catherine Burns said: “We are celebrating the impact that professional tourist guides have had in the growth of the tourism industry in Northern Ireland. Tourist guides are great ambassadors for our country, able to bring alive the culture, history and stories that make us unique. We are often the first local people that visitors may meet and it’s important that we give a lasting impression and a warm welcome.”

Tourism is a big part of the Northern Ireland economy with 2019 figures showing that there were 5.3 million overnight trips generating £1 billion in revenue. While the industry was badly hit by Covid, many tourist guides are beginning to see signs of recovery.

Catherine added: “We’re now looking forward to a resurgence in tourism as visitors return in greater numbers and NITGA members will play a very important role in this post-Covid economic recovery.”

There are now more than 100 NITGA members, all professionally qualified guides covering every region and many who can speak a wide range of languages including Japanese, Russian, German, French and Chinese.

One of the founding members, Virginia Moriarty explained that the organisation grew out of the very first Blue Badge tourist guide course run at Queen’s University in 1991/92. “About a dozen of us took this course and when it finished, we wanted to keep working together to develop tourism and professional guiding in Northern Ireland,” she explained.

Virginia added: “We started at just the right time. In the 90s Northern Ireland was changing and more visitors were coming, which gave us the chance to tell them our story. Many people had perceptions about what they were coming to see. This was our chance to show them around and tell them about our history and culture. We tried to answer every question and explain the background. The reaction was simply fantastic. The beauty of our country and the standard of our visitor attractions is second to none. I’ve loved every single second of my work as a tourist guide.”

A number of factors helped boost visitor numbers: the arrival of the cruise ships in the mid-90s, the increased numbers of visitors doing tours of the whole island, the new attractions like Titanic and of course the interest in Game of Thrones.

Professional and continuous development is an essential part of the organisation’s philosophy with ongoing familiarisation trips and professional training with the Blue Badge being joined by a level 4 and Green and White badges. The members who have decided to retire after many years like to remain as members to continue to enjoy the friendships built over many years.

NITGA has developed links to the wider tourist industry and represents Northern Ireland at the European Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (FEG) and the World Federation of Tourist Guide Associations (WFTGA).

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