Opinions divided on tourism benefits of G8

Justin Thompson, manager of Castle Coole Enniskillen
Justin Thompson, manager of Castle Coole Enniskillen

At least one landmark in Enniskillen can already claim a tourism spin-off from the G8 summit.

Two German men crossed the well-worn floor tiles of Blakes of the Hollow, a pub tucked into a dip in the town’s main street on Sunday afternoon.

As they have done every June for years, the mariners booked two weeks boating on the majestic Lough Erne.

And, as is their routine, they pulled into Co Fermanagh’s island town for a day, berthed up and headed to their familiar watering hole before planning to set off again into the lakes.

“It was only after a few drinks they found out a security zone had been thrown up around their jetty,” said a local who was with them at the time.

“They didn’t even know the G8 was on.

“They were basically stranded in Enniskillen for the next few days. But they didn’t seem to mind too much, they were in good spirits and have been in the pub for some time since.”

Much has been made of the tourism potential of staging the G8 meeting in the town. Only time will tell if it proves to be the showcase that was promised.

As the political masters of the universe boarded their flights back out of Northern Ireland, there were few overseas visitors to be seen in and around Enniskillen.

Marinas and small harbours normally teeming with German, Swiss and Dutch tourists were unseasonably quiet. Anyone tying up or tinkering on boats were mostly local.

Visitor numbers at Castle Coole - one of the jewels in the crown of the National Trust’s stately homes - were down by about 80% over the weekend.

“We think a lot of people have been staying away while the G8 is going on,” said Justin Thompson, duty manager at the neo-classical mansion and its grounds.

“If you listened to the news, you would think Enniskillen was locked down.

“It wasn’t, there were some hold-ups and diversions, but you could still get around.”

Nonetheless, he expects business to rebound by next weekend but was unsure if the G8 would bring more business.

“For us, the filming of the Antiques Roadshow here would have more of an impact,” he said.

There was little sign of any visitors at Enniskillen Castle as well.

Museum manager Sarah McHugh admitted things were quiet but believes the G8 was a wonderful opportunity to show off the town.

“I think people were anxious to come this weekend because it was the unknown,” she said.

“But people who did make the effort to come are telling other people about us.

“Others who were here for the summit are saying they will come back when they are not working.”

Across from the castle, beside a near empty campsite, one officer from Merseyside Police, drafted in for the massive security operation, said he and many colleagues were planning to come back and visit for a holiday.

But Rodney Watson, owner of the Killyhevlin Hotel since 1976, insists not enough is being done to secure a lasting legacy from the event.

“There must be much more aggressive marketing of Fermanagh in the UK, and especially in Scotland, which is not marketed strongly enough in my view,” he said.

“The tourist board’s hands are tied because they don’t have the remit to properly sell Northern Ireland outside of Ireland.

“There is, in my view, a very serious problem there and it has been there since the Good Friday Agreement.”