Thirty businesses took part and availed of support services such as business mentoring, ICT support, WorldHost training, mystery shopping and a joint marketing campaign.
The tourism initiative was financed by the Coastal Communities Fund following the success of its East Antrim Coastal Hub pilot in 2015 and has had a direct impact on the number of visitors and expenditure in the East Antrim Coastal Way route.
The overall aim was to develop the capacity and confidence of local businesses within the area, that are often considered the ‘hidden gems’ of the region but are not necessarily on the typical tourist routes.
Kelli Bagchus, manager of Carrickfergus Enterprise, said: “The success of our East Antrim Coastal Hub and tourism map set the precedent for what could be achieved in the tourism sector within the area.
“It was therefore the right time to request further funding to create a larger spectrum of support. With the local interest high and the strong proposition already existing it made sense for us to build on this momentum.
“This programme has enabled us to showcase our diverse range of tourism attractions from across Ballygally to Ballycastle/Rathlin, that include the Ossian’s Grave, Layde Church, Dark Hedges Estate, Ballygally Castle Hotel, Cranny Falls and Glenariff Forest Park; whilst empowering the businesses across these areas to capitalise on the buoyant tourism industry.
“With tourism at the fore of Northern Ireland’s economy, it is in our interest to support the lesser known locations, to keep history and heritage alive as well as helping the launch of new tourism businesses in the area.”
Speaking on his involvement in the programme, Gary O’Loughlin, from Laragh Lodge, said: “The programme has been really successful and has definitely brought us more business. We attended various workshops including social media training which was very helpful. The publicity from the programme put a spotlight on us and being located beside the Glenariff Waterfall has brought even more tourists to us.”
The project is funded by Coastal Communities Fund which is funded by the government with income from the Crown Estate Marine Assets. It is delivered by Big Lottery on behalf of the UK Government.
Sarah Daly, funding officer from The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “We are delighted that Coastal Communities Fund has been able to support the Glens Coastal Hub Programmme.
“It enables smaller businesses to develop their capacity, enabling them to capitalise on the growing tourism industry in Northern Ireland. It also helps to highlight what Northern Ireland has to offer beyond the major tourism sites. Thus, encouraging longer stays and contributing to and increased visitor spend.”
Carrickfergus Enterprise has created a successful model specialising in supporting tourism and hospitality businesses where it will seek opportunities to further support even more businesses to sustain and grow the future of this industry.