Facilities for tourists visiting the Bogside area of Derry are set to be greatly enhanced in the next few years, according to one local tourism provider.
Mickey Cooper from Free Derry Tours said the tourism potential of the area, which attracts thousands of visitors each year, has yet to be realised.
Mr Cooper was speaking ahead of the launch of several new projects designed to attract more visitors to the area. These include a number of books explaining the history of the area from the time of St Columba right up to the present day, new signage making it easier for tourists to find places of historical interest, and capital investment in museum facilities in the area.
“We want to improve the tourism project in the area in order to attract more visitors,” Mr Cooper.
The tourism operator said the area has the raw materials to be a major attraction. “We are very fortunate in terms of the product we have on our doorpsteps but we still have a problem in terms of promotion,” he said.
Mr Cooper, also a local councillor, said Triax are preparing to launch a community tourism strategy in the coming weeks. Explaining what will be happening, Mr Cooper said: “There are things that can be done in terms of marketing to promote our product better.
“New signage is going up in the area in the next few weeks that will explain the history of the area to visitors and to show them where the various projects are based. We also have funding for web development which will hopefully help in terms of marketing and promotion,” he said.
Mr Cooper also said web development services will also be offered to other tourism projects in the Bogside area. “New web services will be offered through the Gasyard for all tourism providers in the area. The internet has become a major tool in terms of the marketing and promotion and we want to make the most of it,” he explained.
He also said that a number of books and exhibitions about the history of the area are also being produced for both locals and tourists. “One of the exhibitions which has been on display in the Gasyard Centre explains the early history of the Bogside area. It tells the entire story of the area right from the time when St Columcille established his monastery at Long Tower, effectively founding the city. The exhibition has been very popular with visitors to the Gasyard since it has been launched as it sets out, in chronological order, the development of the area from its earliest beginnings.
“It has proved to be so popular that plans are now in place to adapt the exhibition into a book which would be of interest to both tourists and local people.
“We have also produced a book telling the story of prisons and, in particular, republican ex-prisoners, in the North and beyond which features contributions from a number of local ex-prisoners who share their own experiences of jails in the North, as well as in England. That also came out of a popular exhibition that was staged in the Gasyard,” he said.
With commemorative events set to take place across the North in 2013 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Plantation of Ulster, Mr Cooper also explained that plans are also in place to tell the story from a different angle.
“We are currently in discussion on how the Irish experience of the Plantation can be told. It was a major event in Irish history and if we are to examine it fully then all experiences of it have to be taken into account and the story needs to be told,” he said.
Many of the tourists who visit the Bogside area do so because of the recent political and social history and Mr Cooper explained that while many of the attractions in the area tell the story from a nationalist and republican perspective, plans are in place for a joint project to be carried out between loyalist and republican ex-prisoners. “Cross community meetings will be held involving loyalist and republican former prisoners to come up with a strategy to tell the story.
“Ex-combatants have an important role to play in terms of tourism provision in relation to telling the story of our recent past. Republican ex-prisoners have been involved in this aspect of tourism for a number of years and a range of issues are being discussed with loyalist ex-prisoners’ organisations.
“The project will also involve the development of republican and loyalist chronologies of the peace process, marking all the major landmarks in the journey from the early 1990s to the present day from differing perspectives,” he said.
Mr Cooper said all of the projects, together with plans for a major redevelopment and expansion at the Museum of Free Derry and the development of museum facilities at the Gasyard. are designed to attract more tourists.
“We want to enhance the tourism project for the benefit of the local area and the entire city as well as explaining our own unique story to the local community and the wider audience,” he said.