‘Fresh approach’ to linking Wild Atlantic Way to Causeway Coastal Route via Derry City welcomed

SDLP economy spokesperson Sinead McLaughlin has welcomed the “fresh approach” taken by new economy minister Gordon Lyons, supporting the linkage of the Wild Atlantic Way with the Causeway Coast.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 11:46 am

Ms. McLaughlin said linkage of the two routes could significantly increase tourism income for Derry and the region.

Concerns were raised back in 2017 after it emerged that the original signposting and promotional material showing Derry City as the key connecting point at the end of Wild Atlantic Way from Cork right up along Ireland’s western seafront and starting point for the Causeway Coastal route (or visa versa) seemed to have changed and that Muff became the final destination for the WAW route.

Previous economy minister Diane Dodds had stated that the concentration should be on prioritising Northern Ireland’s distinct tourism offering as a whole when asked to work together with the Irish government to jointly promote a connected route. She added that there had been no formal discussions at the Executive level on creating a new single route.

The site of an ancient monastery, cross and graveyard at Moville along the Wild Atlantic Way with the Causeway Coastal route in the background. Both routes are linked via Derry City. (Photo: Brendan McDaid)

Both ministers were answering written Assembly questions lodged by McLaughlin.

McLaughlin said: “I very much welcome the positive words from incoming economy minister Gordon Lyons, indicating his support for the promotion of Derry, under the slogan ‘The Walled City – Where the Wild Atlantic Way Meets the Causeway Coastal Route’.

“This promotional exercise can generate real benefits for Derry and the wider North West, on both sides of the border. Cross-border co-operation makes sense and can enhance not just tourism income, but also the quality of experience for visitors.

“This is a marked improvement on the responses I received from previous minister Diane Dodds in October of last year. It is essential that further progress is made on this in order to support the re-emergence of the tourism sector in Derry.

Manannán MacLir statue overlooking the River Foyle along the Causeway Coastal Route. In the distance across Lough Foyle is part of the Inishowen stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. (Photo: Brendan McDaid)

“Connecting the two routes is a recognised objective of the Irish government, which is specified in its Programme for Government. It must be actively supported on a cross-party basis within the Northern Ireland Executive. This has the full support of the SDLP. Other parties must share this commitment.”

Ms McLaughlin had asked Mr Lyons “whether he will review his Department’s policy with regards to implementing an integrated and cross-border promotion of a linkage of the Causeway Coast and Wild Atlantic Way and the consequent further development of Derry city as a tourism hub”.

The Minister responded: “The Wild Atlantic Way Experience Brand is one of several experience brands in the Republic of Ireland that was created by Fáilte Ireland to fulfil market need. The Wild Atlantic Way has been supported by marketing communications and experience development activity which gives the consumer reasons to visit.

“It has been clear for many years that, if Northern Ireland is to compete effectively for tourism spend it urgently required its own distinctive tourism brand, which is reflective of the experience that a visitor truly encounters when on a trip to Northern Ireland.

Derry City is the key destination linking both the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coastal Route. (Photo: Brendan McDaid

“Following extensive national and international testing, a new Experience Brand was developed and launched in 2019: Northern Ireland – Embrace a Giant Spirit. When this brand was tested against existing marketing content, there was a 30% increase in the number of people showing an interest in visiting Northern Ireland.

“The initial priority has been to create a brand that will help the whole of Northern Ireland to stand out in the marketplace and ensure that this new brand is embedded with both the local industry and the international trade.

“The tourism industry has adopted the new experience brand with significant enthusiasm as it recognises the potential of the new brand to contribute to local economic growth over the long-term.

The Causeway Coastal Route and Walled City of Derry are two key offers within our new brand and several brand demonstrators have been identified, supported and showcased in each area.

Sinead McLaughlin MLA.

“A collaborative Working Group was established in 2016 to explore the potential opportunity of developing and marketing the concept of The Walled City – Where the Wild Atlantic Way Meets the Causeway Coastal Route. Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland are represented on the group, alongside the North West regional agencies (Donegal County Council, Derry City and Strabane District Council [DCSDC] and Visit Derry). The group’s core agenda is to work in collaboration to make a strategic step change in tourism outcomes for the North West.

“Following the publication of the Tourism Ireland GB market review it was deemed that this should be a key area of focus. The Tourism Ireland GB Strategy for Growth identified the need to create hub experiences with compelling reasons to venture beyond Belfast and Dublin; Londonderry - Donegal has been identified by the tourism agencies as one of the first experience hubs to be progressed. While planned GB campaigns were put on hold due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was agreement that this should remain the focus of the multi-agency group.

“The North West Development Fund recently approved £130k of funding to deliver a North West Tourism Product Development Programme, a partnership project between DCSDC and Donegal County Council, with significant input and advice from Tourism NI. It seeks to help tourism focused SMEs understand how to capitalise on business opportunities in the new environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a signage element, which is well progressed, to ensure the creation of cohesive messaging on both sides of the border so that visitors have a seamless journey. It also aims to maximise the North West offering as part of the two key tourist routes and ensure the Walled City is recognised and highlighted.

“Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland will continue to support these areas of work and to ensure that these strategic routes, destinations and experience brands work together to attract both domestic visitors and indeed international visitors, when the time is right.

“The Tourism Recovery Action Plan launched in May this year contains a commitment to develop a regenerative Tourism Strategy to maximise Northern Ireland’s tourism potential. Options to facilitate tourism growth will be considered in this context.”

In October 2020 Ms McLaughlin had asked then Economy Minister Diane Dodds “whether they share the commitment of the Irish government in its Programme for Government of working with the Northern Irish Executive to create a coastal tourist trail, linking the Wild Atlantic Way, the Causeway Coastal Route and along our eastern and southern coast; and (ii) if so, how they will fulfil that joint objective”.

In her answer the following month, Minister Dodds said: “The Wild Atlantic Way Experience Brand is one of several experience brands in the Republic of Ireland that was created by Fáilte Ireland to fulfil market need. The Wild Atlantic Way has been supported by marketing communications and experience development activity which gives the consumer reasons to visit.

“It has been clear for many years, that if Northern Ireland is to compete effectively for tourism spend with the rest of the Island of Ireland, it urgently required its own distinctive tourism brand, which is reflective of the experience that a visitor truly encounters when on a trip to Northern Ireland.

“Following extensive national and international testing, a new Experience Brand was developed and launched for Northern Ireland in 2019: Northern Ireland – Embrace a Giant Spirit. When this brand was tested against existing marketing content, there was a 30% increase in the number of people showing an interest in visiting Northern Ireland.

“The priority has been to create a brand that will give the whole of Northern Ireland standout in the marketplace. The tourism industry has adopted Northern Ireland’s new experience brand with significant enthusiasm as it recognises the potential of the new brand to contribute to local economic growth and to spread the economic benefits across all regions of Northern Ireland over the long-term. The Causeway Coastal Route is a key offer within our new brand.

“(ii) There has been to date no formal discussions at Executive level to link The Wild Atlantic Way with the Causeway Coastal Route with the objective to form a single coastal tourist trail. Both are distinct brands that serve to market separate geographies and jurisdictions and both are recognised internationally.

“It is important that the new Northern Ireland brand is embedded with both the local industry and the international trade. The economic rationale for creating a new coastal tourist trail, linking the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coastal Route would need to be fully understood and have the agreement of the industry, Tourism Northern Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and the local authorities on both sides of the border.

“The implementation of a new coastal tourist trail would have to be undertaken in a way that makes sense from a consumer perspective and executed in a way that would not dilute the new Northern Ireland brand or convey conflicting messages to the tourism industry, trade operators or consumers.”