Larne firm at centre of tourism venture

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster with LEDCOM chief executive Ken Nelson (centre) and Heritage Experience director, Sandy Smith, launch the new cultural tourism company "Heritage Experience", a collaboration involving LEDCOM, the Ulster History Foundation and the Ulster Scots Community Network. The company has launched a new video promoting author CS Lewis and the land of his birth in a bid to bring more tourists to Northern Ireland. Pic by Brian Thompson. INLT 48-652-CON

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster with LEDCOM chief executive Ken Nelson (centre) and Heritage Experience director, Sandy Smith, launch the new cultural tourism company "Heritage Experience", a collaboration involving LEDCOM, the Ulster History Foundation and the Ulster Scots Community Network. The company has launched a new video promoting author CS Lewis and the land of his birth in a bid to bring more tourists to Northern Ireland. Pic by Brian Thompson. INLT 48-652-CON

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A new social enterprise company, dedicated to promoting Northern Ireland’s rich cultural heritage, has been launched in a bid to bring more tourists to Northern Ireland.

Heritage Experience is a joint venture between Larne’s economic development agency LEDCOM and two cultural organisations: the Ulster Historical Foundation, which helps visitors trace their Irish ancestry, and the Ulster Scots Community Network which works to promote and preserve Ulster Scots heritage.

Launching the venture, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said it will play a valuable role in developing cultural tourism by showcasing the lives of celebrated “exports” such as CS Lewis.

She added: “Tens of thousands of visitors come here every year to explore their family roots and experience our extraordinarily varied history and heritage. With a new social enterprise dedicated to developing this important market, I would expect the vast potential for cultural tourism to be further realised.”

The minister also launched a short film about CS Lewis’s Ulster connections. The production was commissioned by Heritage Experience, which will use it to help promote cultural heritage tours and other tourism-related products.

Heritage Experience has received start-up support under the Invest NI Social Entrepreneurship Programme and Rural Development Funding (RDP) under the North East Region Rural Development Programme.

Ken Nelson, Heritage Experience chairman and chief executive of LEDCOM, said the new organisation would “explore new cultural heritage markets and tell the story of Northern Ireland, its history and its remarkable individuals that have made a global impact”.

He added: “We are excited by the launch of the new CS Lewis film, the first of three short pieces which will be used as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the author’s links to this part of the world.”

“In the months ahead, we will also focus on using the Ulster Scots heritage to forge greater links with Scots Irish communities in North America and beyond. But it is not just about Ulster Scots, it is about promoting all aspects of our culture.”

Heritage Experience director Sandy Smith, the former joint director general of the International Fund for Ireland, has been running CS Lewis tours since 2005, when the first Narnia film captured the imagination of millions of movie-goers.

The new company will act as a facilitator for other companies involved in cultural tourism by sourcing and marketing related products such as giftware, literature, DVDs and CDs.

It also plans to develop programmes for radio, TV and web-based content related to cultural heritage in order to create broad awareness of common and connecting cultural heritage between Northern Ireland and external markets.

Discussions are taking place with local production companies about the potential to partner on such projects.