Stormont tourism spend in East Antrim is ‘paltry’ – MLA

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STORMONT has invested just over £200,000 on tourism promotion in East Antrim in the last three years, compared with £10.5 million in neighbouring North Antrim.

“Inequalities” in the tourism spend were highlighted in the Assembly by local MLA Oliver McMullan, who described the local allocation as “paltry”.

The Sinn Fein representative acquired the figures after submitting a written question to DUP Tourism Minister Arlene Foster.

“When I asked how much grant funding was allocated to tourism projects in East Antrim areas I was shocked to hear that only £200,652.09 was spent in the constituency over a three-year period,” said Mr McMullan.

“When compared to other areas of the North, this is a paltry sum and more needs to be done if the area is to capitalise on the tourist boom expected by Titanic, the Irish Open and the centenary events planned over the next few years,” he added.

The statistics are skewed by substantial investment in the visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway as 2010-11 alone accounts for £9.85m of the North Antrim total.

However, while North Antrim received £278,300 the previous year, East Antrim had none; and in 2011-12 the allocations varied greatly at £432,374 and £45,000 respectively.

East Antrim can expect an injection of Stormont funding for the upcoming Gobbins path restoration, but Mr McMullan was unmoved.

“That won’t change the fact that further down the coast in Carnlough, for instance, the tourism spend is negligible. Tourist information for visitors amounts to a notice board in a shop.”

He urged the minister to invest in East Antrim’s untapped tourist potential.

“The area has some of the most stunning scenery on the island, as well as being diverse in cultural and political history from the United Irishmen through to the Larne gun-running plot during the Home Rule period.

“East Antrim is also the coastal route to the new Causeway Centre, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Bushmills Distillery and the Glens, so it is essential that we develop the tourist product to tap into that tourist flow.

“It is important that the tourist trail is developed evenly across the North and I am calling on the minister to address the inequalities in how money is spent in developing the tourist product by supporting small businesses and local attractions in East Antrim,” he added.