The number of paying visitors passing through the barrier of flagship tourist attraction Carnfunnock Country Park has hit a 15-year low, it has emerged.
The figures, which represent the estimated number of tourists passing through the park’s barrier on weekends from April to October and daily from mid-June to the end of August, were presented to a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Council’s Operational Committee on Monday night.
They show that an estimated 86,752 visitors passed through the local attraction’s barrier in 2016, representing a decrease of just over 9,000 on the previous year and down from an all-time high of 137,006 in 2010.
This has translated to a six per cent drop in income in 2016.
The report also revealed that the park is operating at a loss of £62,709 in 2016/17 after the council’s £264,580 spend was not balanced by the park’s £201,871 income.
Income for visitor centre operations was also down 15 per cent, while overall income through the park revenue streams was down by five per cent on the previous year and “continues on a downward trend” since 2010.
Income for Activity Centre operations continues to fall, while income for service and facilities shows a decline of eight per cent.
The council report notes that “although income appears down in 2016/ 2017, the Caravan Park income generated when the online booking system goes live each January has not as yet been allocated. It adds: “Additionally there is still expenditure to be incurred for preparations for the 2017 season.”
The total number of cars visiting the site dropped from 18,884 in 2015 to 17,906 in 2016, while the total number of season pass holders was down from 3,106 to 2,728 over the same period.The total number of blue badge visitors also fell from 2,276 to 1,798 over that period.
The report stated one factor in the decline was the “negative publicity” in the national media surrounding the discovery of a terrorist hide at Carnfunnock two weeks before Easter 2016, and again in August. Poor weather over the Easter period is also a factor.
It adds that there is a need for “additional investment and new offerings” in the park to compete with other attractions and that the viability of the golf course is “still in question.”
Additionally, the report reveals that franchisees have “voiced concerns regarding the ongoing decline in footfall through the park” and are being hit
by the rise of nearby discount stores.
On a more positive note, the caravan park site is operating “virtually at peak capacity at weekends from May until September” with income up by 20 per cent, and has retained its five star rating.
The estimated number of bus visitors increased from 3680 in 2015 to 4840 in 2016.
A council spokesperson said that footfall and vehicle counters would be installed in March to “reflect all visitors to the Park and standardise our methodology for counting visitors.”
When asked what the council is doing to address the issues at Carnfunnock, a spokesperson said: “The proposed new master plan will identify potential funding streams for additional strategic investment, opportunities for working with private investors and demand for additional services/facilities within the Park to increase competitive advantage and encourage future visitors thereby hopefully increasing visitor numbers and in turn expected income.
“It is a 191 hectare park and requires substantial maintenance and resources to keep it in the high standard it has achieved as a Green Flag site, 4 Star Visitor Attraction and 5 Star Caravan Park. Annual income is seasonal and weather dependant, with an early Easter impacting on income figures. Loss making activities are currently under review to reduce impact on rate payers.”