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Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots MLA has launched a £550,000 scheme to boost tourism in rural areas.

The ‘Rural Tourism Collaborative Experiences Programme’ encourages local Councils to bring together businesses and other potential partners to work closely together to develop an end-to-end visitor experience to increase competitiveness within the rural tourism sector. Each cluster will work together to identify the uniqueness of an area and package a range of authentic local products that can be promoted as a combined experience.

Launching the scheme in Whitehead, County Antrim, where he visited tourism businesses such as The Gobbins Visitor Centre, Whitehead Railway Museum, Blackhead Path, Whitehead Community Centre and the Lighthouse Bistro, Minister Poots said: “I’m delighted to be launching this innovative Programme, particularly as World Tourism Day, on the 27th September, celebrated ‘Tourism and Rural Development'.

“Tourism is vitally important to our rural economy and the competitive nature of the tourism marketplace, over the next few years, cannot be underestimated.

“It is clear from my visit here in Whitehead that a spirit of collaboration is emerging in the tourism sector to jointly create visitor experiences that are accessible, bookable and compelling, offering long-term sustainability and growth to tourism in Northern Ireland.

“There is significant potential in this area and what this area can offer would attract both local and international visitors. This funding will be the catalyst that will drive this work forward and I look forward to seeing the eventual experiences that all 11 Councils will bring forward in the coming months.”

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Peter Johnston, said: “This exciting new programme from DAERA is a fantastic opportunity for businesses and Council to come together to develop unique experiences to enhance the tourism offering that Mid and East Antrim has.

“Hopefully this will allow us to drive more visitors to experience and explore the breath-taking beauty of the Borough, from stunning coastline to historic castles and the world famous Gobbins Clifftop Path, and it was a privilege to welcome the Minister for the launch of his Department’s initiative.”

Martin Clarke, Chairman of Whitehead Community Association, said: “The funding available through this Programme will be a fantastic enabler for essential community and council collaboration to build on the rich vein of art, heritage, culture and landscape that exists in Northern Ireland. Supported projects will offer locals and visitors a chance to engage through experience in the outstanding potential of places such as Whitehead.”