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In lieu of its usual in-person meetings with travel advisors from across North America, Tourism Northern Ireland hosted its first-ever Virtual Expo on March 24. Connecting tourism officials, travel providers, advisors and media, the event served as a day of learning and revving up enthusiasm for future visits.
For many attendees, the Virtual Expo was also an introduction to Tourism Northern Ireland’s newest brand: “Embrace a Giant Spirit.”
“Our new theme — Embrace a Giant Spirit — is really about the people, about the place, about the kinds of things that you can do in Northern Ireland that are really unique and particular to Northern Ireland,” said Diane Dodds, Minister of the Department of the Economy for Northern Ireland, in an introductory video at the expo.
With a new focus on immersive experiences that allow travelers to delve into the history, culture and natural wonders of the region, Tourism Northern Ireland’s website now features a variety of new resources for travel advisors, plus 60 new tours and experiences.
Editor’s note: As of press time, travel between the U.S. and Northern Ireland is restricted, and all tourism accommodations are closed. Advisors are encouraged to bookmark this page for post-pandemic trip planning.
Here’s a sampling of what’s new in Northern Ireland.
Tour No. 1: Sheepdogs at Work
Jamese McCloy, a fourth-generation shepherd, is inviting travelers to visit his farm, set deep in the Sperrin Mountains, for an up-close look at the work he and his family have been doing for years. Ideal for groups both big and small, travelers will learn how McCloy uses whistles, whispers and gestures to direct his highly trained border collies — Moss, Tess and Jess — in herding the sheep. If they’re lucky, guests will also see newborn puppies or lambs roaming the grounds of Glenshane Country Farm.
Tour No. 2: Belfast Traditional Music Trail
With two professional musicians leading the way, guests on this 2.5-hour tour will explore Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter starting at The Dirty Onion bar and making their way to a private bar room inside one of the city's oldest buildings. At each stop along the way, travelers will be treated to a drink and entertainment in the form of traditional songs and stories. They’ll also learn about the history of Irish music, as well as the different instruments, language and customs that make it unique. Clients may even get the chance to try their hand at an Irish dance step or two.
Tour No. 3: Beyond the Bridge
From the mid-1700s until the early 21st century, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was nothing more than a pathway used by local fishermen. Now, it’s visited by adrenaline-seeking tourists who dare to walk across this bridge suspended over 100 feet above sea level. Few people go beyond the bridge, but with this new tour, guests will follow their guide to a "bothy" (fishermen’s hut) on the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede. While there, travelers learn about the local fishing industry with hands-on activities like tying knots and lifting an old sack of sand to get an idea of the weight these fishermen had to carry when their sacks were filled with freshly caught salmon.
Tour No. 4: Unlocking the Walled City
If clients are fans of “Derry Girls” on Netflix, this experience will give them all the context they need to understand the show — and the historical time period it covers — on a deeper level. With the help of Finola Faller, a local tour guide with more than 20 years of experience, travelers will dive into the history of Derry-Londonderry, Ireland’s only completely walled city.
Along the way, guests will listen to stories of the city’s troubled history with visits to the Siege Museum and the Museum of Free Derry, and learn how the people came to a place of peace and reconciliation with their neighbors.
Pricing starts at about $48 per person.
Tour No. 5: Finnebrogue Woods School of Bushcraft
For outdoor enthusiasts wondering what it takes to survive in the Irish wilderness, the Finnebrogue Woods School of Bushcraft will remind them of their days as a boy or girl scout. This privately owned estate just 40 minutes outside of Belfast offers workshops in fire lighting and shelter-making techniques, as well as foraging through the forest learning which plants are edible or medicinal and which ones are actually poisonous. No matter what your clients choose, they’ll be treated to lunch cooked on an open campfire to complete the outdoorsy experience.
Pricing starts at about $41 per person.
The DetailsTourism Northern Ireland www.discovernorthernireland.com/travel-trade