Wild Atlantic Way: One of the world’s most scenic drives is about to get even longer

One of the world’s most scenic drives is set to get even longer.

The potential extension of the Wild Atlantic Way into Northern Ireland is being considered to attract more tourists to the region.

The route is over 1,600 miles of scenic roads and trails that wrap around Ireland’s west coast. The route binds together breathtaking locations along the shore where the ocean reaches Europe – with rich heritage, attractions and activities to enliven the experience.

The scenic route currently extends from Kinsale in Co Cork, along the west coast of Ireland taking in the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare, to the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal.

Across the border in Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coastal Route starts in Londonderry and travels around the coastline to Belfast.

In a speech to a Tourism NI conference in Belfast on Tuesday, Stormont Economy Minister Conor Murphy also mooted linking up the Hidden Heartlands in the Republic with Co Fermanagh, as well as Downpatrick and Armagh with Ireland’s Ancient East.

Mr Murphy described tourism as a success story of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and pledged to support its further development.

The Wild Atlantic Way ends (or begins) in the picturesque town of Kinsale (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

He said Tourism Ireland’s marketing of the island overseas is “critical” to further growth, and said that while his department’s funding to the body had “fallen behind” in recent years, it will be “properly funded” this year.

Mr Murphy said that around 70% of overseas holidaymakers who come to Northern Ireland travel from the Republic of Ireland.

There are currently no transatlantic routes which fly into any of Northern Ireland’s airports.

He said in a bid to increase this flow of travellers, discussions are currently under way on extending some of the Republic’s tourism brands into Northern Ireland.

“This will include consideration of rolling the Wild Atlantic Way into the Causeway Coastal Route, the Hidden Heartlands into Fermanagh, and places such as Downpatrick and Armagh in Ireland’s Ancient East,” he said.

Mr Murphy also said he met officials on Monday to discuss new research on strengthening air connectivity.

“I will also work with my colleague, Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald, to continue to make the case to the British Government for tourism and hospitality to harmonise the north’s rate of VAT with the south. This will level the playing field across the island,” he added.

Meanwhile Mr Murphy warned huge growth potential in tourism is currently threatened by the Government’s Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme.

All clear? Electronic Travel Authorisations are required for an increasing number of nationalities seeking to travel to the UK (Simon Calder)

“Under this scheme international visitors who want to travel to the north from the south will have to apply for, and pay for, permission to travel,” he said.

“The hassle and cost of this will mean many visitors will simply not travel north.

“This would have a devastating impact and so I will lobby the British Government to abandon this policy.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the words from Mr Murphy.

He said he wrote to the Economy Minister earlier this month to request an assessment of the potential benefit of extending the Wild Atlantic Way to the Causeway Coast following the allocation of £6.5m from the Irish government’s Shared Island Unity to link the two brands at the end of 2022.

“The brand power of the Wild Atlantic Way has been an extraordinary asset for communities along the west coast that are now benefitting to the tune of more than three billion euro (£2.5 billion) every year in tourism revenue,” he said.

“There is a huge opportunity to extend and expand the Wild Atlantic Way from Donegal through to the centre of Derry and on to the Causeway Coast.

“More than £6m has already been provided by the Shared Island Unit to link the two brands but my firm view is that deeper integration will deliver better outcomes for businesses and communities in the North West.

“I wrote to the Economy Minister this month asking for an assessment of the economic potential of extending the Wild Atlantic Way to Derry and the North West.

“It makes no sense as far as I can see to terminate such a successful brand at the border when we can maximise the benefit for everyone. We should be seeking to compliment the tourist product in the North West instead of needlessly competing with ourselves.”

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