For many Americans Northern Ireland is that spot on the map that has been torn between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, constantly engaged in the conflict that has come to be known as The Troubles. While the country has had its problems in the past, today is a new age for Northern Ireland. Travel Agent sat down with Northern Ireland Tourism Minister Arlene Foster who shed some light on the wealth of tourist attractions in the country.
Northern Ireland is focusing on five signature projects, which are expected to be unveiled between 2012 and 2013. The first will be devoted to the Titanic, which was built in Belfast. Coming up on its centenary, the government will team up with the private sector to unveil what the Minister referred to as "not a museum, but an experience," which will depict Belfast as it was in 1912 when the Titanic was constructed.
The second project will be at Giant's Causeway, arguably the largest attraction in the country. A new visitors center will be unveiled in 2012.
Third, the country is going to put a stronger emphasis on St. Patrick country, which includes the areas in and around Armagh and Downpatrick. Also in the realm of natural beauty, the Mourn Mountains take the stage as the fourth project, where walking trails will continue to be developed.
Finally, the Walled City of Derry will be the fifth signature project, which was named the UK City of Culture for 2013. "The city has had its challenges in the past, but it has always been a center for music, dance, theater and poetry," says Minister Foster.
Like most European countries, Northern Ireland was hit incredibly hard in 2009, and with the volcanic ash debacle in early 2010, its numbers were even slower than most to come back. The most recent figures for June show that numbers are getting stronger and the country expects to surpass 2009 by the end of 2010.
Connectivity to Ireland is incredibly easy, with daily direct flights offered from a variety of top airlines such as Aer Lingus, Delta and Continental. Continental also has a direct flight from New York into Belfast. U.S Airways has implemented a new flight from Charlotte to Dublin, as well. There are a total of 101 flights from North America to the island as whole, and with a new highway put in place connecting Dublin to Belfast, Northern Ireland is no more than a two and a half hour ride from Dublin's airport.
Minister Foster tells us that the ministry of tourism is constantly in contact with air suppliers in order to provide more routes. Now is a trying time for airlines to purchase new aircrafts, but when the situation betters itself, Northern Ireland is "at the top of the queue," says the Minister.
"We know that the awareness people have of Northern Ireland is not the one that we want," says Minister Foster, acknowledging the sullied reputation of Northern Ireland. "Agents and tourists simply must come and see the breadth of what the country has to offer." The Ministry of Tourism recently put on a display at Grand Central Station in New York City, highlighting the Titanic signature project, so that passersby could get a taste of what the country is cooking up.