Close your eyes. Think about a castle. Where is it? Chances are you are picturing a) majestic towers high above the forested Rhine, b) rugged battlements in the shadow of Snowdonia or c) Disney’s Magic Kingdom, or d) Hogwarts. Now do the same for rugged, windswept coastal drives. Or must-see museums.
Wales ‘owns’ castles. But how, when castles are everywhere, including all over the UK? It’s not just that they have great castles. It’s the service, interpretation, destination partnership working, cultural programming, branding and communications that makes the difference for the visitor.
We’ve been thoroughly enjoying the hospitality and energy of Northern Ireland this year, working closely with Tourism NI. Here you find, yes, castles, and a world heritage site, a walled city, museums, houses and gardens, literary giants … heritage. The location scouts of Game of Thrones spotted it, and more visitors are doing so year on year. Unlike the rest of the UK it is an emerging cultural heritage destination – the lessons from other nations there to learn from, adapt and apply.
It’s exciting times in Northern Ireland (admittedly a different kind of exciting in government at the moment). And the big opportunities lie in what they couldn’t do 25 years ago – be dynamic, strategic and creative in partnerships – transforming good heritage into genuinely distinctive experiences found nowhere else. For the UK and Republic of Ireland visitors especially much is familiar, but explore a little and there is nowhere quite like this literary land of engaging storytellers, inspired by their ancestors, history and landscape. We found a warm, edgy and contemporary personality emerging.
Expect to hear more tales told, more cultural programmes and events, more reasons to go and stay, made possible through new dynamic partnerships. As perhaps NI’s greatest poet Seamus Heaney put it: “If you have the words, there’s always a chance you’ll find the way.”
Image credit: May B – Maguy Marin dance company – Happy Days Festival, Enniskilen
Header image credit: David Cleland