Eglinton ‘Game of Thrones’ chopper tours to lift off thanks to Council boost

Derry City and Strabane District Council Mayor Councillor Elisha McCallion pictured with Jason Porter from Cutting Edge Helicopters, Mary Blake, Charlene Shongo from City of Derry Airport and Jennifer O'Donnell Derry and Strabane District Council. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com.
Derry City and Strabane District Council Mayor Councillor Elisha McCallion pictured with Jason Porter from Cutting Edge Helicopters, Mary Blake, Charlene Shongo from City of Derry Airport and Jennifer O'Donnell Derry and Strabane District Council. Picture Martin McKeown. Inpresspics.com.

The owner of a Londonderry helicoptor tour firm says a local Council initiative has been pivotal in helping it launch a new ‘Game of Thrones Tour’ from its Eglinton helipad.

Jason Porter of Cutting Edge Helicopters says the Rural Tourism Development Programme, which ran from January 2014 to June 2015 and was part financed by Derry City and Strabane District Council, with matched funding from Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund, has been a great ‘lift.’

Figures following the programme indicate a significant rise in visitor numbers in local rural areas with 86 per cent of participating businesses seeing up to a 10 per cent increase, and the additional 14 per cent of companies showing an increase of over 30 per cent.

Throughout the scheme 38 rural tourism businesses benefitted from the expertise of 27 mentors who were able to assist in improving businesses capabilities and the creation of new product developments and diversifications.

Mr Porter said: “This support has helped us increase our sales by tapping into new markets and establishing our tours as a must do activity for visitors to the region. It also supported the development of our new ‘Game of Thrones Tour’ which we hope to add to our flight options very soon.

“The programme provided fantastic promotional platforms for rural businesses and as a result we have developed new partnerships such as Excursions Ireland which resulted in work with the cruise ships and taking the richest woman in the World on a local flight.”

Mayor Elisha McCallion said: “I’m delighted that local companies have engaged so successfully with the project. Our new council district has a wide rural area and it’s a key priority of the council that we support and develop our rural tourism industry. The results are already tangible in terms of the increase in visitor numbers and job creation.

“I’m also really impressed at the innovative new tourism products which have been developed with a view to improving the rural tourism offering in the district which will have a direct impact on the local economy.”

Rural Tourism Officer with Derry City and Strabane District Council, Jennifer O’Donnell, said: “We were delighted that so many local companies availed of the support and that so many of them reported a significant jump in visitor numbers in such a short space of time. The number of new tourism products launched will have a long-term impact on the rural tourism industry and we hope to see them build on this success in the coming years.”

Tourism Officer with the council, Mary Blake, is delighted to report that legacy programmes for this project are already underway, as council have recently secured 235,000 euros for the new Slow Adventures in the Northern Territories Programme.

This programme will run through until 2018 and includes the development of Slow Food; Canoe Trails and Landscape Heritage. The forthcoming Rural Development Programme will also provide opportunities for individuals and collectives to develop rural tourism initiatives going forwards.