Mid and East Antrim Council is ‘looking forward to getting its teeth into” Game of Thrones as part of its tourism strategy, says its Head of Tourism.
The comment, by council officer Ainsley McWilliams, was made during a discussion on the installation of two new Game of Thrones signs at Glenarm and Sallagh Brae during a council meeting on Monday night.
The council’s Economic Growth and Tourism Committee approved a spend of approximately £2500 for the design and manufacture of the two new signs, which will be located in filming locations featured in series six of HBO’s hit fantasy drama.
The council has already spent around £2000 on two Game of Thrones signs at Knockdhu and Shilnavogy Valley near Slemish.
A report presented to councillors described Game of Thrones as a “showcase for Northern Ireland” which is estimated to have contributed over £110million to the economy and has had a “significant positive effect on tourism.”
DUP Councillor Angela Smyth said the two new signs would be “money well spent” and there was a “need to capitalise more” on Game of Thrones.
“Has the council considered a Game of Thrones visitor centre to bring the Iron Throne to Mid and East Antrim?” she asked.
Referring to Game of Thrones’ film set at Magheramorne Quarry, Mrs McWilliams replied that there was a “very fantastic site close to us at Magheramorne.”
She added that the council had the visitor centre suggestion “on the agenda.”
“We have to be very careful what we do with HBO and Game of Thrones as it is trade-marked. All contact is through NI Screen and Tourism NI,” Mrs McWilliams continued.
“We are very aware that should any opportunity arise we will look at things very carefully and bring suggestions to council.”
Regarding Mrs Smyth’s suggestion to erect a Game of Thrones sign at Carnlough Harbour, which was used to film scenes with actress Maisie Williams last year, Mrs McWilliams revealed that the council did not currently have permission to erect a sign there.
“Sometimes that is an indication that they will film there again-we’ll keep our fingers crossed,” she stated, adding that if any further opportunities arose in conjunction with NI Screen and Tourism NI she would “bring it back for approval” to council.
DUP Cllr Cheryl Johnston asked how the potential of Game of Thrones could be “extended throughout the borough,” given the signs’ remote locations, to areas such as Carrick and Ballymena.
“We are approaching this through clusters of private businesses,” Mrs McWilliams replied.
“Ballygally Castle does Game of Thrones afternoon teas and other businesses may be looking at Game of Thrones walks along Sallagh Brae.
“We are looking at putting infrastructure around those businesses.
“We hope that what we are doing will engage Belfast coach tours and make them stay longer.”
Mrs McWilliams said that it was “great to have permission through screen NI to put our sign alongside Game of Thrones.”
“We have to be very wary and explain to businesses that they can’t just lift the logo,they have to have permission,” she continued.
UUP Cllr Mark McKinty asked if there was any way to get a link to the council’s website on the sign, as he said it didn’t give any information on “getting visitors to our other sights.”
Mrs McWilliams replied that the signs were in “very remote locations” and that the design was “very much prescribed by HBO.”
However, she added that there was information on the signs which directed people to the council’s smart phone app and to Tourism NI’s website, which provided a two to three day itinerary.
Cllr McKinty proposed that council go ahead with the procurement and installation of the two new Game of Thrones signs and was seconded by Cllr Smyth. The motion was unanimously agreed.
Speaking after the meeting, General Manager of Ballygally Castle hotel Norman McBride told the Times that demand for its Game of Thrones overnight packages had increased five-fold in the past year.
“Game of Thrones has been filmed in the areas surrounding Ballygally Castle and as a result of this we have welcomed hundreds of fans from around the world who have visited Northern Ireland to see the stunning locations for themselves,” Mr McBride revealed.
“This has provided us with a unique opportunity, from which we have developed a Game of Thrones overnight package and a Game of Thrones Afternoon Tea to give fans a taste of the hit TV show, in particular with visitors from America and the Republic of Ireland.
“In the last year alone, our Game of Thrones overnight package has increased five-fold which shows the ongoing demand from fans of the series which is now filming its seventh season.”