Overnight stays in lighthouses across the island have risen by 60% since 2019, according to the Great Lighthouses of Ireland tourism initiative. In total, over 622,000 people visited lighthouses and lighthouse tourism experiences last year.
Around 60 lighthouse, marine and tourism leaders meet for a 3-day Great Lighthouses of Ireland conference starting in Belfast on Sunday (8th Oct), to plan future growth for lighthouse tourism. “Lighthouses have such a special and universal appeal and are located in some of our island’s most breathtaking coastal landscapes,” says Bobby Kerr, chairperson of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland partnership.
The partnership is led by Irish Lights, who founded it in 2015, and is made up of public, private and community sector partners, says Mr Kerr. “Pre-Covid, the Great Lighthouses of Ireland delivered an estimated €16.8m economic benefit in under 4 years and supported over 400 jobs. Last year, overnight stays in lighthouses rose to an occupancy rate of 74% – that’s up from 46% in 2019 pre-Covid. This represents an increase of over 1,600 overnights up to 4,350.”
“Recovery is underway and Great Lighthouses of Ireland is well positioned for the future,” says Irish Lights CEO, Yvonne Shields O’ Connor. “We share a vision and collaborate as partners to create truly inspiring and transformative visitor experiences. It’s time now to be more ambitious about what we can achieve together.”
“Growing lighthouse tourism has multiple benefits. It’s a positive and sustainable way to preserve our maritime heritage. It can provide income and jobs for coastal communities and increase visitor numbers to the island of Ireland.”
Ms Shields O’Connor says Great Lighthouses of Ireland has developed a network of lighthouses, and marine tourism activities with their partners who all pull together to share expertise and boost growth. She quotes Rathlin Island as a good example of how this works at a local level. “The RSPB operate the West Lighthouse and Bird Sanctuary on Rathlin. The Rathlin Development and Community Association are working on plans to repurpose the East Lighthouse for visitors and the community.”
“The third partner here is Kintra Tours, who bring visitors on boat tours to view all three Rathlin lighthouses and spot puffins and dolphins en route. They also run the ferry which brings visitors to the island and to the lighthouses. They share stories of the island’s maritime past and present. This kind of local collaboration offers sustainable lighthouse tourism development with great visitor experiences.”
Eimear Callaghan, Head of Programmes at Tourism Northern Ireland, said the conference provides a welcome opportunity “to explore a number of lighthouse related projects in Northern Ireland. This includes visits to Maritime Belfast, Rathlin Island and Blackhead Lighthouse in Co Antrim.”
“We want to harness the appeal of lighthouses for the benefit of the wider destination and community. In collaboration with public, private and community partners, our goal is to develop sustainable visitor experiences based around our rich maritime heritage and culture.”
The conference opens at the Titanic Hotel in Belfast on Sunday 8th October, with an introduction by broadcaster Bobby Kerr, Chairperson, Great Lighthouses of Ireland. The opening session will be addressed by Yvonne Shields O’Connor of Irish Lights, a maritime organisation delivering essential 24/7 safety and navigation services around the coast of Ireland, North and South. She will focus on the need to create a vision for developing lighthouse tourism.
Maria McAlister, Tourism NI Manager for Landscapes and Activities, will address the opportunities for Northern Ireland. Kerrie Sweeney, CEO of Maritime Belfast, will talk about the unique and successful maritime heritage destination it represents.
The gathering then moves to Rathlin Island on Monday 9th October, to look at ways to collaborate and develop better visitor experiences for the future. This session will be opened by Denis McMahon, Permanent Secretary, at the NI Department for Infrastructure. Specific projects they will focus on include the community partnership around Fanad Lighthouse – voted one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. They will also discuss the lighthouses of Rathlin and how they provide a sustainable island and visitor experiences.
On Tuesday 10th October the Great Lighthouses of Ireland conference moves to Blackhead Lighthouse in Whitehead, Co Antrim. Jason Powell of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council will talk about what’s involved in building a community cluster and experiences. Niamh Lunny, CEO, Irish Landmark Trust – who operate several lighthouse properties – will talk about the unique value of offering lighthouse accommodation and visitor experiences.