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Disappointment after tourism promotion body is wound up

A BODY set up to develop and market tourism for the Sperrins region has been wound up after three local councils considered the project no longer viable.

Sperrins Tourism Ltd, which was based in Moneymore, was ordered to be wound up by the High Court in Belfast on February 15.

Largely funded by Omagh, Strabane and Cookstown district councils in recent years, the company had virtually ceased to operate during the summer, but moves to wind up the venture only came on December 12 last year after funding dried up and questions were raised over the long-term viability of the venture.

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Sperrins Tourism was set up in 1999 in a bid to stimulate the tourism sector across the Tyrone-Derry border area. Magherafelt District Council previously funded the project, but withdrew their support a number of years ago. Derry City and Limavady Borough Council have also supported the project to a smaller degree.

DELIVERY AGENT

Selected as one of five delivery agents for the Natural Rural Resource Tourism Initiative, Sperrins Tourism Ltd was at one time responsible for a budget in the region of £3.4 million for some 138 projects across seven council areas.

The company employed two full-time staff and one part-time member of staff.

It’s understood that in recent times, local councils were providing up to 85 per-cent of the funding for the body, with contributions from ARC Northwest and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Private sector funding was also sought through ‘core contributions, marketing grants and subscriptions’.

Last May local councils were informed that Sperrins Tourism was to carry out an independent financial review to examine a number of areas including financial viability, current staffing, administration costs and funding arrangements.

It’s understood that council funding had been dropping by 2.5 per-cent year-on-year over the past three years.

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CONCERNS

In September, concerns were raised at Omagh District Council’s Development Committee over £17,200 the council had pledged for 2012-2013. The funding was to be provided subject to Sperrins Tourism Ltd submitting “a viable business plan including cash flow projections”.

In a statement to the Tyrone Herald on Friday, Omagh District Council said, “The council is disappointed but hopes that the development of a Destination Management Plan for Tyrone and the Sperrins will provide a framework for the development and marketing of tourism into the future.”

The development comes as a further blow to rural tourism in Tyrone after the closure of Killymaddy Tourism Centre along the old A4 between Ballygawley and Dungannon.

The centre, which has operated in the area since 1985, closed after a significant drop off in numbers, owing to the construction of the new A4 dual carriageway.

‘WON’T BE THE SAME’

Pomeroy councillor Cathal Mallaghan, who sits on the Cookstown District Council tourism sub-group, said councils had taken over some roles of Sperrins Tourism, including the publication of brochures.

Admitting it “won’t be the same”, he said, “It’s very sad that it has ceased, but the councils will be ensuring the continuation of the destination marketing plan and the brochures are still being sent out.

“While Sperrins Tourism has actually wound up, work is going on.”

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