This area has an abundance of major, high quality visitor attractions, with three National Trust estate houses and parks, country parks at Scrabo and Delamont, Northern Ireland’s Exploris aquarium, the Wetlands Centre at Castle Espie, three exceptional monastic sites at Inch, Nendrum and Greyabbey, and many tower houses, megaliths, churches and raths.
It touches a number of the growth pillars identified by the NITB namely: Living Legends; Coasts and Lakes; Unique Outdoor; and Naturally NI.
While the area is not known for long distance off road walking, it has many shorter off road walks with heritage features along the way which add interest and variety. There are also many quiet country roads to explore.
This area is also well used by cycling clubs and event organisers.
Water based outdoor recreation has the potential to grow substantially – paddling is one of the fastest growing pursuits in the UK and Ireland.
Outdoor recreation companies report that most people view these activities as the means to appreciate the heritage – not an end in itself. Wildlife watching and nature pursuits have been identified as under developed activities in the area, given its international environmental importance.
Because of all of the above, Strangford Lough is considered to be a 365 day destination for visitors.
The main issues identified in growing the tourism industry (in a review commissioned by local councils and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board) are the needs for:
- better road infrastructure, stopping points and signage into and around the area
- public realm improvements and addressing dereliction
- better awareness of the area regionally, nationally and internationally
- more opportunities and events to allow people to experience and enjoy the natural and built heritage
- improved collaboration amongst business and stakeholders
Underpinning all of this is the need to conserve the landscape and the wider heritage that visitors come to enjoy. The NITB 2011 visitor satisfaction survey indicates that the Strangford Lough Destination appeals to families and individuals who wish to spend time somewhere offering beautiful scenery and to get close to nature and the natural environment.