UKIP Down District Representative Alan Lewis has suggested the Mournes are being ignored and undersold as a tourism destination.
He said: “This past year we have heard the pro’s and cons of the National Park debate, and what has been evident throughout was the overwhelming consensus from Mourne traders that the Mourne area simply isn’t given the recognition of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“The Northern Ireland Tourist Board simply hasn’t been robust enough in pushing the area as a major tourist attraction. There are cruise ships that call into Belfast throughout the year that are an hours drive from the Mournes. The tours on offer to the cruise ship passengers are almost exclusively restricted to Belfast. These visitors should be actively sold the beauty of places like Newcastle and Silent valley and the entire South Down area.
“The Mourne area boasts some of Northern Ireland’s most unique natural scenery That is all but hidden from international tourists. I believe a radical re-branding of the area is needed and perhaps the Mournes as the Ulster Highlands. The NITB need to give the Mournes area the recognition it deserves and not concentrate all its resources in the North Coast and Giants Causeway.
“Tour buses based in Newcastle would benefit tour companies and local traders if the Mournes were being marketed probably. The Mournes with the right help could achieve higher national recognition and tourist potential without the added bureaucracy of a National Park.”