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Event Showcases Wealth of Opportunities for Tour Guides


Four female staff members standing in front of pull-up stands

The wealth of opportunities for tour guides in Northern Ireland was showcased at a recent event in The Braid, Ballymena. ‘Celebrating Tour Guiding Enterprise in Action’ was organised by Northern Regional College, supported by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council. As part of its drive to boost visitor numbers to the area, the Council teamed up with the College to deliver a free training programme to enable people living in Ballymena, Broughshane, Gracehill, Galgorm, Cullybackey, Kells & Connor, Ahoghill and Portglenone to become qualified Level 2 Tour Guides.

Now that the course is nearing completion, Tourism lecturer Karen McLeod explained that ‘Celebrating Tour Guiding Enterprise in Action’ aimed to inspire the soon-to-be qualified tour guides by demonstrating the growing opportunities that exist for tourism entrepreneurs who are prepared to think creatively to come up with innovative ideas for a new business.  

“We invited industry stalwarts like Mark Rodgers of Dalriada Kingdom Tours and Ken Martin, Association of Tour Guides Northern Ireland, both experienced tour guides who have collaborated with the College for many years to support the delivery of the OCN NI Level 2 Award in Tour Guiding (QCF) qualification, as well as Joanne McCourt, recently appointed Principal Lecturer, Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Teaching at Learning and Pamela Steele,Business Engagement Officer at the College; Jason Powell, MEA Tourism Marketing Manager and Sean Keenan MEA Economic Development Officer.  

Karen continued: “The Tour Guiding qualification is an important element of the College’s travel and tourism curriculum. The tourism industry requires us to be experience driven, connected and collaborative with key stakeholders. This event was a clear demonstration of how we work with our industry partners to connect students with potential employers as well as people working in the industry to advise on how to take

Mark Rodgers said he was delighted to see that many of the College’s former tour guiding students had pushed on to either expand an existing business or to set up their own specialist tour guiding business.

“The OCN Tour Guiding course is exceptional as it leads to greater industry collaboration, creating employment opportunities for students, which ultimately can lead to economic growth. I cannot recommend it enough.”

Skippers Tim Griffen and his son Ben operate Abhainn Cruises which offers guided boat tours. They completed their OCN accredited tour guiding training online in 2021 because of Covid.

“Ever cloud has a silver lining. We couldn’t operate during lockdown so decided to use the time productively to improve our tour guiding skills. The course was very enjoyable, and I would thoroughly recommend it. It helped us improve our tour itinerary and gave us a greater knowledge and understanding of health and safety and regulatory requirements so our guests can have an even better experience,” said Tim.

Other contributors included several students who completed their OCN training in March 2022 and who have since set up their own business, having identified a niche market for specialist tours.

Marianne McVey, who manages the MEA Community Hub in Whitehead, offers “The Natural World of Myths and Mindfulness” tours; Fionnuala McGrenaghan has devised the ‘Belfast Whiskey Dander’ tour; Mark Logan offers ‘Pedals-to-Places’ and ‘Roots of Whitehead’ tours in Whitehead while Billy Thompson has developed a ‘Lamberg Craft and Folklore’ tour for Ballycarry area.

Northern Regional College is the designated Entrepreneurship hub for FE Colleges in Northern Ireland. ‘Celebrating Tour Guiding Enterprise in Action’ is one of the events planned events to highlight skills needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.