15 November by Eleanor McGillie
We were honoured to be asked to speak at the 2015 Digital DNA Tourism Conference. What a fantastic event with such an array of speakers from Google, Expedia, lastminute.com, Yotel and more. Our director shares the raw truth of Live It Experience It – a company which promotes Northern Ireland tourism
As part of a tourism campaign a few years ago, NITB asked Liam Neeson about Northern Ireland. His response was: “I’ve always maintained that Northern Ireland is the world’s best-kept secret, both in the character of its people and its scenery.”
We totally agree. We have a reputation around the world for being friendly, hospitable and very welcoming for our visitors.
And I think we have to give credit where credit is due because from a business perspective, there is such a strong drive right now, from businesses, who are encouraging each other in great ways to show the world that Northern Ireland is ‘a best kept secret’ but that we are also very willing to tell our story.
I want to to tell you the story of a cluster collaboration which achieved so much within 18 months, so much so, we have taken it to the next stage which is an essential step forward.
In 2012, the owner of Alive Surf School in Portrush, Ricky Martin, started asking his customers very simple questions such as what they were doing after their surfing lesson, where they were staying, if they knew where was good to eat and where was good craic to go and have a pint. But very surprisingly, he quickly realised that people visiting Portrush didn’t really know what else there was in the vicinity to experience.
As a native of Portrush, Ricky knew something had to be done to give visitors the information they needed in a way which would open their eyes as to the other experiences available which ultimately would also benefit businesses at the heart of the tourism sector here in Northern Ireland.
So over a few pints in the Harbour Bar with a few other activity and accommodation providers, Ricky put out the feelers about a potential collaboration – an idea which was welcomed with open arms by everyone involved.
So after a lot of research, knocking on doors and planning, a new concept was created whereby tourism businesses recognised the mutual benefits of working together to promote Northern Ireland as a leading experiential tourism destination.
The concept was a cluster collaboration business which was branded ‘Activity Breaks UK’ – this was essentially an online membership listing where businesses working in the sector could become a community. All member businesses willing to work as part of a cluster collaboration then were listed on the website, business owners attended member meetings to pitch their businesses and discuss ideas and they got social media support.
Once businesses got to know what was available in their area the collaborations really started working as businesses would then pick and choose which members they could strike up a collaboration with.
The community was officially launched in Portrush with representatives from Tourism Ireland and NITB (now Tourism NI) attending.
Suddenly, businesses started talking to each other, they were swapping business cards, they started visiting each others’ businesses and experiencing what each other had to offer, they started thinking outside the box as to this new method of building their businesses and expanding their audiences and so suddenly, there was a very strong network of over 100 members all prepared to work together to attract new audiences while ensuring their offering was strong enough to encourage repeat business.
What happened over an 18 month period really was astonishing. The interest and momentum which gathered through membership was fantastic. Members met up under the Activity Breaks UK umbrella, pitched their businesses to each other, spoke about new products, services and facilities, drank tea and generally built momentum for growth and development.
But not only that – their commitment and dedication to making it work was so strong.
As a result, over 100 members providing water and land based activities, cookery schools, food and drink trails, gardening, arts and crafts businesses and all types of accommodation providers, started working together, started referring business and recommending fellow members.
There’s no doubt, that no matter what you, your family, visitors from the South and from further afield want, we have a plethora of adventure and fun things to experience here in Northern Ireland which will certainly give people something to talk about – stories to share.
So where do I come in? I am the Director of MGMPR – a multi-media PR agency which uses brand journalism as a powerful communication tool. I lead a team of media law trained associates who have the storytelling skills to deliver an organisation’s key messages across multiple publishing platforms.
So, when Activity Breaks UK formed Ricky approached MGMPR to promote the story of the cluster collaboration. Having worked in the media in the South West of England for nine years with many organisations such as Visit Cornwall, Visit Devon, Tourism South West, Classic Cottages, Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, Michael Caines Abode and many many more, it was right up my street because I have seen first class practice first hand.
So, from a storytelling and growth perspective, I could see the potential in cluster collaborations here in Northern Ireland – I could easily identify with the passion of independently owned businesses in their drive to succeed and I could see the fun that everyone could have working together.
Not only that, from a media and PR perspective, the MGMPR team know how to create the relevant platforms and how to populate them with relevant content, how to encourage User Generated Content and how to use photography, videography and infographics as powerful tools.
So, with a desire for Activity Breaks UK to become an even more approachable business with a strong voice and have a powerful impact with different offerings tailored for different businesses, I re-created the business.
The next logical step was to re-brand Activity Breaks UK because I felt the brand needed to be defined further so it was aligned with my business strategy to build a strong, clear voice for this growing community of members and also to reflect and encourage their growth.
We needed the business to be more appealing as a search tool for people living in Northern Ireland who perhaps just don’t quite know the extent of the experiences on our own doorsteps. Furthermore we wanted a platform whereby we capture the traveller’s attention which will encourage them to come and experience Northern Ireland and leave with a fantastic story to share about our beautiful region. We want to engage with our visitors and encourage them to share their experiences with us.
So we have created this beautiful website, designed and developed by the MGMPR team, which will reflect the raw truth of our business, its ethos and our purpose of promoting Northern Ireland as a world class experiential tourism spot.
Everything we do is about growing our community of members, working on behalf of our members, helping individual members grow and develop through a variety of partnership packages which will give those businesses a stronger presence and a stronger voice.
So, www.liveitexperienceit.com is now live. We are on Instagram (LiveItExperienceIt), Twitter (@LIEICluster) and also on Facebook and our other digital platforms will develop.
Our aim is to give everyone a taste of what can be experienced in Northern Ireland by sharing stories which will connect visitors emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually and socially.
We would not be at this point today if cluster collaborations didn’t work. They do work.
Live It Experience It is a very powerful platform whereby we will be combining a range of skills and knowledge to help businesses grow. And like all good collaborations we too intend on collaborating with Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland and indeed any other potential collaborations which come our way.
The level of interest in what we are doing is phenomenal – right across Northern Ireland and also among our journalist colleagues across the UK.
Tourism is a key driver here. It supports 40,000 jobs. It brings life into our communities. It is fun. It creates opportunities for all in all areas. As we would say, Live It. Experience It.
Live It Experience It is a cluster tourism businesses promoting Northern Ireland through land and water based activities, food and drink, events and great places to stay.
So, share us with your friends, take a journey round our site, send us your blogs, memories, photographs and include us in your conversations. We love engagement. Our partners look forward to welcoming you. Have fun! Live It Experience It.
Live It Experience It’ is a cluster of tourism businesses working together to promote our region through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. If you would like to become a member business in our ‘Live It Experience It’ cluster please submit your information through our online form. Pitch your business and meet like minded tourism businesses who you could cluster with. #liveitexperienceit