Newly qualified tour guides have completed their training at Northern Regional College.
With a nationally accredited qualification under their belt, they are now poised to benefit from the unprecedented success Northern Ireland is currently enjoying as a tourist destination.
Some are already working in the tourism sector while others are looking for a career change, but they are all passionate about presenting their local area in the best possible light and agree that the Tour Guiding course has equipped them with the necessary skills and knowledge.
Barbara Laffitte-Fitou and Sonya Colville are hoping to put their language skills to good use showing visitors around. Barbara is currently Quality Officer (Projects) with Northern Regional College but has over 24 years teaching experience. As a language teacher at Dunclug High School, she organised many European exchange trips for her students.
Having taught French and German at Dalriada Grammar School, Sonya is enjoying her current role as a Tour Guide at the Old Bushmills Distillery. She also acts as a guide for the growing number of the cruise ships coming into Belfast.
“I still have a love of languages and working as a guide means I still get to use my language skills, as well as the many other skills developed during my teaching career but to a much higher level. For me it’s a ‘win-win’ situation.”
Colette Johnston from Portrush and Jim McCartney from Belfast decided to do the course after they retired from full-time employment.
Colette said: “I was born and raised on the North Coast so being able to showcase it properly to visitors is like a dream come true for me.
“I was a podiatrist for 23 years and when I sold my business two years ago, decided to do something different and the Tour Guiding course was an ideal choice.
“It was educational and great fun and I’m looking forward to working as a tour guide and showing visitors around the Giant’s Causeway. Dreams really do come true!”
Retirement after 40 years as a professional Youth Worker, gave Jim McCartney the free time he needed to volunteer at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.
“Part of my role as a volunteer is to give guided tours of this fine historic building so I was delighted to have an opportunity to do a Tour Guiding course.
“The course was extremely useful, informative and above all practical. Its interactive nature has equipped me with transferable skills, confidence and methodology to become a better tour guide, which in turn increases my enjoyment of my role at the Linen Hall library and gives visitors a better experience.”
Jim added: “My enjoyment of the course was further enhanced by learning from my fellow students who all helped make it fun. It was a privilege to hear their stories and share their passion for their area of interest.”
An interest in local history prompted Peter Thompson from Ballymoney to sign up for the course. Having set up a Dervock & District History social page on Facebook a few years ago, he sees the course as another way of helping him to promote the history connected with the village.
“I’ve taken visitors on walking tours of the local area and produced a ‘Discovering Dervock’ leaflet to encourage people to stay in the village and learn more about its history. I’ve also organised several events to showcase Dervock’s historical connections but realised I lacked proper training.
“The Tour Guiding course, which covered topics like developing a tour commentary, leading groups on a guided tour and health and safety, was an excellent opportunity for me to become a qualified tour guide.”
Lyle McMullan is a Tourist Information Officer covering both Ballymoney Town Hall and Bushmills Visitor Information Centre.
He signed up for the Tour Guiding course to get a broader appreciation of the tourist industry and to improve his communication skills.
“I offer advice and literature to the multitude of visitors to the north coast, as well as selling tickets for the National Trust properties and a variety of independent tour operators.
“The course was challenging but very enjoyable and the interaction with the participants was invaluable. The input from the wide variety of guest speakers was also very beneficial.”
Brian Moore from Portballintrae did the Tour Guiding course to ‘add another string to my bow’.
Well known as a DJ and compere on the Causeway Coast, Brian said he wanted to be part of the growing tourist market.
“I see our local tourist business expanding at an incredible rate and it would be great to be a part of it. I enjoy meeting and talking to people so, as far as I am concerned, becoming a tour guide is a very logical step for me.”
Brian said he thoroughly enjoyed the course: “It was very informative and gave us a great insight into the role and responsibilities of a tour guide as well as a greater awareness of the knowledge that people seek from a tour guide.”
Congratulating the students on becoming qualified, Tourism lecturer Karen McLeod who is course co-ordinator of the Tour Guiding courses at both Coleraine and Ballymena campuses, said tourism was a key growth area for the economy.
“When the British Open takes place at Royal Portrush next month, over 190,000 spectators are expected to attend, generating an estimated £80 million pounds for local businesses and the spectacular beauty of the area will reach a global audience of over 800 million.
“Skilled people are integral to the success, not only of this year’s Open, but the years of further tourism growth that this prestigious tournament has the potential to bring. I am confident that these tour guides will leave a positive and lasting impression on anyone lucky enough to have them as their guide.”
Over the past two years, Northern Regional College has worked in close collaboration with Portrush-based tour operating company, Dalriada Kingdom Tours to provide an insight into the practicalities of working as a tour guide.
Mark Rodgers explains: “We offer guided tours at our local iconic tourist sites and on designated routes between Belfast and Donegal. As the business grows, so too has the demand for guides. We have worked with Northern Regional College Tourism lecturer Karen McLeod to enrich the level 2 OCN Tour Guiding Course.
“This has been a very enjoyable and mutually beneficial collaboration. From our perspective, the College is delivering a stand out course which is attracting great candidates and, as a result, we have been able to offer employment to ten qualified guides.
He added: “It makes great business sense: Our company is expanding and we can offer seasonal employment to a growing number of guides and we get to recruit local, passionate people with a recognised qualification.
“More importantly though, our guests are being given outstanding tours and the College course is growing in popularity. Karen McLeod is a delight to work with and her impact on the guides she produces is clear to see.
“I consider this collaboration between Dalriada Kingdom Tours and Northern Regional College to be essential for the growth of the tourism economy in the Causeway Coast and Glens and Mid and East Antrim council areas and beyond.”
The Tour Guiding Level 2 0CN Certificate is a part-time course delivered over eight weeks. It is offered at Ballymena, Coleraine and Newtownabbey campuses. Northern Regional College offers full time Level 2 and Level 3 Travel and Tourism courses at Ballymena, Coleraine, Magherafelt and Newtownabbey campuses. For further information see www.nrc.ac.uk