A £24m Game of Thrones centre in Co Down could become a visitor draw on a level with the Giant's Causeway, a tourism boss has said.
The tour at Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge has now been given planning permission and is tipped to pull in 600,000 visitors and generate £400m in revenue per year.
It will be much needed in the recovery period following Covid-19 as tourism is estimated to have lost 50% of its 2019 £1bn revenues.
The tour will be another stop for "set-jetters" - fans of the fantasy TV series who - pre-Covid - flocked to spots like Ballintoy Harbour, Castle Ward and the Dark Hedges to follow in the footsteps of characters.According to Tourism NI, such locations drew 360,000 visitors in 2018.
Linen Mill Studios is developing the tour after the venue was used for filming during the series, and says it will embody the "entertainment, drama and quality" which made Game of Thrones the most pirated TV show in history.
It will be developed under licence with Warner Brothers Consumer Products.
The studio said the tour would "put Banbridge on the world stage," and support around 190 jobs. It won planning permission from Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council this week - later than scheduled as it had been intended to open this autumn. John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, said the studios had strong ambitions for the project - the only Game of Thrones studio tour in the world.
"They've looked at Titanic Belfast, the Giant's Causeway, the Cliffs of Moher and the Guinness Storehouse, and thought - how close can we get to some of those? There's no doubt it will be a world-class facility, the only official Game of Thrones attraction on planet with the full weight of Warner Brothers and HBO behind it."
He said Northern Ireland needed a further tourist attraction to sit alongside Titanic Belfast, the Giant's Causeway and Ulster Museum. "Post-Covid the supply of tourists will not be what it was in 2019.
"There will be huge competition for those people who are travelling - and numbers will probably take three to five years to recover. This will be an attraction which will bring people to island of Ireland."
Andrew Webb, managing director at Linen Mill Studios, said: "The Game of Thrones Studio Tour has already stirred the excitement of fans around the world and promises to play a significant part in rejuvenating the tourism sector on the island of Ireland in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Law firm Carson McDowell acted for the studios in the planning process. Partner Gary McGhee said the tour would give the show's "worldwide fanbase" a further reason to visit Northern Ireland.
Credit: Belfast Telegraph