At this time of year, the city of Derry in Northern Ireland is normally full of Halloween festivities and packed with visitors. There’s usually a full event programme of parades, fireworks, street theatre and thousands of people in costume, roaming an extravagantly decorated city.
USA Today even named Derry the “best Halloween destination in the world” in 2015, beating off stiff competition from popular Halloween destinations like Salem and New Orleans.
Halloween tourism is also a huge economic boost for the city, speaking on the Travel Goals Podcast, Derry Council Events Manager Jacqueline Whoriskey said:
“In 2019 the city welcomed over 140,00 visitors. When we last did a full economic assessment in 2018, we achieved an additional 3.2 million in revenue that was brought into the city”
Looking back to this time last year, things couldn’t have been more different as Derry prepared to welcome tens of thousands of people, including visitors from around the world, to enjoy the on-street celebrations.
In 2019, the overall Halloween event enjoyed its biggest ever programme with over 1,200 participants and more than 125 events held in over 45 locations.
Current coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland have had a big impact on tourism revenue and Derry’s Halloween programme. Due to the strict restrictions, that loss will be widely felt by businesses in the city, particularly across the tourism and hospitality sectors.
With Halloween 2020 falling on a Saturday, this year’s Halloween celebrations, based on previous years’ figures, were expected to generate up to £3.5m towards Northern Ireland-based businesses.
Event organisers are keen to keep the spirit of Halloween alive in the city though and have pivoted to a largely virtual event programme.
Among the highlights of this year’s programme is a wide array of entertainment and activities including the Little Horrors story-telling sessions, online tutorials in Halloween make-up, costume making, and pumpkin carving.
The marketing of this year’s virtual Halloween festival has been mainly to a domestic audience and to promote the digital content to a wider international audience.
The virtual events have already had a huge reach on social media and are bringing a whole new audience to Derry.
Head of Culture with Derry City and Strabane District Council, Aeidin McCarter, said:
“Obviously this year has been more of a challenge in terms of the restrictions and we have had to rethink our usual approach to programming. Normally our main focus is bringing visitors into our city centre for an unforgettable Halloween experience, and this year our message is to stay at home.
“But here in Derry Halloween is in our DNA, so we couldn’t let it go totally uncelebrated and I hope that people enjoy the wide range of online activities on offer. Lots of work has gone into creating an alternative programme of events and activities that can be safely accessed from home.
“We have been delighted at the feedback we have received to date, especially regarding elements such as the inflatables which have brought a smile to people’s faces at this very difficult time. So watch this space and hopefully we can bring you an even bigger and better Halloween next year.”
Council officers have been working closely with partners in Visit Derry, Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland to capitalise on the opportunity to reinforce Derry’s cultural identity and tell the city’s unique ‘Best Halloween Destination in the World’ story to a global audience through a vibrant and creative virtual programme.
Whoriskey hopes that the Derry Halloween online programme will pay off in the long run.
“What we’re hoping is that people will see the festival online and think I want to go there next year, or the year after. Hopefully, we’ll see a longer-term return from the online activities.”
Access Derry Halloween program online: https://derryhalloween.com/