The coveted Blue Badge is acknowledged as the ultimate accolade for professional tourist guides and, on Tuesday 27th June, thirty-three people from across Northern Ireland will earn the right to wear the insignia as they graduated with a formal ceremony in Belfast’s historic Harbour Office.
The Blue Badge is awarded on the successful completion of intensive training a followed by a series of comprehensive written and practical exams. Blue Badge guides are expected to have at their fingertips an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the region’s history, politics, geology, geography, heritage, arts and culture, and much more besides. They must be capable of guiding visitors confidently, eloquently and in entertaining fashion around all our tourist attractions and landmarks; from Derry’s Walls to Titanic Quarter; from Fermanagh’s Lakes to the Causeway Coast.
Northern Ireland’s first Blue Badge guides qualified in 1992, graduating from a demanding course which was delivered by Queen’s University Belfast and accredited by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The Northern Ireland Tourist Guide Association was established in that same year and has acted ever since as the professional body for Tourist Guides in Northern Ireland.
NITGA Chairperson Cathie McKimm was an original graduate of the class of 1992 and a founding member of the Association. Welcoming the new Blue Badge Guides into the highest rank of their profession she said, “When we originally qualified the first ceasefires were still two years off and no one, but no one, would ever have believed that we would have a tourism industry such as we have today, or that amongst our visitor assets we would include Titanic Belfast which was acclaimed by World Travel Awards as ‘the Best Tourist Attraction In The World 2016’. That was all the stuff of fairy tales, but sometimes fairy tales come true.”
“This year marks our silver anniversary year and what better way to celebrate twenty-five years than with the graduation of thirty-three new Blue Badge Guides? This was the first time that the NITGA has delivered the course and, according to the Institute of Tourist Guiding which is responsible for course accreditation nationwide, our results were amongst the best in the UK.”
Adding her congratulations to the Class Of 2017, Brin Heaton, Course Director and Secretary of the Northern Ireland Tourist Guide Association, said, “The road to Blue Badge status is far from easy, as our students know all too well. Over one intensive year they have visited almost every corner of Northern Ireland to build, then test, their knowledge as they worked towards gaining this internationally recognised qualification for professional tourist guides yet their enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge never faltered. These really are exceptional people and we are confident that they will each play an exceptional role in Northern Ireland’s fast-growing tourism industry.”
The new Blue Badge Guides are already in high demand this season and, reflecting on their new career, they’ve shared what a great privilege it is to see their own country through the eyes of visitors from all around the world. They have also shared how they have been amused and surprised by some of their visitors’ reactions and questions.
‘’Where can I see a leprechaun? … ‘Can you ice stake on Strangford Lough in the Winter?’ … ‘Where does Eamon Holmes live?’ and ‘Is a Pelican Crossing used during the Pelican mating season?’’
One visitor was amazed to see an arc of colour sweep over the sky during a visit to the Giant’s Causeway and delighted at his guide’s explanation that he had just seen his first rainbow. That day, to his and his guide’s delight, he saw a total of thirteen rainbows.