belfast riots with riot police and water cannon

Lets be honest…

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…Belfast is a bit of a shithole….
…or is it?I was listening to the radio the other day when they were discussing the British Governments plan to boost tourism to the UK. The presenter was from Belfast and he said that we have lovely countryside, areas of outstanding natural beauty, areas of special scientific interest and you are positively falling over ancient and modern heritage. Yet the tourists want to see the areas of the troubles, where so and so was shot, which areas were blown up etc etc.

Cave Hill Belfast

To emphasise the point I have an image published in the current edition of the Sunday Times travel magazine special on Ireland. Is it a photo of the sun rising over Belfast, No. Is it a photo of the sun setting on the Giants causeway, No. Is it the food, the people, any number of ancient monuments, castles, valleys, countryside… No. Its a photo of a loyalist wall mural.

still calm waters on Lough Neagh

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and associated city organisations spend a fortune promoting ‘Luxury Belfast’ or come and get engaged in Northern Ireland. Im from here and I didnt get engaged in Northern Ireland. All this is dreamed up by marketing gurus and people getting ‘on message.’ Im sure there are focus groups and people just wanting junkets in the luxury hotels around Belfast. They spend a fortune producing glitzy ads try to attract different demographics whilst ignoring the vast majority of things going on here and what the local people are actually trying to promote.
Im all for marketing and having a message, I preach it to clients often enough but somewhere when promoting tourism you should have people who have actually travelled, and not just a fortnight in Ibiza, Blackpool or Portrush.

passport stamps visas

Ive travelled on all 5 continents, Ive flown from bucket seat 3rd World airlines where landing was usually considered optional to First Class inter continental British Airways. Ive stayed in all ranges from the ‘Places to stay – top end’ to campsites and youth hostels with fresh blood on the walls. Ive sat on dirty ground eating food from street vendors to silver service personal waiter service in what looked liked a remnant of old collonialism (with the price to match). Ive enjoyed watching puppet street theatre in Prague to candlelit opera in the Tsars summer palace in Moscow.
All a slightly exaggerated way of saying, Ive got about a bit.

airline baggage tag

In every single place, in every single language, every single person has asked me about ‘the war’.
Thats what Belfast is known for. Whether we like it or not, thats what we should be selling. You cant go to Berlin and not go to the Wall, you cant go to Cyprus and not overlook no mans land, Krakow and not go to Auschwitz. Maybe its because Im from here but I go to every conflict area and hole in the hedge when travelling.
It pishes down here most of the time so I do feel like I should be prosecuted under the trades description act for some of my photos so sell people what they are going to get.
As for the luxury end of the market, I dont know who does their research but when Ive booked luxury Ive done it from home, Ive been picked up at the airport, looked after until Ive went home. Not once have I went from my youth hostel or campsite and picked up a luxury brochure by accident when looking for my best fry in Belfast deal and decided to go to the Merchant or Four Square on the strength of it. Madness.

Ulster Fry

Last week I went for a walk along the Lagan at night to do some photos, it was a poor night photographically and in the 2 hours I was out I spotted 4 lost looking tourists, wandering around looking, well lost. Any other city in the world with a riverside similar to ours would have a bit of life, street entertainment, stalls, people walking up and down and you could get a fecking cup of coffee after 9pm!
Maybe thats all the tourists we have on a wet thursday night in August in Belfast, maybe they are all at the Giants Causeway, lapping up the Luxury hotels, popping the question down in Fermanagh or helping the locals beat the living shit out of each other in Ardoyne. Maybe they dont want to walk along a still river at night, soak up the maritime heritage, buy a cuppa and a a bit of tat that will sit on the foreign equivalent of a fireplace for years to say ‘Ive been to Belfast’.
I once drove 17 hours straight to get a signed piece of paper to say Id crossed the arctic circle. I was in Bergen with a few mates and it rains there 360 days a year (bit like here) so after 3 days of rain we hired a car and drove north at speed. Thats what tourists do.

Belfast nightlife

Sell them the war tours, sell them the murals, its what we have thats unique in the world. When we have them here sell them Belfast waterfront, Bangor, Newry, Armagh, Derry, Omagh, Fermanagh. Give them the option of going on a tour to the ancient monuments, christian heritage, world heritage sites, inland waterways, surfing holidays, walking holidays, boating holidays, whiskey and drink tours, etc etc, you might even sell the odd engagement ring or persuade people to upgrade hotel for one night. Who knows they may even come back after we have sold them a poncho with the giants causeway on the back of it.

raining in Belfast
As for the waterfront, well there is a recession on but when the titanic quarter is built, and it is already showing signs of life with luxury car makers moving in, then it will be a thoroughfare and with people will come the need for stalls, street entertainment, nightlife etc.
Possibly one of the worlds future ‘best kept secrets’…

Belfast waterfront
Until then, keep selling the troubles, whilst people here still remember what it was.

Easter Rising commemoration

Ardoyne Riots
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