Tourism bosses in Northern Ireland are confusing potential visitors from North America because they don’t understand that there is a border, the industry has been told.
Marketing ‘Northern Ireland’ instead of ‘Ireland’ can befuddle would-be visitors from the US and Canada, a tourism conference in Belfast has been told.
The president of Seattle-based Destination Development International, a company that advises countries how to maximise their tourism potential, said many struggle to find locations here on the internet because they are not really aware the island is divided by a border.
During his address to the Our Time To Shine conference at the Stormont Hotel, Roger Brooks said local operators need to understand how outsiders perceive Northern Ireland.
His recommendations came as it emerged that 100,000 cruise line passengers are set to visit the region this year — a new record. Mr Brooks, keynote speaker at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) event, related his own experiences with his satellite navigation system on a drive from Dublin to Belfast at the weekend.
“I had to type in the city so I typed in Belfast and then I put in the address of the Merchant Hotel and then you know what it said: it said there is no Belfast in Ireland,” he recounted.
“So then I went: let me type in Belfast, United Kingdom, and it said there is no Belfast in the United Kingdom. But we found one in Ohio.
“So I had to type in Northern Ireland and then it came up. If I put in Ireland it doesn't find you.”
Mr Brooks said the issue was important to visitor attractions north of the border because many would not appear on internet searches if people only used the keyword Ireland.
“So sometimes you have to go out there and buy those keywords because in the States, in those places, we see Belfast as part of Ireland,” he said.
However, Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said she believed that the Northern Ireland ‘brand’ was building.
“Just consider that on most international golf tournament leader boards, Northern Ireland appears no fewer than three times,” said the DUP minister.
“For our tourism to reach its potential we must develop our brand identity further. It is very important that the unique identity of Northern Ireland continues to be promoted around the world.”