Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Council hits out at aggressive bus tour 'hustlers'

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Licences have been granted to stallholders selling Belfast bus tour tickets despite complaints about "aggressive" trading tactics.

Belfast City Council's licensing committee last night agreed to grant applications for two new sites on Fountain Lane and at an existing site in Cornmarket.

The decision comes after the Northern Ireland Tourist Board highlighted a rise in the number of complaints about alleged harassment of customers and Belfast City Centre Management (BCCM) expressed concerns that rivalry between bus tour companies had led to "numerous incidents of anti-social behaviour".

However, committee chairman, Alliance Party councillor Tom Ekin, said it was "hustlers" employed to promote the rival bus companies and not the stallholders, who sell a variety of products, who were the problem. "It is not illegal to advertise or promote the sale of tickets, however anyone selling tickets on the street without a valid street-trading licence is guilty of an offence, and the council will take legal action," he said.

Mr Ekin said the council had been aware of the allegations of harassment and had been concerned for "some time". He said a voluntary code of conduct had been agreed but was not now being adhered to by the tour operators.

It is understood there have been around 30 incidents, ranging from physical abuse and verbal intimidation to vandalism, between rival bus tour operators in Belfast city centre over the past two years.

In June the council proposed to take staff out of their normal jobs to police the arrival of cruise ships after concerns about the manner in which bus tours were being sold to visitors arriving at the docks.

BCCM said "unacceptable behaviour" has been displayed by some of the bus tour companies and had urged the council to look "very closely" when granting future street trading licences to those selling bus tour tickets.

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood, who also sits on the licensing committee, said the council would be discussing the issue with the DoE.

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