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Concerns over 'aggressive' Belfast bus tour staff - plans for code of conduct amid claims behaviour of operators could hit tourism

By Cate McCurry

Published 16/02/2016

A tour bus takes sightseers through Belfast city centre — but there are fears operators are too aggressive when trying to attract customers
A tour bus takes sightseers through Belfast city centre — but there are fears operators are too aggressive when trying to attract customers

Belfast bus tour operators could have to adhere to a code of conduct over fears that 'aggressive' street behaviour towards tourists may impact on the city as a tourist destination.

A review into the 'hop on, hop off' open tours, operated by Belfast City Sightseeing Tours and Belfast City Tours (Titanic Bus Tours), looked at how the two rivals compete for business.

One of the biggest complaints was street staff's behaviour and their sales techniques, particularly during busy tourist periods including large cruise ship arrivals and high visitor footfall.

One American tourist revealed how a tour operator allegedly ripped up her bus ticket after discovering the passes were for the other company.

Belfast City Council licensing committee will meet tomorrow to discuss these issues and will make a recommendation to support the code of conduct for operators in a bid to stamp out street rows.

However, while companies would be encouraged to sign up to this code of conduct, it cannot be enforced and any breaches of the code could only lead to the suspension of ticket sales by tourist information centre, Visit Belfast.

While the majority of feedback from tourists praised the hop on, hop off bus tours, some fell victim to the street rivalry with some tourists criticising the "very pushy sales people".

Bus tour operators are governed by the Transport Act and licences are issued by DVA (Driver and Vehicle Agency), but the review found that the act does not provide sufficient cover to take action against these incidents that have caused concern.

A new Bus Act has been proposed by the Northern Ireland Executive which could provide an opportunity to take action.

But the review stated it could take some time before this act becomes law, leaving a legislative gap which makes it impossible to take action against aggressive operators.

George Grimley, director of Belfast Sightseeing Tours, said his staff are not "aggressive" towards tourists and customers.

"All our staff, including street PR staff, undergo rigorous customer care training," he said.

"We would not agree that our staff would be aggressive to any customer as we see them as ambassadors for Belfast.

"We view any aggressive behaviour as damaging to our city and not within the interests of our company.

"CitySightseeing Belfast has been involved in signing codes of conduct with both Visit Belfast and Belfast City Centre Management in the past but we became frustrated when there was no mechanism to police or more importantly to enforce a code of conduct when other companies constantly breached the codes.

"CitySightseeing Belfast is on record in demanding that penalties are introduced alongside the code of conduct and an independent board is formed to oversee the enforcement of any such code of conduct. We would still support such a move."

The Belfast City Tours did not reply with a comment at time of going to press.

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