Belfast Telegraph

Tourists scared away from City of Culture events

By Brendan McDaid

Protests and violence in Belfast have resulted in tourists cancelling visits to Londonderry, it has emerged.

There have now been several |incidents of tourist groups pulling out of planned trips to the first UK City of Culture as the violent scenes elsewhere in Northern |Ireland make headlines across the world.

Some hotels and tour operators, which had been braced for a major increase in visitors, have reported cancellations in the first few weeks of 2013.

In contrast to riots around Belfast, the north west has remained relatively trouble-free.

However, many in the tourism sector in Derry said that visitors from the UK and the Republic in particular were making no such distinction.

Garvan O’Doherty, whose group owns two of Derry’s most popular hotels, DaVinci’s and the Waterfoot Hotel, said: “We have had some cancellations as a result of the issues in Belfast, some from the South of Ireland, and we are monitoring the situation to see what happens.

“People are getting a bit nervous about Northern Ireland. Something happens in Belfast and we are all branded the same way when people are outside looking in.”

The businessman added: “We need to be able to get solutions that move us forward with a bit of stability.

“Hopefully there will be a resolution to the situation sooner rather than later and perhaps everyone can agree on taking a deep breath and focusing on the important socio-economic matters.

“What we need is political and community leadership and instead of people point-scoring everyone should be playing their part in resolving the tensions.”

Martin McCrossan, who runs a tour company in Derry, said he had also been impacted by cancellations.

He said: “The very fact that I |depend on the hotels being busy means that this has certainly had an impact on me.

“I would get a lot of bookings through the hotels.

“But although we are concerned, there has been no major impact as yet and we are hoping we will come out the other end of this quite soon.

“I would say that when people come to Northern Ireland a lot of the time they will go to Belfast, |Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills as well as Derry, so anything happening in Belfast has a knock-on effect here.

“This time of year would be generally quiet anyway, but this is the time people are starting making their plans, ready to hit the button, so this carry-on in Belfast has to be nipped in the bud now.”

He said that a major drive by both the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland to promote Derry and its City of Culture programme of events was going some way to offset the effects of the bad publicity relating to the riots.

“We do expect to be a lot busier as a result of this drive and all the indications are that we will be. There is so much happening here and so many good offers on at the minute,” he said.

Odhran Dunne, chief executive of Derry Visitor and Convention Bureau, said that the cancellations were “exceptions rather than the norm”. He added that those beyond Northern Ireland may not know that a relatively trouble-free Derry is actually 75 miles away from the main trouble.

“We are an hour-and-a-half away from Belfast, about the same as Manchester and Liverpool, to give it a bit of perspective.”

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