Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland tourism

All is not 100% shamrock-laden and happy in the Northern Irish tourist business, as it strives to counter the economic downturn by marketing what is by any admission an amazing product.

A spokesman for the Tourist Board said this week that, although the big, shiny (£40m plus) Titanic Signature project is on time, some of the attendant attractions might not be.

As I licked the green cream off my Caffe Nero hot chocolate - nice retailing, boys - I wondered what is the best strategy to promote one of the most attractive parts of the British Isles.

The whole Titanic brand has always seemed to me clever but a little odd. The Tourist Board website says it will produce 25,000 jobs and will "enhance the Northern Ireland tourism offering".

But, if I remember correctly, the boat sank.

Celebrating the shipyards that produced a failure is brave but shouldn't we acknowledge it wasn't shipbuilding's finest hour?

One PR and marketing expert says: "The Titanic brand developed through Hollywood coverage and mythologising 50 years after the tragedy, culminating in the great Cameron movie, but it flies in the face of right thinking to celebrate something many people here still feel sensitive about, although the development itself is welcome."

He says that any tourism strategy could emphasize the other 'world beating' boats - the Canberra, HMS Belfast - that were built at Harland -amp; Wolff. There are also a lot of other reasons for visiting Ulster, not least the superb, dramatic landscape.

"There are our writers, CS Lewis to Seamus Heaney and our artists. But why not reference our music which is often overlooked?

"A hundred years ago, we had three music colleges and the Belfast Harpers Festival. Today we've got Ash, Cashier No 9 and of course, Snow Patrol."

Meanwhile, although the interactive Titanic trailis available to tourists, the Irish shop at the top of Belfast's Royal Avenue with its racks of green footie tops, shamrock imagery and Aran sweaters is looking a little shabby.

The local TV and advertising campaign is very strongbut it still seems bizarre that the country that produced Seamus Heaney, Paul Henry, Martin Lynch, James Galway et al is determined to be remembered for its contribution to great shipping disasters.

Anyone got that sinking feeling?

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