At the weekend looking for Christmas cards to send overseas I dropped into the Belfast Welcome Centre in the hope they might have something with a bit of a local flavour.
The good news is this is indeed a welcoming place. While I was there I overheard any number of visitors being helped with a friendliness that would warm the heart.
On the down side, however - sheep. In terms of local branding on available souvenir there seems to be an odd preponderance of our woolly friends.
There were sheep T-shirts, sheep mugs, sheep key rings, sheep just about everything down to and including little woolly sheep toys that you can take home to remind you of, er, Belfast. Why?
It's not as if the streets of the capital city are coming down with livestock. Aside from the mutton dressed up as keepsake there were elsewhere in the shop T- shirts with I Heart Belfast, racks of Guinness stuff, red-haired toys (colleens and leprechauns), some Titanic memorabilia and endless permutation on whiskey-flavoured chocolate.
I suppose most of this lot is responding to market stereotype. But rifling through it you can't help feeling there's a niche market for a more creative local souvenir. I know there is some stuff out there like Anto Brennan's brilliant chess sets featuring everything from local politicians to the Titanic. I just think as the tourist industry expands, we could do more. In terms of the cards incidentally, I ended up with a couple of packs showing snow scenes of the City Hall, St Anne's Cathedral and Belfast Castle.
Adequate for the job? Yes. Imaginative? Hmm ...