Belfast International Airport fiasco is a wake-up call
Word of mouth is one of the most powerful advertising mediums, but Northern Ireland is hardly likely to get a glowing recommendation from the 300 passengers forced to sleep on the floor at Belfast International Airport on Saturday night after their transatlantic flight was forced to land there.
Astonishingly, the carrier airline and the airport were unable to find any hotel accommodation for the passengers.
That is hardly the image tourism chiefs want to portray of the province as a destination for short breaks or longer holidays.
It could be argued that the area around the airport is so popular that hotels are full up. Perhaps the Gran Fondo cycle event which began in Belfast brought more people into the area on overnight stays, taking up hotel space.
If so, then the passengers were particularly unlucky as hotel occupancy is seldom at or near 100%. Indeed in the period January to April this year, it was running at only 61%, with guesthouses, B&Bs and guest accommodation only achieving 19% on average in that period.
As anyone who has ever endured flight delays or disruptions will know, there are few things worse than being corralled in airports while the problems are sorted out. To actually have to sleep on the floor adds another unwelcome dimension to the experience.
Staff at the airport probably did their best to make the passengers comfortable, but the accommodation was still far short of what the passengers anticipated. When they finally arrived at their destinations in the US their stories are more likely to be about their flight from hell - the plane was diverted to Belfast International Airport because of an allegedly disruptive passenger - than of the efforts of airport and airline staff.
Northern Ireland has been congratulating itself in recent times for running several large-scale events very successfully, but tourism chiefs should take this incident, however exceptional, as a wake-up call to ensure that our tourism infrastructure is up to scratch.
The Open golf championship, one of the sport's major events, is due to come to Portrush as early as 2019 and it will attract a huge number of well-heeled visitors who will want to be assured of a bed when they get here. We need to be certain they will not find themselves scrambling around for non-existent accommodation.