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Joint effort needed to woo US tourists

Editor's Viewpoint

Sometimes it feels like someone up there doesn't really like Northern Ireland. Every time a good idea comes forward to show the province in a positive light, the fates conspire to turn the stardust to just dust.

There could be no finer example of Sod's Law in action than the month-long, coast-to-coast Tourism Ireland advertising campaign being launched in the US this week. It is a huge investment and the first such publicity drive in this potentially huge tourism marketplace for seven years.

But what happens? It starts in the same month that the only direct flight between the US and Northern Ireland ends. The United Airways link cost the Northern Ireland taxpayer money, but it was a well-used service and would have been invaluable to highlight in the upcoming tourism advertisements.

It could also be added that the campaign begins just as the Northern Ireland devolved administration falls asunder. The province is in the news again, but hardly in a positive light, and one wonders what effect that will have on visitors. While Northern Ireland could hardly be called a trouble spot like some other European tourism destinations, political upheaval is certainly not a strong selling point either.

We all know the province has much to offer visitors, not least the warm welcome they invariably receive. The Giant's Causeway, Fermanagh Lakes, Mountains of Mourne, Titanic Belfast and the Game of Thrones locations - possibly the greatest positive publicity this province has ever received - are all famed attractions and will be highlighted in the Tourism Ireland advertisements.

While such a prestigious campaign was obviously a long time in the planning, and television slots probably have to be booked in advance, its timing is very unfortunate.

Was there sufficient contact between Tourism Ireland, tourism chiefs in Northern Ireland and the NI Executive at the planning stage? The United Airlines closure was well prefaced, even if the implosion of the NI Executive caught most people on the hop.

Tourism Ireland must make it clear that the island of Ireland is sold as an entity to the important US marketplace, and that all gateways to the province are well publicised so that visitors can make it a destination as part of a wider Irish, British or European tour.

Our tourism potential must be fully exploited, and that means everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.

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