I was recently treated to a 'surprise' weekend break with a friend at a much lauded Co Antrim hotel to celebrate a birthday milestone.
The only 'surprise' of the weekend was the realisation that we in Northern Ireland still have little grasp of tourism or customer service.
My executive suite in the hotel was a noisy medium-sized room with the 'luxury' addition of a tiny table and two chairs.
Although many staff were excellent, some front of house personnel were churlish and unhelpful. Having booked dinner on my first evening for 8pm I was informed rather offhandedly on my arrival at the restaurant that a table would not be available for some time as coach tours were being catered for. Next day, a Sunday trip along the Antrim Coast Road became an endurance test as we saw bad driving, chaotic parking and a complete lack of manners.
Walking was no more pleasurable as we encountered filthy beaches, overflowing litter bins, dog excrement and disgusting public toilets. In 2008 tourists demand more than overpriced mediocre hospitality and poor service. In Northern Ireland we have little enough to offer those who choose to holiday here, so it might be wise to improve our attitude to the customer and make the best of our natural assets.
We could learn a lot from our European neighbours when it comes to looking after the needs of tourists. Good management and staff training go a long way.