Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Viewpoint: Making Belfast into a brand leader

With Belfast rapidly taking its place as a tourist destination, it should be no surprise that the city council is launching a re-branding scheme, in conjunction with an experienced London design team. In simple terms, it means marketing Belfast's many attractions, to make it even more popular with visitors.

Already the city has been chosen by the Lonely Planet guide as one of 10 must-see destinations, and plans for new hotels over the next few years are proof of its appeal. Yet to make the most of a growing tourist industry requires professional expertise, as well as local enterprise, and the ideas of the marketing men and women will be eagerly awaited.

Just as, a few years back, Glasgow turned its grim, industrial image around with a wide-ranging plan, it must be hoped that Belfast can become much more than a "post-Troubles" destination. The views of anyone with access to a computer are being sought - on www.yourviewsonbelfast.com - to find out what people think of the capital city and how it can put on its best foot forward.

Much as we would like to put the Troubles well behind us, it has to be accepted that they are Belfast's top selling point in any campaign. People have heard about us, all over the world, because of our historic quarrels - and the queues for open-top bus tours of the Falls and Shankill are proof of their curiosity value.

Some murals that tell the stories of the past should be retained, alongside the latest conciliatory versions, because that is what people want to see. But the re-branding exercise must take in the new, as well as the old, and the transformation of the riverside, together with the massive Victoria Square development, should be well to the fore. The way the city has survived and prospered, despite its political, religious and industrial history, is almost unique in the western world.

With so much about the past that is still in dispute, the marketing team will have to be sensitive to local feelings, as they portray Belfast to the world. To most people, the fact that it is both British and Irish is a plus point, but getting this across without treading on too many toes will be difficult - as will be the concept of a 24-7 city.

It's time for everyone to play their part in re-branding Belfast as a city with an intriguing past and a future, capable of taking advantage of the restoration of devolution and the opening up of air travel to so many countries. Tourism, which already employs 16,000, has the potential to become our leading industry, but only if we get the package right, perfectly timed for the centenary of the Titanic story, in 2012.

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