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Lindy McDowell: Dirty streets, bickering tour guides and booze bikes... why Belfast is becoming the last resort for tourists

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Tayto Castle crisp factory in Tandragee
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Tayto Castle crisp factory in Tandragee
Claire Bailey
Lindy McDowell

By Lindy McDowell

Are we Belfast or are we Benidorm? Not so long ago Belfast was being heralded as the cool, new, must-visit destination. This week yet another list of top 10 of tourist-friendly cities was published. Amsterdam came top. We didn't feature.

It's not our friendliness that's an issue, I think. Without wishing to sound a bit snobby on it, we need to up our game and our standards.

We're taking it for granted that all visitors leave here utterly charmed and captivated - and eager to pass on the positive reports necessary if we are to consolidate a growing tourist industry.

From recent experience I'm not so sure we're hitting the right note...

It was another grim afternoon in Belfast city centre. The rain was coming in sideways. Not a lot of people about.

As I walked along, gingerly sidestepping the puddles, the fast-food leftovers and the pools of vomit, the silence was broken only by the raised voices of two bus tour guides involved in a heated "discussion" and the cries of seagulls fighting it out over half a burger bap.

I noticed a small group of tourists taking photographs (there was a cruise ship in town that day).

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It was hard to work out what exactly they were trying to capture on camera. It certainly wasn't the nearby Primark building bandaged up as it is while extensive repairs are being carried out.

Their cameras seemed to be pointed upwards as if the most attractive sight in the street was at rooftop level.

Suddenly all hell broke loose. A booze bike came round the corner.

There were several girls aboard, all wearing pink sashes (one also had a short wedding veil) and all doing their best to drown out, with much squealing and whooping, the music being blasted forth.

As they peddled past, drinks raised in salute, the tourists stood transfixed. One held up a mobile phone, videoing the scene.

A trip highlight there to share with the folks back home in Idaho.

In the time it took me to walk from High Street to Donegall Street two more of these booze bikes passed me.

I know this is somebody's business. I'm not trying to do it down.

But - my question - in terms of the wider visitor experience what else does Belfast city centre have to offer?

I'm not talking about tours, of which there are many (every cab driver in Belfast now seems to do one). And we're not short of "attractions" either - the Titanic centre, Crumlin Road Gaol, the Ulster Museum and so on.

Our bars and restaurants are just brilliant. But the city centre itself? Let's just say it's not exactly a place of beauty. The drab graffiti, the 'To Let' signs, the boarded-up shops, the dirt, the litter, the general bleakery.

Yes, we're now told this week that the Primark building is to be restored to its exact, former glory. And that's great.

But Belfast city centre doesn't begin and end at Primark (although you get the impression Belfast City Council thinks it does).

Are we a city that genuinely wants to get its act together on visitor appeal?

Or just Benidorm - without the sun?

Green Party’s poll decision probably wouldn’t get Greta’s vote

What would Greta Thunberg make of it? That's what I want to know. Of all the pacts and sort-of pacts made between political parties here and over the water in this last week, the one that I find the most intriguing is the pact between the Greens (locally) and other parties of Remain.

Announcing that the Green Party would be graciously standing aside in not only South Belfast but also East, West and North in order to maximise the anti-Brexit vote, party leader Clare Bailey asserted: "This election is all about returning as many pro-Remain MPs as possible."

She added: "The threat posed to our way of life by Brexit means that we must do everything possible to maximise the pro-Remain vote." So, ummm, what happened to the threat posed to our way of life by climate change? Isn't that also a bit alarming?

You would think the Greens, who had a boost in the recent council elections, would be keen to capitalise on their gains. There is always that danger when you don't follow up on victory that you lose momentum. Your followers may look elsewhere - long-term.

Standing aside for others is all very noble. I just don't understand how it promotes the eco agenda.

Greta, I think, would put the threat of global warming before even the possibility of stymying Emma Little-Pengelly in South Belfast.

That's how focused Greta is.

Boris bags ‘most patronising’ award

Boris Johnson arrived in Northern Ireland this week hoping to sell his message that despite betrayal of his once close allies the DUP he's a good spud.

Where else would he show up then but in the grandly named Tayto Castle, where he declared his love for cheese 'n' onion. How patronising. How cheesy.

In England he visited a tea factory, in Scotland a distillery. Presumably when he goes to Wales he'll have a leek.

A pig’s first concern is to avoid chop

Reading the story this week about the vegan girl who rescued a pig, brought him home, shared a bath with him and took him for walks before her landlord found out and she had to hand him (the pig) over to the RSPCA, I am, as they say, conflicted.

An animal rights spokesperson condemns her action, saying that pigs have complex needs and shouldn't be kept in the home. Fair enough. But surely another complex need, from the pig's perspective, is to avoid becoming bacon...

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