Belfast Telegraph

Derry starts to rebuild image after damaging week of unrest

 

By Leona O'Neill

Businesses in Londonderry are working to repair the damage caused by the week of violence.

The trouble coincided with the launch of its globally-renowned Foyle Maritime Festival, which sees yachts from the round-the-world Clipper Race dock in the city.

Thousands of people are expected to flock to the city over the next few days for the event, which began on Saturday and runs until Sunday.

Businesses in the city, particularly those involved in tourism, carried on regardless despite reports of some cancellations at hotels and B&Bs as a result of the bad publicity.

Tour guide Charlene Blackburn, of Martin McCrossan City Tours, says with "grit and determination" they got through the week.

She explained: "Our numbers were the same as they always are at this time of year, which is good. We weren't really impacted overly by anything.

"Yes, it was a worry for the company and we are glad now that it has finished.

"People did see the local news, but some of the visitors I had said that it was absolutely nothing compared to their countries. Our tours just continued on the city's walls.

"We did have a few diversions on some days when the walls were closed off and cordoned off, but we just carried on regardless and did our usual thing."

Jennifer McKeever, Chamber of Commerce president and director of Airporter, said her staff did have to reassure visitors who were arriving for the Maritime Festival.

She said: "We certainly had passengers who were calling to book and expressed hesitation and caution, they were looking for reassurance. They had seen it on the news and obviously concerned about theirs and their family's safety.

"Some of these people were first-time visitors and I think that this is why it is so heartbreaking, that old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

"Now that they are here, the feedback has been enormously positive. I have been down at the festival and the place is absolutely buzzing and there are visitors from other parts of Ireland and all over the globe.

"It is great to see that it hasn't halted anyone on their path here."

As the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Ms McKeever said businesses were most concerned about the impact of the week of disorder on the city's reputation.

"We are competing in a global market where we are trying to compete and have our destination seen in a world of Instagram, where 50% of millennials now make their choice of where they travel based on what they see on social media.

"It's important that we are all putting a message out to the globe which is one of a positive and exciting and welcoming place to come visit.

"It's a global audience now and the eyes of the world were on us last week. You don't get a chance to go back and repair that reputational damage. It takes an awful lot of work and a lot of positive reinforcement to get past that message to a different message.

"But the message here from us is that, despite what happened last week, we are very much a city which is interested in investment, which wants to build our entrepreneurial base, a city which welcomes visitors, and that continues to be the case."

Ms McKeever said it was incumbent on politicians to work to make sure the disorder did not happen again.

She said: "And I can't imagine that it is complete coincidence that we have a complete vacuum of leadership in Northern Ireland and this is the summer that we have seen the worst trouble and violence in some years.

"One of the awful things that troubles me over the past year in the language that our politicians is using is it has become that real tribal rhetoric.

"It's so cheap and it doesn't work. Those are not words that lead a whole country, those are not words that anyone wants to hear going forward."

Belfast Telegraph

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