Belfast Telegraph

What many tourists to Belfast really want to know... a fair account of our history and, even more pressing, how to get a taxi

By Lindy McDowell

As someone almost once said, there are lies, damned lies... and things we tell the tourists.

This latter point has been receiving some coverage in the media recently with claims that some (not all) tour guides in Northern Ireland have been resorting to sectarian narrative (surely not?) and in yet other cases, have been just plain old making stuff up.

Tourism is now such a burgeoning business in these parts that there is obvious profit to be made from offering services to what's referred to in hospitality circles as "the visitor experience".

So it's hardly a surprise that, as in other lands, there will always be those who will leap on the visitor bandwagon with a script that reflects either their own particular party political bias or is something that they've cobbled together just to rake in the readies.

Not before time, Tourism Northern Ireland has now announced that it is to take a closer look at this aspect of the industry.

And it is shameful that the devious and the Del Boys are causing damage to the good reputation of the majority of local tour guides.

Members of the Northern Ireland Tour Guide Association (NITGA) are properly accredited and have undergone a training that forbids stooping to sectarian commentary or seeking tips.

I liked the line by NITGA chairperson, Cathie McKimm, writing in this paper recently, that: "Our members often report the best compliments they receive from visitors after a Belfast City tour is 'I can't work out what side you're on'."

Given our disputed version of events in these parts that is indeed no small recommendation.

But obviously not everybody out there is singing from the same guide book. And it does matter because tourism is suddenly one of the things that, actually, we now seem to be doing reasonably well.

There's an inevitable interest in our Troubled past, yes, but visitors head here for many and varied other reasons. And there are many and varied tours to cater for their special interests. From Game of Thrones to gourmet. From walking tours to pub crawls.

Belfast, in particular, is on a roll.

Some friends were over from Scotland last week and what struck me was a comment from Joan and Annette about how much more attractive they felt Belfast was compared to their hometown, Glasgow. (I'm not using surnames in case they don't let you back in, girls.)

Much cleaner streets, they said. I was surprised at that one. Apparently we are nowhere near as bad with the chewing gum.

Belfast, they judged, also has a much bigger, better range of shops.

So far, so impressive.

But what happens in Belfast when the tourists need a taxi?

I mention this because often I see groups of what are very obviously visitors to our shores standing at street corners vainly trying to hail a cab.

Empty taxi after empty taxi tootles past them. Nobody stops. You see the tourists gesture disbelief. Why won't anyone stop?

I often wonder if they put it down to, say, racism. They must be baffled as to why so many taxi drivers in empty cars utterly, utterly ignore them.

Unfortunately there's nobody around to explain our daft laws on taxi pick-ups. That only the black cabs can stop for them.

In a city trying, and in many ways succeeding, to provide the very best "visitor experience", it's just another of those odd anomalies.

Another one for the "something should be done about it" file that might get dusted off one day - if they ever get over themselves and get back to work up at Stormont.

The tourism trade is a vital one that now means big money for our local economy.

We can surely do better for the people who come here than feeding them just any oul' guff from the charlatan guides.

And then leaving them standing forlornly on a city corner.

Paying the price for a great wedding party

Bishop Donal McKeown claims that some people see marriage as an excuse for a great party.

I'm tempted to say, "And why not?" That old romantic Paul McLaughlin from the NI Mixed Marriage Association contends, however, that generally people marry for love. But he does agree that, "when they get out of the church and into the venue, it is a party". And then the couple head off while the guests have "a rare old time". Paul adds: "When you come back from your honeymoon, probably bored stupid and burnt to a crisp, everyone says it was great day." The going rate for such a do? £20,000. A rare old price.

Trump needs to put rocket up US gun laws

As the news of the horror of the Las Vegas massacre broke, Donald Trump tweeted his "warmest condolences" to the families of the slain.

Later, in the guise of the Rev Donald Trump, he quoted scripture about offering comfort.

He is an idiot President. But he is also the one man who could do something that would truly offer real comfort. By tackling America's ludicrous gun laws, which allow crazed killers access to high grade automatic weaponry.

Trump calls Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man".

There are rocket men closer to home, Donald.

Belfast Telegraph


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