Editor's Viewpoint: Let's not miss out on tourism boom
The Tourist Board slogan, Our Time, Our Place, has more than a ring of truth about it after Belfast has been ranked as one of Europe's top 10 destinations as chosen by those most discerning judges - tourists themselves.
For the influential travel website TripAdvisor noted that our capital city was one of the destinations which got the greatest increase in positive feedback from travellers. These are people with no hidden agenda and, as anyone who has ever gone on the site will testify, tell it like it really is.
Of course the past year has been a great one for Belfast, with the MTV awards bringing the city to a worldwide, mainly young audience. And judging by the number of foreign accents on the city's street on any given day, it seems that many of those young people have made their way here during the past 12 months. Another global event was the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, which propelled its birthplace onto news channels in virtually every country.
And there is no doubt that the infrastructure of the city has improved immensely in recent times with the opening of the extensively refurbished Ulster Museum, the splendid MAC arts centre, the new Lyric Theatre and the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction. Such facilities are vital to provide visitors with alternatives to outdoor pursuits given our inclement weather.
But, as our report on the views of visitors here shows, sometimes it is the simple things of life which leave a lasting impression. Soda bread, the friendliness of the people, the quantity and quality of restaurants and the historic buildings that we locals often pass with hardly a glance. It is vital, to put it bluntly, that we cash in on our growing international reputation. Tourism is one sector of the economy which is ripe for growth - and given the condition of other sectors we should make the most of it. This is the time for our place and we should not miss it.