Belfast’s secure place in global political tourism

“This list is neither “hot” nor “on-the-verge” or anything like that. It’s a mix of value picks that’ll still wow you, cities that are sprucing up for big events, smart alternatives to overrun spots nearby, and destinations that are justifiably hyped.”

Thus does Frommers’ explain Belfast’s place in a category of top destinations. I’m as fond of the place as anybody, I nit-pick about all the changes and mourn the loss of heritage (although compared to many Sluggerities I’m just an amateur). But would you seriously recommend Belfast as a break destination, assuming you could still spare the money? Look more closely, and you find that the memory of recent political violence or oppression is a common factor with some of the other eleven centres. Do we applaud a shrewd piece of marketing or do we groan at the prospect of being stuck with terror tours indefinitely?

*Istanbul. After the splendors of Ottoman mosques and frescoes in the Byzantine churches, the Jewish Museum showcases the significant role that the city has played over the centuries for European Jews fleeing persecution.

* Berlin. And almost 20 years since the fall of the Wall, Berlin is still riding the waves of Ostalgia (nostalgia for former East Germany). Tour Karl-Marx-Allee in a bone-shaking Trabant, walk the remaining stretch of the Wall

* Cape Town (No mention of a visit to a nearby township, like Alexandra)

* Saqqara, Egypt (No mention of years of attacks on tourists)

* Washington DC

* Cambodia. Though the city’s population was decimated during the brutal genocide and repression of the Khmer Rouge, it slowly rebounds, with a disarming, and sometimes troubling, frankness about confronting the horrors of the recent past. No one leaves the Tour Sleng Genocide Museum — housed in a former Khmer Rouge prison and interrogation center — unaffected.

* Waiheke Island, New Zealand

* Cartagena, Colombia. After years of strife and violence owing to the drug cartel wars, Colombia has begun to emerge as a safe and vibrant travel destination (Crime rates in major cities are now no higher than what you’d find in an average large American city like Philadelphia or Milwaukee).

* Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

* Civil Rights Trail from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, US. What happened forty years ago between Selma and Montgomery — the antecedent for the Voting Rights Act — is why the U.S. will welcome Barack Obama into the White House this year. I

  • Nestor Makhno

    Belfast’s marketing has been well ahead of the actual product.

    If you’ve seen the short adverts for the city on English regional telly you would be forgiven for wondering where they were talking about. It’s not the Belfast I know.

    I often wonder just how disappointed visitors are who come here on the basis of the completely unrealistic advertising.

    Let’s face it if you don’t fancy getting hammered in a pub or getting hammered while clubbing there is little unique about our city. The ‘retail experience’ is that of any other medium sized clone town and our cultural ‘product’ is a thin gruel.

    With the downturn and the strong euro we might attract a few more european visitors – but the eurozone is about to hit the buffer itself shortly.

    I expect Belfast may reached the high water mark in terms of tourism success and that we will now sink to mid-table obscurity…

  • Nestor Makhno

    Belfast’s marketing has been well ahead of the actual product.

    If you’ve seen the short adverts for the city on English regional telly you would be forgiven for wondering where they were talking about. It’s not the Belfast I know.

    I often wonder just how disappointed visitors are who come here on the basis of the completely unrealistic advertising.

    Let’s face it – if you don’t fancy getting hammered on bad beer in a pub or getting hammered on expensive shorts while clubbing then there is little unique about our city. The ‘retail experience’ is that of any other medium-sized clone town and our cultural ‘product’ is a thin gruel.

    With the strong euro we might attract a few more european visitors in the short term – but the Eurozone is about to hit the buffer itself shortly.

    I expect Belfast may have reached its high watermark in terms of tourism success and that we will now sink to mid-table obscurity…

  • Kathleen

    * Saqqara, Egypt (No mention of years of attacks on tourists)

    In fairness Brian when you go to Egypt you will be left in no doubt that the tourist is a protected species. On the outings we went on when we were there a few years back there were military convoys for part of the journey, and they were always on the alert.

    * Berlin. And almost 20 years since the fall of the Wall, Berlin is still riding the waves of Ostalgia (nostalgia for former East Germany). Tour Karl-Marx-Allee in a bone-shaking Trabant, walk the remaining stretch of the Wall

    Walking what is left of the wall would take something like under a minute. However, still plenty of ostalgia/nostalgia to see, I don’t see why its should be wrong for Belfast. If the tours bring in the tourists hopefully they’ll spend and that has to be good locally.

    The problem for these terror tours is that the people of Belfast have to look at the awful eyesores day in daily……which adds to the overall feeling of depression about the place on a day like this, which is very dull grey and overcast. The usual weather in other words. 🙂

  • Jeremy

    How else can you see the 18th century in the 21st?