MTV: Belfast begins to redefine itself in the world’s eye?

There’s plenty of bad news around the place (not least the Assembly’s poor record on answering FOIs, of which more later), but it’s rare we get to praise something that was, so far as it went, an unalloyed successful use of public cash.

Although it’s truth that not everyone agrees. Fionnola Meredith for instance, thought it was overhyped (given it’s show business, she’s probably right. But it’s rare a critical voice on Nolan gets so much push back from the callers:

Did the MTV Awards give Belfast a boost? (mp3)

For a spend between them of just £1 million, Belfast City Council and the NI Tourist Board attracted resources from MTV of many times that amount. That’s a win for start. Now, I am pretty sure the benefits of the immediate commercial impacts will have been exaggerated too. Not all the beds booked for instance were actually filled.

What impressed me though was that, for once, Belfast went international for a youth demographic and the troubles had nothing to do with it. The Tourist Board were nimble enough to get a great wee radio ad out with Ardal O’Hanlon to tell them about Belfast consisting of black taxi tour, Botanic Gardens and the Belfast Festival at Queens.

It was played on commercial radio stations across the southern England. An area with little cultural connection with Ireland (never mind Northern Ireland), but with quick easy and cheap access to air travel over. Putting that out in the wake of a major international award in which Belfast was transformed into a modern cultural hub, was a deft touch of genius.

Sell us through the troubles heritage is a trick that appeals to anoraks, and as the troubles fade from memory, its palimpsest becomes harder and harder to read in the redeveloped areas of working class Belfast. And its appeal has almost completely faded for a generation born long after those tragic times.

The critical thing now is for the Council and the Tourist Board to follow up with the real longer term impact figures and make them available. Not least because the Titanic centenary (engineering excellence meets James Cameron, erm, and an iceberg) is coming up with another, otherwise rare, opportunity to build on such progress.

It may be just showbiz, but this place gets few enough opportunities to redefine itself in the eyes of the world. Glasgow has done it, now surely it’s Belfast (and Derry’s) turn?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • requiem777

    A real help would be a rationalisation of the Licensing laws and a general improvement of the nightlife in the City centre. While it’s come on leaps and bounds in the past decade a Friday and Saturday night still lags behind what you can get in a small to medium sized English City.

    I think the “youth” demographic may be put off once they find how hard it will be to get a drink after 1am on a big weekend away.

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s not just a problem in Belfast…

    When we were in Enniskillen for the UTV road trip, one piece of feedback we got was that Enniskillen the town seems unaware of the wealthly visitors it gets because all the cafes close at six… and there’s no real nightlife (and we’re not talking raucous teens here)…

  • Surely an issue of more urgency in Belfast Mick!

    I have to agree with almost everything you have said. What a success. Watching the actual show itself, so many of the acts made a point of mentioning that they were in Belfast in such a positive way. I don’t know if this is normal for MTV awards but it certainly will help.

  • Mick Fealty

    It was. BUt I also think sharing the data and getting the policy makers raw materials out in public is a way of deconsumerising the public (which is one, as yet, minor outcome of the digital revolution)…

  • IJP

    BUt I also think sharing the data and getting the policy makers raw materials out in public is a way of deconsumerising the public

    Japers Mick, that’s impressive even by my standards! What does it mean?!

    But you’re spot on in your blog. Of course it was overhyped, but even I’d heard of some of the acts so it must have been pretty good! Struck me (even tho’ I’m no pop music fan) as a fabulous return for 1m. People underestimate how important top events are to investment, for example.

  • Mick Fealty

    I mean, I think, civil servants should not wait until their public’s forcibly discover (and often draw all manner of unwarranted conclusions) the figures their decisions were based upon, but, where it’s appropriate, give them access to research data that brought them to their conclusions.

    Setting everything out on a plate invites the public to evert to the consumer’s binary: approval or disapproval…

  • Zig70

    I have to say the commentary on Belfast grated on me a little. The nightlife has been good since I’ve been raking (late 80’s). On a par with Swansea, Newcastle and Kilkenny as favourite places to get pissed in.

  • Zig70

    Belfast – la genta esta muy loca – tell Johnny.

  • aquifer

    “Enniskillen the town seems unaware of the wealthly visitors it gets because all the cafes close at six…”

    A common problem. The government can pay millions to kick start an air service to get Americans here, but cannot get them their regular coffee fixes. We cannot afford then going cold turkey.

    People talk about live music traditions here, but it is very difficult to get it to pay in small venues. How many pubs can take a coachload or tourists and leave room for some locals with those cute accents?

  • Mick Fealty

    Enniskillen is a niche market, so it may be that it’s hard to justify an individual commercial response to the tourist market alone… The centre of the town is effectively an island that seems to have little aesthetic relationship to the water that actually brings in the tourist trade.

    Here’s were I think the MTV gig was just as important… You also need to change the relationship between the town and the people who live there as well as bring in the tourists…

    In the case of Enniskillen, if that relationship (between the town and the water) could be architecturally opened up in some way, it might also alter how the people of the town feel about it themselves?

  • Tomas Gorman

    In the absence of anything positive to reflect on “our wee country” we gleefully pay over a million in public funds for some sort of validation from Brian May and Lady Gaga? Really?

    I have to agree with you on the bizarre “troubles tourism” industry that allowed neatly packaged historical narratives from certain quarters to be delivered to tourists who walked up the Falls to see “political” murals (commissioned in many instances by the NIO) that were painted solely for the tourists themselves. Disneyland Republicana.

    I also want to see he place redefine itself but not through the neon, trashy eyes of MTV. I’d much rather see it be defined by its quality of citizenship with things like educational outcome, employment and perhaps some eco-industrial innovation. Is this possible in the current political status quo? Well you know what they say about polishing a turd.