New York Times: 36 hours in Belfast

The New York Times have created a rather snazzy travel video of Belfast. It makes Belfast look REALLY good. I would want to visit and I live in Belfast.

I know we complain a lot, and God knows we have a lot to complain about. But sometimes it takes outsiders to show us what we have. The video is currently the second most popular on the New York Times website. The branding value of such a video is worth hundreds of thousands to Belfast. Thanks NYT 🙂

What’s your impression of the new shiny Belfast portrayed in the video? Let us know in the comments below. We are particularly interested in the views of ex-pats.

Watch the video below:


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  • carl marks

    makes the place look great I think i’ll move back to the oul hunting ground, just got to persuade the boss!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The New York Times seem to have shares in Belfast, or at least some interest in pushing the “auld sod” in a manner that suggests that something rather more tangible than liking our blue eyes is at play!

    But then this could not be anything to do with Cerberus Capitol Management having to make their extensive investments in Belfast pay something back to them, could it? If too few visitors actually make the trip, Cerberus may have difficulties making the pension investments they carry for US Federal Government perform sufficiently.

    Seriously, a lot of my US friends, both east and west coast, see these “travel articles” and come to see if its true. Most tell me that they are seriously disappointed at the absence of the culture they are told they will encounter, and things such as the Game of Thrones Tour only does it for the non-professionals in my experience. As the wee girl says “we have a surprising number of world class artists” for such a small place. Alas, most of them are long dead and almost completely forgotten locally, despite W[r]ite Noise’s sterling efforts, the writings of poets and other writers before circa 1970 are only available in the “Closed Irish” section of the Linen Hall Library, and much else of what we have to offer, such as the troubles and Titanic material is the product of an inner looking obsessive narcissism rather than a serious attempt to explore the unique features of place that would bring genuine cultural tourism here. Our tourist policy seems to be aimed at the home market primarily.

    The video was competently put together, but other than the music and the food, its cultural claims cannot be seriously supported by the infrastructure on the ground. This degree of mis-representation means that repeat visits are unlikely by anyone who has actually seen something of the bigger world and the kind of cultural tourism other more savvy places can offer.

    And “welcoming”…..not the feedback of my informants! It should be outsiders telling us that we are welcoming in their experience, not us telling them we are! This crudely jars every time I hear it done in an ad, video or article.

  • Brian O’Neill

    NYT do these videos for a whole range of destinations. It is part of a series they do.

    Belfast was a Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice 2013 Winner. A Portrush bed and breakfast was recently voted second best in world

    As for culture we have it in bucketloads:

    As for friendliness.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Brian, I can only go on what my US friends in the film world, in academia, and across the professions tell me! Hey, I know this is anecdotal, but its what I’m hearing!!! Sure, we have these things you link to culturally, I even know a number of those people Wikipedia mentions (those living anyway!) and have discussed many of these artists and writers with those I meet in the US before and after their visits, but these artists are far more invisible to visitors here than similar artists in, say, Sweden or Scotland are in their tourist initiatives. And many of those serious local creatives from an older generation that some of the people I speak to know of, such as Joseph and John Campbell, Colin Middleton and John Luke are absent even from the Wikipedia list!!! Our entire perception of local culture is suffering from an amnesia that stops pretty much at a simple generation back! This is not an approach to local culture of any serious depth!

    Perhaps its because most of those I’m speaking to are Americans! One of those few areas of racial prejudice that is still almost respectable is American bashing. Perhaps they do not get our good humoured banter, but perhaps there actually is a

    And, about the Belfast Telegraph link, my owns experiences of marketing polls when I was (peripherally, I admit) in advertising have done little to help me overcome my cynicism, especially about something as fugitive, and subjective as “friendliness.” I’m more inclined to trust the stories I’ve heard of “tourist blanking” in hotels and in public places. I still feel that this is something that rankles when we tell people how friendly we are, its psychologically all wrong in marketing terms to sell it that way in the first place!

    I actually enjoy Belfast and care enough about it to feel that I’d like to hear something different on my American trips to what I do hear!

  • Dan

    I couldn’t think of anything more disappointing in coming here looking for culture and ending up standing in front of the Falls Rd wall of mopery listening to some fat ex terrorist taxi driver pretending he was a war hero.

  • Niall Chapman

    Great video, gives a good impression, I’ll not be moving back any time soon though

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No great fan of the Troubles Industry, as you may have guessed, but I have taken a few friends from California on up just past Falls Broadway, to Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich where they can try their Irish out in a supportive and friendly atmosphere without getting strange looks with their California accent version Irish! One of those little spots of Culture and Civilisation that can be found, but not, I note, featured in the video!

    And the wee Museum at the Roddy McCurley Club is one of the few exceptions to my Troubles allergy!

  • Robin Keogh

    Ah Bah Humbug Sean ! Belfast is a terrific City, especially since it became a nationalist Plurality ……;-)) Oh wait for it !!

  • Robin Keogh

    Well i have always loved Belfast. Even 15 years ago I thought it was a far friendlier place than any other city in Ireland, and to this day The Crown Bar is my most favourite bar in the country followed closely by the Long Haul in Dublin. I think we are very lucky with our major cities, Dublin has all the modern cosmopolitan thing going on, Cork has that cute local/rural village appeal, Galway has all the song and dance you could muster, Derry has the most interesting History with the walls to marvel at and Belfast has a mixture of it all in just one wee place. I love the video and Long Live Belfast ! Although Jim Alistair will probably do his nut when he sees the Irish dancing in the park and not a union flag in sight ! ……….Belfast u are beautiful, no matter what they say, words cant bring you down ………Cathair álainn

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’d have shot the video far less obviously, but then I learnt something from watching John Hegarty (“the Master”) back in the 1980s before Leo Burnett bought BBH out.

    John would never have had an interested party make a claim such as the “friendly people” byline, its the first rule in film that you get someone who looks sincere and objective, both, to get that sort of thing over to the audience! No local person can be thought of as objective in making such a claim, for even if they are completely sincere, the viewers unconscious says “no”! It’s best to get someone who will read as entirely credible to the viewer, an outsider. As the man said, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hey, Robin, I love the auld place too, and I only get a wee bit of rough handling with my cut-crystal accent!

    But just you try a US accent most places………

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’ve just remembered John’s actual first rule is….”there are no rules”!

    He’ll have me for misrepresentation unless I print this apology and put up a plug for his best book:

    And I’m not going to send him a link to the video, I’d never hear the end of it…….

  • kalista63

    I’m a grazer and I love, in any foreign city I go to, eating street food as I make my was around. Not that it was up to much but it’s typical of Belfast that they banned food stalls.

    I was in the Cathedral Quarter in November for the first time and loved it, same for floating between The Sunflower and The Hudson, both of which clearly understand what they’re at. Lord help any poor tourist who goes in to that big bar beside 2 Taps.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Brian, what I did not mention is that this campaign has been going on for over a decade! My New York friends have been sending me New York Times write ups about Belfast from even before 9/11! Those who have been here are sharing something of the black humour they find in these articles with me. It used to be proper newspaper cuttings, but since they could simply post links that has taken over.

    My cynicism about the piece is a bit of a “no butcher eats sausages” thing. I’ve done copywriting and corporate promo directing myself (I have a list of jobs to equal Ian Rankin’s) and know the sort of decisions that go into the making of any piece of film. I just keep hearing the backers demanding things, and some of these demands I’d feel are psychologically bad choices that work for local people, but not, I feel, for other audiences.

    I remember being at a “Film Crit” discussion at a summer course once and I’d had a friend present at the inceptive production meetings for the film discussed. People were arguing about the directors creative choices, referring to scenes that I knew the poor man had forced on him (against his squeals of protest) by the financial backers! And that was a serious film, not a blockbuster. I can’t watch these tourist promotions without jumping to the inceptive production agendas, and seeing the film as an agenda led representation of Belfast, driven by a perception of tourist needs, rather than the Belfast I actually experience. I just keep seeing what’s left out, and what I think might actually stimulate and sustain tourism! And this is very different from what they are trying to sell, a more homogenised product that is far too like what can be experienced in many other cities across the world, everything, that is, but the Belfast accents!

  • tmitch57

    I was last in Belfast just before 9/11 and I spent my few weeks living in university housing near Botanic Gardens and working at the Linen Hall Library. What I liked was the Ulster Museum and the murals. Now for the high-end tourists the thing to advertise is probably the restaurants and the pubs. But I personally was more impressed to see the shots of the new Titanic Museum and of the Troubles gallery at the Ulster Museum. While some may consider these to be “obsessing” over local events, they are probably much more likely to attract North American tourism on a large scale than expensive restaurants. Belfast is basically known worldwide for the old shipbuilding industry and for The Troubles. Since I haven’t spent much time in Britain I can’t say how Belfast compares with British cities, but I think it compares well with Dublin for its size and is probably much less expensive. I was impressed on my last trip to Dublin with its new metro system and its history museums.

  • $136050377

    It’s got a lovely shipyard.
    Almost as productive as the ones in Newcastle.

  • $136050377

    “…. Dublin with its new metro system…”
    Hope you don’t write books.
    There is NO Metro system in Dublin

  • Zeno
  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi tmitch57, my US friends (both coasts) feedback was “culture and history” too. They liked the Linenhall Library, but not the coffee! Dublin museums scored higher than ours with them, and as a lot of them were media and academia, they wanted to know about the arts, especially the arts before the last war. Here Dublin hit all their buttons. I had rather bad feedback on the food and bars, all done better elsewhere in their opinion, and all too derivative of the Global experience, seemingly. I know that people see something elsewhere and think “I’d like that at home” but these are people who go to a lot of places, and are looking for something really local. I was told, “we don’t come to a cold country to experience poorer versions of what we can get better elsewhere!”

    And hey, London’s less expensive than Dublin!

  • $136050377

    Are you for real??? The Dublin Dry Dock sees more action than this. *chortle*

  • tmitch57

    I didn’t say it was underground. It is comparable to the German S-Bahn.

  • tmitch57

    So modify that to rapid transit rail system.

  • New Yorker

    The written article in the NY Times on their website should be read as well as viewing the video. Overall it is very positive. Like all the NY Times 36 Hours articles I think there is too much on food. I also think there should have been some mention of performing arts and the Lyric.

    Keep in mind this was made by the NY Times and not the Belfast tourism department. The NY Times would have the final say on what makes the cut in both the article and video. There is certainly some local input but the content and presentation is purely with the NY Times.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Goodness! I knew what the man was talking about. It’s hardly as if we are going to get a lot of visiting New Yorkers trying to dig their way down to the Dublin “Metro” when they cannot find an entrance, or anything.

  • Neil

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t see what you mean about over 35s being strangers to the city. You complain about there being nothing for you, while telling us that you’re not temped to spend an evening there. All the over 35s i know seem to find plenty to keep them entertained in Belfast. The place is far from perfect, but I’ve travelled to a lot of places and I find Belfast compares favourably with similar sized cities.

    It almost sounds like you want it to be a cultural and culinary desert.

    As for the video not looking like a genuine travel thing, I’ve yet to meet a tourist who goes on a city break with the intention of dining on double egg and chips with white bread on the side. I assume that’s why the travel guide didn’t cover that type of cuisine.

  • Superfluous

    It reminds me of a Madonna music video where they restrict each scene to about 2 seconds in case your brain hones in on the cellulite on her arse.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, New Yorker, “The NY Times would have the final say on what makes the cut in both the article and video.” Of course they would, but this gives a very general and quite misleading impression of how the Promo seems to have been made.

    Perhaps the NYT did send a reporter to Belfast, and he went round finding what struck him about the city, approached the people and businesses, and then wrote up a report. Then the NYT hired a film crew to shoot his vision, and edited it with minimal interference from anyone outside.

    But if I’d been given the brief, and as little money as you are usually given to do these things, I’d have approached NI Tourism, probably Howard Hastings himself (he’s very approachable!) and asked for a few leads on who to speak to. This is pretty much what everyone does, just as journalists read and use press statements. So “Keep in mind this was made by the NY Times and not the Belfast tourism department” is just a tad disingenuous.

    You really need to get under the surface of how something is put together and who is framing the sources used, what Foucault calls doing the “archaeology”, to understand that this promo is a particular version of Belfast that reflects not simply the papers approach but the agenda of the sources they use. No harm on Howard, he’s doing a perfectly decent job of emulating the kind of tourist policy current across Europe, but I simply do not feel that he is making the best use of what are the really unique features of the old place. Accordingly, the kind of things this promo highlights will be compared with very similar features to be readily found in other cities, I’d feel rather quite negatively compared from the kind of feedback I’ve been getting from those visitors I know personally. But hey, I’m going on a small and rather elite sample!

  • Sir Rantsalot

    A metro that travels on the ground is called a tram as far as I know…

  • Korhomme

    I remember Belfast as it was before the Troubles. A grim, grimy buttoned up place, full of dark, scowling men. And the Crown then was very much “spit and sawdust”—literally, and the pints came directly from casks and at room temperature. Meanwhile, the ‘ladies’ patrolled Amelia street…

    Things have changed a lot since then; you might say that the heritage industry is in full swing, offering a rather sanitised, romantic version of the past. (So I rather like White’s Tavern.) The availability of food beyond the ‘chicken in a basket’ is surely a very welcome improvement.

    Yet visitors we’ve had in the past have always found the friendliness of the natives quite remarkable, and quite unlike what the media had led them to expect; surely, this is one of our strengths.

    If only something could be done about the weather.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Korhomme, while I’m rather a fan of your postings generally, I have to respectfully disagree on one point in this one. A good number of Americans I know both from work and socially tell me that they find Belfast seriously anti-American, and I’ve been told by friends from England and Italy that this “friendliness” angle is not the experience of their trips over here.

    I know this is all very subjective, and anecdotal, but its something I find pretty disturbing. The people I know may simply be unlucky in finding the most surly and xenophobic people in the town to run into, but its so marked an undertow of what I’m hearing. Perhaps its my Anglo-Irish accent, with no great stress on the readily recognisable Belfast gutturals, that allows these people to speak more freely about this with me. I imagine they do not identify me with Belfast as quickly as they might with someone using customary strong accent. Whatever, it’s what I’m hearing, and occasionally even witnessing!

  • tmitch57

    That is on your side of the ocean. There is nothing in the etymology of metro, unlike that of subway, that indicates that it has to be underground.

  • David Crozier

    Two words – “native advertising”

    John Oliver explains it infinitely better than I can.

    Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Native Advertising (HBO):

  • TruthToPower

    Tourism seems to be the only industry that’s excused from the trades description act
    New York praising Belfast is like a sirloin steak praising an out of date ham sandwich from a Centra store

  • TruthToPower

    Well said.

  • Korhomme

    The friends we had here were all from the Continent; they found people here friendly, though curious and they were often asked why they would want to see NI.

    So, my experience clearly differs from yours; why should people be seriously anti-American? I could perhaps understand problems that the English have—history and all that—though this also isn’t my experience.

    The other way round, visiting abroad, I often find, or think I find, that “English” seems to be associated with “lager louts” and uncivilised behaviour, yet saying you’re from Ireland, even from the North, usually means that you’re welcomed.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Korhomme, different spheres of experience. I’m not denying your experience, heaven forfend! Simply adding another less positive thread from my own experiences.

    Now about the welcome we Irish could expect abroad, my uncle had a great story about being billited with a Boer family in South Africa during the war. Blanking and silence for the first few days when they thought he was English. Then they discovered from someone that he was Irish. The patriarch had ridden with McBride, apparently, so the fatted calf came out. I’ve found the same thing pretty much everywhere myself, although hard core Irish Americans who have met a lot of us northereners and know the accent can occasionally get very suspicious of my high Anglo-Irish twang, until someone mentions Sir Roger Casement. Yes, being English means expecting a bad reception, while we cultured nation of poets and musicians are usually welcomed!

    Or used to be! This was the general situation until the bail outs, when Ireland began to get pretty bad reputation for lies and sharp practice that is begining to show amongst the reactions of those Europeans that I’m meeting nowadays. The same kind of broad politically oriented media representation is what sets attitudes to Americans amongst us, here. Anyone visiting the Wee Six during the Iraq war was treated as a war criminal, period. Its an easy target, because they are usually white and looking succesful, so any dissing of them cannot really be prejudice, can it? I’d mentioned “snob-bashing” on another thread here, something I experience personally. This kind of agressiveness may be seen locally as good natured joshing, I honestly think some people attacking Americans or English in a “lite” manner in bars think it is, think they are being “friendly” even, but its a different experience for someone from a very different culture with different behaviour patterns in social situations. Whatever, my feedback is that its seen as anti-Americanism, something rather more worrying now that companies such as Cerberus own big chunks of us, and we are beginning to rely on publicity from things such as the Game of Thrones project to attract further investment. The buzz I’ve heard back from Hollywood sources is that the Game of Thrones people, and I mean crew, not just the producers whom we all know about, are less than impressed by their general reception socially.

    I’m not wanting to diss our reputation for friendliness just out of some curmudgenly spite, its honestly what I’m hearing, and sometimes even experiencing personally, often I’m taken for David Cameron’s brother when I open my mouth here. And me descended from both Niall Noígíallach and the cream of the first planter elite, locally born, bred and educated!

    The simple problem I’m having is that its not up to us to tell others how friendly we are, its up to the visitors to be telling us. The big trick the promo missed was to get at least one visiting couple from New York to wax lyrical about us, something that would be worth over seven locals commending the wee place.

  • Korhomme

    Your comment about people misunderstanding and misapprehending other cultures is spot on.

    Germans—Prussians—often come across to others as being very aggressive in speech and manner, almost bullying; yet, to them, this is entirely normal, and it’s how they interact with their fellows.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thanks Korhomme! I find quite a lot of warmth amongst our own lot myself, even when I’m mistaken for a sassenach “Hurrah Henry”! I think that a lot of the problem is that Americans can seem brash, but they are actually quite formal with people they do not know usually and expect the same. Our banter comes over as aggression, I’ve watched this at work even in quite sophisticated circles here! And hey, when I was “taking meetings” in my film career, I knew that the boy with the crew-cut in seersucker holding the cheque book needed (really needed) to be treated with kid glove respect!!!!! That or find yourself sitting with the meths drinkers on a Soho alley, cap out, asking “anyone got $3,000,000 dollars for an art house film, please?”

    This formalism is something our hospitality industry may have learnt the hard way by now, but our local Joe/Josephine public will take a while to cotton on to, still.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thanks David, everything I’ve been trying to say about this, but with pictures!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And while I’m being pretty flippant at times in my comments, under all this claim of being a friendly people we have a really serious event, the Colin Glen rape of American tourist Winnie Li, with all the reporting it was given in the States, still pretty fresh in the memory of some Americans.