A certain Rebecca Males has been busy recently on Buzzfeed, writing articles promoting Northern Ireland and Belfast in particular. At first it was kinda cool – you don’t see this part of the world being featured on a top site like Buzzfeed every other day – but her latest article is frankly quite embarrassing.
The article in question lists “19 things Belfast has that Dublin should get immediately“, which includes the Ulster fry, Queens University, apartments with a view and the Belfast waterfront. I won’t say much about it, except that I think Rebecca Males needs to actually visit Dublin and get her facts straight, and she needs to learn how to properly identify an Ulster fry and distinguish between her potato bread and soda farls.
Instead, my key question is this – why does Belfast always have to compare itself to other (nearby) cities and insist that it’s better than them? Let’s face it: Belfast isn’t a big city, and it can therefore never offer things that big cities can, such as impressive views from high-rise apartments or glamourous, swanky waterfronts.
However, why does Belfast have to be better than the next city? There’s no reason why it should, and I don’t think anyone expects Belfast to be the best or even better than any city you might wish to name. Comparing itself to others, especially when picking aspects in which it’s clearly not the strongest in will only result in sniggering and ridicule – such as boasting of its waterfront, which is pretty much just the Titanic Quarter, when the banks of Dublin’s River Liffey is dotted by countless tall, posh buildings. Those comparisons also reminded me of another list I read a while ago, which said something to the effect of: forget the Great Wall of China, Northern Ireland has the walled city of Derry – that has to go down as the most WTF comparison I’ve ever come across.
Instead, Belfast has its charms and should therefore play them up. Rebecca Males got some of them right, such as affordable alcohol and a view of the mountains from the city. So, rather than brag about a stunning waterfront it does not possess, why not speak instead of the picturesque Lagan with trees that line its bank? Or highlight the lush parks scattered across the city? Or mention the Entries which lend an intimacy to the city’s watering holes that few other cities can match?
Tourism promotion is more than mere comparisons and claims about how great and wonderful a place is. However, I’m certain that the most effective way to attract visitors is for Belfast and Northern Ireland to focus on the unique things it has to offer.