Video: Derry name row is not on tourists’ radar, says tour guide lobby representative
US tourists think nothing of driving to Derry from Belfast once they have made the trip to the North, while controversy over the city’s name means nothing to them, a leading tourism lobbyist has declared.
Eimear Flanagan, of Tour Guides NI, said the North’s small size and its recent history were actually two selling points for the tourism industry locally.
She said holiday-makers from North America did not consider the hour-and-a-half drive from Belfast to Derry at all onerous given the scale of their native Continent.
“Americans will go to Derry from Belfast for their dinner and not see it as a long drive. Their sense of space in the island is massive and radically different to us as locals,” she said, during a recent evidence session with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee tourism inquiry.
However, Ms. Flanagan, who represents 100 freelance tour guides operating in the North, said the recent losses of direct United Airlines and Norwegian Airlines flights to the US were unhelpful, as visitors now had to fly into Dublin or Shannon.
“To do an international flight and then, jet-lagged, go to a business conference an hour and a half north, you are really held back,” she said.
Asked where the North’s troubled past stood in the tourism picture, Ms. Flanagan said it could not be ignored.
“The international visitor is fascinated. Terminology that is highly politically weighted - Northern Ireland, the North, Derry, Londonderry - means nothing on the international stage at all.”
She recalled leading two groups of 17-year-old school pupils and a contingent of five or six international tourists approaching pension age on a political tour.
“At the end of me doing the whole story of Belfast, I realised it was the 17-year-old kids on the island for whom this was maybe boring history, and yet it was the 55-years-old-plus international spending market who were fascinated by the experience,” noted Ms. Flanagan.