Lonely Planet: No 1 place to visit in 2018

So Lonely Planet have just named Belfast & The Giant’s Causeway as the No 1 place to visit in 2018. What an accolade and as someone with a vested interest in tourism, positive news. I was interviewed by the Guardian about this and during the interview I realised one important point that is often overlooked. People love coming to Belfast and they have wonderful things to see and do, Titanic Belfast or a drive up the Antrim Coast being 2 examples but what really makes it great, our unique selling point, are the people. Visitors are bowled over by how friendly everyone is.

Working for a UK company with coach loads of largely elderly people, I tell them, “If you’re lost in Belfast and looking at a map. Don’t worry you won’t be lost for too long, someone will come up and help you whether you want helped or not!” Invariably at least 3 to 4 people come back to me in surprised and startled tones announcing that my prophecy had come true. My response is to to tell them that how we live here, the courtesy of the everyday is how life should be lived. I think people are stunned because of the reputation the city has and this good news highlights the difference between reality and perception, I don’t know maybe as a city we’re schizophrenic! In practical terms, this positive interaction leads to people coming back again and again. It’s the people that make this city, the creators, writers, artists and lunatics who’ve always lived their lives beyond the narrow parameters of ‘us and them’.

When I started my tours, there was a sense that Belfast was an anachronism, a place stuck in medieval fundamentalism with a blood feud somehow out of step with the ‘modern’ world. In part this still plays a large part of the tourist trail with visits to what are called ‘Peace Walls’ as well as Titanic Belfast. I could joke that we’re famous for building a boat that sunk and that parts of the population hate each other but there’s more.

Like any visitor experience, the audience or viewer is as important as the place or attraction. It’s an interaction. The more I look around this world, the more I realise that we weren’t behind the times, we were ahead of the curve! You can come to this city, enjoy the pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions and take selfies of yourself at the City Hall, Titanic Belfast or so called ‘Peace Walls’ which is fine but you’re missing a large part of what makes this city great.

Often, it’s not what you see but what what you don’t see that’s fascinating. What lies just beneath the surface which is where I come in and which is why I call my tour, ‘There’s More to Belfast than Walls’ because well there is. There is a phrase that says, ‘Travel broadens the mind’ but in my experience I’d add a proviso, ‘only if you want it too’. Of course we have all the ingredients to provide you with a fabulous experience but for that little bit extra, the sprinkling of gold dust that provides something beyond special… well that lies just out of sight which is where I come in.