The following article appeared in the Newsletter, Thursday 23rd August 2012
"On a regular basis, cruise ships deliver thousands of American visitors into Belfast. Many will have a $10 bill or two in their wallets, purses and back pockets, but how many realise the face on that note is of a man whose roots lie a few miles away in Boneybefore outside Larne? Andrew Jackson’s parents emigrated to the United States before he was born, and from there, as a first-generation American, he become the 7th and one of the most influential Presidents of the United States. I would have thought that was something to celebrate. But do we?
It is hard to criticise the devolved government’s Tourism Strategy, because they have yet to publish one. It would also be churlish not to acknowledge the successes of the last twelve months, not least the MTV Music Awards that presented Belfast as a vibrant, happening destination. But the challenge is to produce a sustainable tourism offering, one that appeals to the widest audience to come, and then come back.
When that strategy does come, it must embrace our heritage of producing exceptional people, as much as it promotes our world class destinations, like the Giant’s Causeway, and our great achievements, like the Titanic (by the way, could we not have erected the Signature Building last year to celebrate the launch and then commemorated the maiden voyage this year? Are two bites not better than one?)
What trick are we missing? We cannot compete with tourists who want to spend a fortnight on a beach with guaranteed sunshine. But where else can you find a country this small that has contributed so much to modern western civilisation?
I want a tourism strategy that promotes our people. We need a Frances Hutcheson Institute to attract visitors interested in one of the greatest thinkers of modern times, a huge influence on the American and French Revolutions, and a native of Saintfield.
We need to build on the current successes of our three great golfers by marketing McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke Trails that attract golf tourists to as many of our golf courses as possible. I want the world to know that in the same generation, Belfast produced the planet’s greatest players of association and rugby union football, in George Best and Mike Gibson. And so it goes, across philosophy, politics, economics, sports, and the arts.
Today (Thursday) sees the launch of the World’s First Samuel Beckett Festival in Enniskillen. Beckett is a past pupil of Portora Royal School in the town. He went on to become a Nobel Laureate, yet he’s probably more associated with Paris that Enniskillen. I applaud the organisers. It’s time to reclaim our own."