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Belfast - All the troubles seem so far away?

Belfast - All the troubles seem so far away?
Author: Karri Kauppi
1 Commentries
Tourism industry is one of the biggest victims of the terrorism. Whether the tourists themselves are the direct target or just secondary victims of the terrorism actions will always cause turbulence in the tourism industry. One of the most significant period of terror occurred in the backyard of the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland.

Tourism and terrorism shares a long and rugged "relationship". No matter if the acts of terror are targeted on the tourism industry directly or against authorities and politicians that are completely separate from the tourism product the tourism industry is severally "wounded" nevertheless. One could see that the cornerstone behind of the terrorist attacks against tourism is the increased media coverage.

Depending on viewers' side, acts of terrorism could be seen as one's justified cry for freedom or as mindless acts of violence. For terrorist organisations tourism is easy target and a mere tool that is ruthlessly used to derail ruling governments finances and to gain international publicity. The effects of the terrorism to the tourism industry have been determined by two factors, severity of the attacks and the frequency of the attacks. Despite of the severity of the attacks the tourism industry tends to normalise close to the levels of pre-attack once the dust have settled. With the frequently occurring terrorist attacks the consequences are quite drastic. The research made has pointed out that the destinations can rejuvenate after severe attacks, but if the attacks occur frequently, no matter are the attacks severe or not, the tourism industry will continue decreasing and eventually come to a standstill.

As could be expected tourism industry in Northern Ireland has been drastically affected by the 'troubles' period. Before the political unrest exploded, tourism in Northern Ireland experienced steady growth of tourism. After the full-scale conflict broke loose the tourist arrivals plummeted drastically. The reasons for slow tourism growth beyond the "troubles" are quite clear. Firstly the main generating region for Northern Ireland Tourism has always been United Kingdom, people within the radius of BBC, got constant information about slightest of unrest in the region. Secondly and more importantly, the whole tourism product was re-shaped during those periods, the traditional cold-water beach holidays within the UK was shifted to the sandy and sunny southern parts of the Europe, leaving Northern Ireland to be the stranded unstable corner of United Kingdom.

The question of safety glooms around Belfast, city with decades of tragic and violent history will have a certain tone in the ears of tourists. Still statistically Belfast is today one of the safest cities in the developed world.

It is important to understand how the tourist authorities in Northern Ireland have tried to change the image of Belfast and the Northern Ireland as whole. The main theme in the travel brochures is about the unique nature of the area. Vivid images of the rugged coastline are used to create a deep contrast with the images of the "city under siege". In fact the only mention of the 'troubles' describes about the murals in a meaningless way. Although it is understandable that destination does not want to remind its tourists about the image they so hard try to let go, it is intriguing to find out from the Northern Ireland tourism board visitor attitude survey that actually majority of tourists from the continental Europe actually come to the destination to learn about the troubled period of the past.

The Northern Ireland tourist authorities reflects to the past as if it never has happened, to some extent this approach is understandable, especially when the goal is to emphasize that the destination is much more than the shattered images from the evening news. The critique towards the NITB is not meant to suggest that the 'troubles' should be used as a main attraction, but as it is evident that tourists arriving to Northern Ireland are more than aware of the past and in some cases the main reason for arriving is the past, so why hide from it. The examples from Germany and Israel shows that it is possible to have a vivid tourism scene in a country with troubled past.

Despite of the current safety in the region the shadow of the past still hangs over the destination. The tourist authorities in the region have started to promote the destination, but gradually undermining the near history. What has been suggested in this paper is that forgetting the past doesn't make it disappear. As there already are attractions and tours that are built around the 'troubles' and proven interest towards the past, why shouldn't the tourist authorities take advantage of the situation? Examples of destinations with similar image problems show part of the attraction could be build around the tragic past, it might even help outsiders to understand how and why these periods shaped the region and have a positive contribution to the healing process of the region.


Bibliography


MCDOWELL, S (2008) Selling Conflict Heritage through Tourism in Peacetime Northern Ireland: Transforming Conflict or Exacerbating Difference?, International Journal of Heritage Studies, Vol. 14, No. 5, pp. 405-421

NEILL, W.J.V. (2001) Marketing the Urban Experience: Reflections on the Place of Fear in the Promotional Strategies of Belfast, Detroit and Berlin, Urban Studies, Vol. 38, No. 5-6, pp. 815-828

PIZAM, A, FLEISCHER (2002) Severity versus Frequency of Acts of Terrorism: Which Has a Larger Impact on Tourism Demand?, Journal of Travel Research, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 337-339

Belfast - All the troubles seem so far away?
Author: Kimberley Banks
This paper presents a differing perspective to a topic which has been much considered in this strand of the conference; that of terrorism, tourists risk perception of a destination and the role of the media. An interesting case study has also been utilised to further add scope to the topic. I find the role of the media within terrorism an interesting debate, furthermore, the paper has pointed out that marketing of tourism within the area has mainly shied away from promoting its 'troubled past'. As it is rightly considered, many destinations have fully embraced these past tragedies, often leading to a full utilisation of dark tourism, a topic which I chose for my discussion paper.

There are sound and interesting arguments put forth surrounding the tourism image of Belfast, however whilst the sources of information have been clearly stated at the end of the paper, it is not shown how they were used within the text. This could have further improved upon the quality of the work.

Some interesting perspectives have been made, particularly so the balanced account of the act of terrorism itself. It is not often considered 'the other side of the story' and that acts of terrorism are of course viewed by some as a struggle for freedom and the fight for perceived rights. Considering the severity and frequency of terrorist attacks, I think the media also plays a large part. As global communication constantly relays and exacerbates the occurrence of terrorism within a particular destination, tourists are inevitably going to be driven away. For some developing countries, it becomes particularly hard for them to pull out of the high risk image that will stymie its growth. Belfast is a core example of how a destination can positively reinvent itself and develop its tourism industry; in addition, how important tourism itself, can be in aiding growth. The industry has had a massive impact on the economy of Ireland, with tourist revenues rising from £200 million in 2002 to £350 million in 2005 (Afiya, 2007).

The paper also aptly considers how any acts of terrorism always have a severe negative impact upon tourism, whether or not the industry is purposely targeted. This comes down to the perceived safety risk of a specific destination; one that is considered to suffer from any form of political instability is going to struggle to easily attract tourists. With relation to this, and as considered in the paper, it is thus easy to understand why promotion of tourism within Belfast has previously shied away from utilising its murky past.

A destination with a vivid and significant historical past however, can be of interest to tourists, and as considered before, can draw much attention from the dark tourist. Afiya (2007) in fact suggests, "it would seem that the increase in visitors to Northern Ireland has happened not because people previously stayed away, but because its living history is such a draw". Tourists are drawn to Shankill and the Falls areas of Belfast due to its previous history of intense sectarian violence.

Afiya, A. (2007) Peace Brings Prosperity to Belfast. Caterer and Hotelkeeper [online]. 197(4465) accessed via Ebsco Host at < http://web.ebscohost.com>