I often advance an unpopular hypothesis that the favourable tourist reviews Belfast receives are largely attributable to a mixture of post conflict goodwill and low expectations.
The city is pitifully short of decent visitor attractions when compared to other city break destinations in Britain and Europe. In terms of galleries and museums the place is a dead loss and given this dearth it seems scarcely believable that for the last year the Ulster Museum has been closed and no work has been taking place on its refurbishment.
It seems that the next time we can direct a visitor to a decent museum will be in summer 2009!
Of course tourists still have the option of wandering about the Cathedral Quarter which despite 10 years in the pipeline as Belfast’s bohemian district remains a largely derelict area of pawn shops and thrift stores, which any cautious traveller would avoid like the plague! Or perhaps they might choose to wander around the eerily deserted City Centre at night trying to find any open bar or restaurant. Then there’s the much vaunted “Titanic Quarter”, still consisting to date of a hinterland of disused warehouses.
Belfast can only claim two legitimate things in its favour. Firstly the vibrancy and character of its pubs – a merit which is lessening daily as wine bars and continental cafes proliferate and genuine pubs close down. Secondly there is the endless fascination tourists find in touring round deprived areas gawking at wall-paintings of paramilitaries.
Setting residual loyalties aside, most residents, if we were being completely subjective, would advise prospective visitors to save their money and go elsewhere. If there is any real will to become a credible tourist destination which does not rely on mawkish tours of trouble spots, there needs to be less talk about development and more action and existing visitor attractions need to be reopened as quickly as possible and not left to lie unused for a full year!