Arlene Foster is excited. She’s in charge of tourism here and apparently last night they had quite a do, with Van Morrison and all, to push the north as a tourist destination. Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh this morning interviewed her and Dermot Murnaghan, late of this parish, so they could both express their excitement and remind everyone of the many tourist attractions we have. Like the Giant’s Causeway and the Titanic (sort of) and, um, the Antrim Coast Road. Oh, and apparently if they get off the beaten track visitors can discover all sorts of hidden gems as well.
God knows we need every penny we can get, but the whole tourism thing makes me feel uneasy. Kinda soiled, even.
Firstly, Ireland abroad, in terms of tourism, is now marketed as one. So is Arlene complaining that visitors who’ve come to check out Killarney or the Burren or the Dublin pubs are being encouraged to take in the north as well? Emphatically not. But if visitors ask over half the population here if they’re Irish, they’re likely to be told No. Eh? I’ve come all this way to Ireland and now you tell me you’re not even Irish? That should encourage them to come back.
Secondly, I know tourism is a vast industry throughout the world. But when I hear a visitor on, say, Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh asked if they like being here, I close my eyes and shove the nearest cushion in my mouth. What do they expect the poor divil to say – that they can’t stand the place? Or that they wish they’d gone to Disneyland instead? Or that the much-vaunted Merchant’s Hotel is over-priced and far too-red-plush? The term ‘emotional blackmail’ springs to mind.
Thirdly, there’s something about tourism that borders on prostitution. In Ireland particularly, we pride ourselves as being welcoming hosts to any visitors to our shores. In fact we scour the world looking for people, do all we can to persuade people to visit our shores, give them the come-on. Why? Because we really like them? Because we want to spread happiness? Because we feel guilty enjoying all this beauty on our lonesome? Uh-uh. We seek them out, lure them here so we can show them a good time, but only if they’ll then leave a sizeable part of their wallet on the bedside table before they leave. And when they do quit the premises, it’s not unknown for us to imitate the way they talk or the things they say, and have a quiet snigger to ourselves.
You find the prostitution comparison too harsh? Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s more like encouraging people to pay a visit to the zoo and marvel at the antics of the monkeys.
Yes, you’re right, we need their money. But some day, I know, we’re going to discover something better to sell than ourselves.