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Ian Paisley’s ‘ranting and raving’ Will Turn US Visitors Off, Says Travel Expert

When Northern Ireland MP Ian Paisley, Jr., came out with boxing gloves on before a group of travel industry professionals in at a committee meeting there attended by, among others, executives from Visit Derry and Visit Belfast, while I didn’t agree with his belligerent tone which is counter to the brand of the region projecting the  warmth visitors receive on the Ireland that is Ireland, and it was clear to anyone who has recently visited the Republic of Ireland as I have as recently as 5 weeks ago, that Paisley is uninformed and ill-informed. His notion that the Republic of Ireland, especially the marketing team at Dublin International Airport, have targeted visitors to The North to steal them away to the Republic and, therefore, NI tourism interests should be “aggressively” marketing in Dublin, is hilarious when you are truly in the know! I actually was amazed, given how little marketing Northern Ireland does in the US where they should be focusing their attention to attract visitors to the many unique, historic, amazing and life-altering travel experiences that await the visitor to The North, by the barrage of radio well done radio commercials, gorgeous TV spots and print ad promoting NI that were absolutely everywhere you turned while we were in Ireland for 17 days in March! Considering the precious little that is invested by Northern Ireland entities, aside from the overview of Tourism Ireland promotions which include attractions in NI, what is being put forth in the Republic of Ireland by NI tourism interests is serious overkill! But this seems to have missed the eyes and ears of Ian Paisley which probably means he isn’t spending much time in the Republic or he would have seen and heard these ads promoting tourism to The North. And you can’t miss the if you drive around with the radio on, put the TV  on when you return to your hotel or pick up a newspaper or magazine. . . not to mention the many billboards including those in airports in the Republic!

But worse than his position presented as if it’s ‘dirty pool’ for one destination to market within another destination is his tone which is derisive and argumentative which, to me, is like putting out a vat of vinegar hoping to attract ants and flies!  The impression his remarks create is exactly opposite of the brand image that tourism in Ireland has worked so hard to proliferate and that is that Ireland is place where, even when there is disagreement which happens all too often with people of strong opinions and viewpoints, there is a level of civility, respect, humor and wit that all come into play no matter the discussion even if it all ends with remarks that the “other side” is made up of a bunch of “feckin’ eejits!”

The comment that offended me the most was the directive of  Northern Ireland MP Ian Paisley that Visit Belfast, Visit Derry and other tourism agencies at the Belfast meeting should market, especially targeted to Irish-Americans in Dublin, that they are “in the wrong part of Ireland.” That remark is unimaginable but it is certainly in keeping with the reputation of the style of this politician.  I  cannot imagine that that approach would endear Northern Ireland touristic venues to US visitors in Dublin, in general, and to Irish-American visitors, in particular, since many of those visitors have family histories associated with hardships imposed by British rule and British police and army personnel and police in The North whose interaction with Catholics in NI defies proper description.  With Brexit already causing concern about the open relationship between the two politically different sections of Ireland and with more than one flare up of violence in recent months reminiscent in Belfast and Derry, one  would think special attention would be given to peaceful coexistence. Paisley’s words throw gasoline on a warm embers that would go out if everybody continued to work and live in a peaceful atmosphere respecting one another and doing their best not to forget the past but to remember that history is in the past and should be left there.

A better approach for politicians is to talk about the glorious attractiveness to travelers of the region they come from and represent. If  it weren’t for my TV show launching in February 2018, my first travel guide, “1001 Reasons to Visit Ireland,” would be published and available in print and ebook. Having put amazing effort into my unique approach to guiding the traveler through  the island that is Ireland, I can tell you that, while Northern Ireland has some extraordinary attractions and lodgings and wonderful food as well, the quantity of what there is to see and do in Northern Ireland cannot compare with the quantity of high quality attractions, lodgings, events  and dining options that saturate every nook and cranny of The Republic. Three or  four nights in Northern Ireland, unless you are planning to vege out in the destination, is sufficient for that average traveler who is not on an academic mission whereas three or four months in The Republic won’t be enough time to see and do everything of touristic value in The Republic. There is no contest there regardless of windbag opinions.

Generally speaking, any guide book on Ireland will start with what there is to see and do in The Republic. As my good friend, Dr. Tim Campbell, Director of the Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Co. Down, Northern Ireland said to me when I was talking with him about my travel guide,”Guide books put Ireland first and somewhere around page 600 they introduce Northern Ireland.” That was an enlightening thought for me so in my guide, which has several different approaches to make itineraries and information easy to slide into the perfect itinerary for each and every traveler, the counties of the island of Ireland are introduced alphabetically so Dublin comes in a bit down the list after some counties in The North such as Antrim, Belfast, Derry and Down.

I’m hoping that Paisley takes a trip to, for instance, Miami International Airport. Florida alone, and the US in travel industry in general, have much to promote and could be doing that, as some do, at MIA. But take note of the promotional billboards on walls and the print ads in magazines, in-flight magazines and newspapers that promote Caribbean destinations and Resorts including places like the Bahamas, Mexico and Sandals Resorts. It wouldn’t occur to ANYONE in the travel industry to be upset that destinations worldwide promote their tourism offers in our airports and media. That’s normal!

I guess  what’s not normal is that politicians are, in general, not the best people to talk about travel. They often put their feet in their mouths and their shoelaces get stuck between their teeth as is the case with Ian Paisley.

Years ago, a fellow who owned a travel agency with his father in Virginia was on a site inspection/company meeting I ran on board what was then The Big Red Boat. . . anybody remember that ship? The cruise line’s rep for our region sailed with us. She must have taken Dramamine before the cocktail hour and between that medication, cocktails followed by wine at dinner, she was blitzed. She was sitting at my dining table at dinner and the CEO of the cruise line was at the adjacent table where the CEO of my company was seated. As this young woman who I just adored got very slurry, blurry and sloppy, the fellow  from Virginia said something I never forgot: “Drinking should be left to the professionals.”

I feel the same way about giving advice, recommendation, and strategies in the travel industry: “Talking about travel and tourism should be left to the professionals.  Those who don’t understand how to talk about travel, give advice and answer questions in a way that is in keeping with the marketing image of the brand they speak about have no business speaking. In less than a full sentence, the uninitiated can unravel decades of serious work and hundreds of billions of dollars, yen, euros, pounds sterling, pesos, and Swiss Francs! No one ever ruined a destinations’ image by keeping their mouths shut.

So Mark Bain, who is the journalist who wrote the article on May 1, 2019 about Paisley’s speech, called me and asked for my opinion. That was published on May 2nd in the Belfast Telegraph.  His article is posted below. Click on Ask Stephanie on the navigation bar if you wish to engage in discussion on this issue or visit facebook.com/stephanie.abrams.94. Read on . . .

Belfast Telegraph

By Mark Bain

May 2 2019

A US travel expert has slammed DUP MP Ian Paisley for his “aggressive” language in calling for Northern Ireland tourist bodies to poach visitors from south of the border.

Broadcaster Stephanie Abrams, who has a syndicated radio show attracting almost 12m listeners and boasts 30m TV viewers, said she was “livid” about the comments.

“Regrettably I’ve met him, thankfully briefly, and only once,” said Mrs Abrams, who enjoyed a career in the travel industry before turning to broadcasting 17 years ago.

“I spend up to 90 days a year in Ireland working with tourist bodies, and anyone who watches the shows or visits the website will see how much work I’ve put into showing Ireland, and by that I mean the whole of Ireland, in a positive way.

“I’d say half the shows I’ve produced have featured Ireland, and Northern Ireland in particular, very heavily. I love the place.

“Northern Ireland as a destination is advertised daily on radio and television in the south. There are commercials to be proud of on TV.

“But these comments just show he is very much ill-informed. Northern Ireland is marketing in the south of Ireland.”

Mrs Abrams said Mr Paisley should be aware that “the aggressive language he has used” would only serve to turn tourists off.

She added: “It sends out the wrong image. There needs to be respect to other places people wish to travel to.

“In some respects a more aggressive marketing policy would be ideal, but perhaps the place for that is in the USA?

“Politicians should leave talking tourism to the experts.

“If I knew nothing about Northern Ireland and I saw these remarks, I’d probably never go there, as an American.

“Ranting and raving like this is not what people want to hear.”

Stephanie Abrams, who lives in Massachusetts, showcases Northern Ireland heavily on her travel website at www.sabrams.com

Belfast Telegraph

--Gotta Fly Now!sm
Your Personal Travel Expert
Nationally syndiated radio show host
Stephanie Abrams

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