Rory McIlroy – NI Tourism’s golden goose?

Posted: March 6, 2012 in Current affairs

On the back of Rory McIlroy’s achievement as the world’s number 1 golfer, the Press Association reports that:

‘New world number one golfer Rory McIlroy should be followed round the globe by Stormont officials to help tap into any tourism potential, according to a politician’ (5 March).

Failte Ireland ad, 2011: way ahead of the NITB and on an all-Ireland basis, too. Ouch!

As always in the North, every time a golden goose comes along, which isn’t too often it has to be said, it’s taken behind the shed and battered to death. And the politician willing to wield the club in this case is Ulster Unionist MLA, Mike Nesbitt.

MIke Nesbitt, UUP MLA: "Wouldn't this make a fantastic fairway?"

Poor Rory. I can imagine the golfing commentary as his game falls apart at the next tournament:

“How did he miss that shot, Tom? Inexplicable!”

“Something or someone in the crowd seemed to distract him, Jim!”

The camera cuts to crowd and zooms in on Arlene Foster wearing a white dress suit with a bright red trim; jumping up and down and waving a large Northern Ireland flag to match. She’s accompanied by a delegation from Stormont that’s bound to put any golfer off his/her stroke, including Mike Nesbitt, Edwin Poots (DUP), David Ford (Alliance) and Barry McElduff (SF) who keeps shouting, “Keep her lit there Rory!” and thinks it’s still funny (if it ever was).

“Ah! Rory really doesn’t need that, does he, Tom?”

No, he doesn’t. But some in the North, like Nesbitt, are losing the plot about the global success of McIlroy, McDowell and Clarke, and its potential for promoting tourism here. In a similar vein, the hype surrounding the forthcoming Irish Open in Portrush this June is already approaching London Olympics proportions. Yes, like the Northwest 200 motorcycle race, which takes place up there every May, it should pull people in the tens of thousands, which will be great for the local economy and that’s fair enough; but most people will pack up and go home straight after the event. Alternatively, it could very well be a total washout. And I’m not kidding.

Then there’s Derry’s stint next year as the first UK City of Culture, which will supposedly bring in hundreds of thousands of extra tourists and transform the city’s image and fortunes much like what happened to Glasgow when it got European City of Culture in 1990. Having grown up in Derry in the 1970s amid the worst years of the Troubles, I would like to see the city flourish but in a realistic, sustainable way and without the marketing hype and political fever that surrounds such contrived events.

Northern Ireland: from war zone to one big feckin golf resort.

Like any sector of the economy, tourism needs to be planned and managed on a sustainable basis and kept in balance with other sectors. Yet up on the hill at Stormont, Northern Ireland is being talked up as some sort of Tourism Klondike; an unplanned and unregulated free-for-all for developers, speculators and rip-off merchants.


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