Happy St Patrick’s Day!

52 weeks ago today we took the decision to stop running tours due to Covid. We thought the lockdown might last for a few weeks, or maybe a month – how naïve we were!

And while we did manage to run some tours from July to October, with no tours running for nine of the last twelve months we took a massive hit,St. Gertrude, patron saint of cats and largely ignored on St Patrick's Day like so many other businesses.  But this post is a celebration (honestly!) not just of that godly Welshman St Patrick kicking all the snakes out of Ireland 1,600 years ago, but of what our team has achieved in the last twelve months.

Thanks to the support of hundreds of Crowdfunder supporters back in May, we didn’t have to go and get jobs wiping trolley handles in Tescos.  Instead, we started thinking about ways to bring our tours to people during lockdown, and developed an Online Experience and Virtual Tour.

Since then we have had visitors from across the world – even as far away as New Zealand – joining us online to experience the tour remotely. We’ve also had universities from the US to The Netherlands and a whole host of cross-community groups joining us to learn about our history, diversity, peace-building, you name it.  Twelve months ago I’d never even heard of Zoom – today even Donzo, our technophobe extraordinaire, knows how to share his screen with aplomb.

Then we discovered Self-Guided Tours, and decided to develop our own app.  Researching and creating our range of self-guided audio tours has kept us ridiculously busy but also totally focused.  Today there are four tours on our app, from free tours of Grey Abbey and Nendrum to a West Belfast Murals and Peacewall tour and a Belfast walking trail. Spanish and French versions will be available within the next few weeks, together with a Queens Quarter tour by April too.

Thanks to the support of Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Visit Belfast we have also taken part in over half a dozen Trade Expos and Virtual Workshops, meeting over 100 tour operators, destination management companies and travel agents from across the world, from Japan to Brazil, Denmark to New Zealand. In the real world we could never have afforded to attend these expos, but the pandemic has offered new and bizarre opportunities.  And thanks to funding support we have completely redesigned and rebuilt our website.

We have even been invited onto workshops and groups to help design the future of tourism in Northern Ireland and be part of something truly inspirational.  We are continuously stunned by the passion and dedication of the people in our tourism bodies here.

We’ve brought a new guide on to the DC Tours team – Jamesy is chomping at the bit to get out and do tours again and we just know he will be a firm favourite.  And there’s even a new tour ready for when lockdown lifts! The Best of Belfast is a tour to introduce you to the history of our landmarks and legends, stunning architecture, powerful street art and the stories of amazing people who called Belfast their home over the centuries.  A little more of an uplifting and light-hearted tour compared to our standard fare to be honest.

Maybe our new ideas will work, maybe they won’t – but at least we’ve given it a go and had fun doing it.Jamesons whiskey - the drink of choice on St Patrick's Day

We could never have achieved a fraction of all this if we hadn’t had the support of our tourism bodies, our Crowdfunders and our customers throughout lockdown. That support has kept us going and allowed us to think creatively about new ways to do what we do. And just as importantly, it has kept our spirits up. For a while at the start of the lockdown I was thinking I’d just have to sit it out with a bottle of Jamesons. Luckily, I’ve saved it for St Patrick’s Day.

It looks like the Spring may mark a turning point and hopefully it won’t be too long before we are out touring again. We will be ready when you are.