My time during lockdown in Northern Ireland has offered me lots of time to look back to this website and to reevaluate and possibly redirect its purpose. As my enthusiasm has taken a complete nosedive since the time I arrived in Bangor bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with plans to help boost local and regional tourism in Bangor and Northern Ireland. Only to find myself post more about European travels, weird food from crap supermarkets, and my favourite instant noodles from Tescos, and reverse culture shock of life in Northern Ireland. So I more or less gave up in trying given endless headaches with the continued stalling of the Queen’s Parade Development, the despair of local tourism authorities, and Translink told me it was illegal to even take a photo of a passing bus (it’s not). So my hands were pretty much tied from the get-go due to local negativity, inbred norms, and possibly a bit of contempt for independent media and ‘bloggers’. But no sour grapes.
The Local Tourism Boards
To share my personal commitment to this whole role (honestly, this is not just sour grapes) I was applying for any official role in tourism with ANDBC (the local council). As I’d never turn down a wage to do what I love. And I applied for the most recent of these 3 job applications from a pool villa when in Bali. It was an entry-level job, no degrees or experience required, it was more or less grunt work, but it had a focus on managing their website and online media. And I really just wanted my foot in the door. But I failed again for the 3rd time to even make the shortlist. Even with my business degree, my graduate diploma in Tourism Marketing, and personal experience working with upward of 40 different tourism authorities in 12+ countries off my own bat. I literally owned my own marketing company. So there really is some top-notch talent in local tourism.
Promoting Tourism in Bangor?
Again, no sour grapes, but my time here has been somewhat frustrating in the past months as the country opens up again from lockdown with the promotion of staycations. Bangor included. Or at least North Down and Ards, as they aimed to boost much-needed local tourism with a ‘video’ which was like a PowerPoint presentation from the early ‘90s. There’s panning over stock images, sketchy cropping, no actual videos, and the photos were acquired and credited to Discover NI. Through the past weeks I have been driving past a ‘Love Bangor’ billboard on the motorway to Belfast. I think it has a generic #shoplocal, and I couldn’t read the rest… because priority was focused more on selling empty yellow space than the businesses that were meant to be promoting. To read it I would literally have to ditch my car and hurdle through fields to get there.
Ards & North Down Borough Council
It is hard not to see the gaping hole in tourism in Bangor since the council merged with Ards. As now it really is just a neglected area of the wider Ards and North Down Borough Council (ANDBC). But even before this time it was somewhat unmanageable, or mismanaged, when grouped in with Groomsport, Holywood, and Donaghadee in North Down. And the merging of North Down and Ards has really been a disaster for Bangor with the loss of big events like the Pipe Bands which were traditionally held beneath the majestic backdrop of Bangor Castle. Only to be moved to an empty field in Ards. There’s a lot of politics involved. Anyway, I created an Unofficial Tourist Website for Bangor to fill this gap. ‘It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor’ because sometimes it can be. And Bangor is beautiful when it’s sunny.
It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor
So I created this bangorni.com website to fill the regional gap for tourism marketing in Bangor and Northern Ireland, and quickly I was ranking alongside (and above) the local tourism authorities that are paid load to promote them. Or at least I was outranking them in relevant keywords for search engines. The odd thing is, longevity is one of the major ranking factors in SEO, and these official websites have existed for 10s of years since the early days of the internet. Yet in 9-months of basic half-assed SEO, I was outranking them. And while you could argue that the ANDBC website was only created with the merging of the regional councils (2015) it only requires a simple merging of the websites. Acquire the new domain, then merge the content through 301 redirects. Saving many years of hard work before.
It does feel that Bangor has no interest in promoting itself, which may be true, as there are residents that would rather keep away the rowdy crowds from Belfast. And the noise, and the mess, and the cleanup. As domestic tourists are rarely the most desirable in Northern Ireland. Often the opposite. But I have no real interest in domestic tourism either, as pretty much everyone in Northern Ireland knows their limited options for travel on the bus and train lines. However, do work on local campaigns for relevancy in niche-specific keywords and to boost my own content locally. Including our local ‘Treasure Hunts’ (Jenny Watts Treasure) which were originally set to get local young folk out to learn about the town’s local heritage. But it now creates an added incentive for all tourists to immerse more in their experiences of Bangor.
The Social Side of Stuff?
I’ll only touch on this slightly, as blogging is more to do with long-term results through SEO, rather than short-termism through social media. Although there is always an overlap. So I set up a Facebook Page and through a viral-ish video published on the page, I quickly gained 800+ followers in a week (31,000 reach locally). But on any given day, on any of our websites, around 0.05% will come from Facebook or Twitter or… I have no interest in social media. And this is partly due to our focus on sustainable passive incomes whereas ‘social’ means being always involved. And there are much more valuable things to be working on. But the same goes for more direct strategies like ‘Google my Business’ and ‘Google Ads’ which are pretty much irrelevant to growth and monetization in blogs (I have a case study on local business strategies to come). As we do focus mostly on organic SEO.
Local Facebook Communities
The simplest way to short-term success is often through sharing relevant content in Facebook groups. Although I should highlight ‘relevant’ here to avoid the usual spamming of crap in groups. Given most of them are moderated these days. And a quick example of opportunities for local business is when I published an article to my blog’s Facebook Page before sharing it in local Bangor Facebook groups. The article shared my experience/review of World Foods in Bangor, a personal interest of mine, and it received over 1,000 clicks-through to my blog in around 24-hours. So these groups can create traffic for blogs, as well as big boosts in business for the shops. It’s overall mutually beneficial.
“Overnight trips to Northern Ireland by external visitors was estimated to be 2.8 million. Expenditure associated with these trips was £669 million”. “An estimated 2.2 million hotel room nights were sold in Northern Ireland” (The 2018 Annual Tourism Statistics). This is by far more my interest. Partly because Discover NI (the official tourism website for Northern Ireland) pretty much neglected Bangor forever. But hotel stays are also the easiest way to monetize a new blog with affiliate marketing. And so my strategy was focused more on search queries for travel in Northern Ireland, for arrivals at the main ports, for guides to the main tourist destinations, and then I’d try to squeeze as much Bangor into the articles as possible. I even tried to jazz it up a bit with my newly branded Gold Coast Trainline.
A Frosty Reception
One of my more ambitious projects was with my return to Northern Ireland after months collaborated with Thai, Japanese and Indonesian tourist companies through Bangkok, Thailand and Bali. But my mindset was otherwise on sharing the value of tourism on the train lines in Northern Ireland sharing each destination across the region. Anyway, it’s the norm in blogging to signal ahead to PR and media in case of potential help, advice, or opportunities for collaboration. What I didn’t expect was to be banned by Translink from taking photos of Translink properties (public property), a passing bus for example, as it was illegal. It was only after involving the legal team that I was told this was not true (it’s all here). But I had already given up on the project, and on Translink, and the only journey I covered was from my arrival at Dublin Airport to Belfast. And while I planned to exclusively promote Translink as a Northern Ireland company, I included all coach carriers, and have forwarded 1,000s of customers to Air Coach and Bus Eiran in the past year alone. A number that is scaling daily.
What’s Next for our Bangor Blog
I dunno. Maybe more articles on weird food shopping, or instant noodle reviews. I have at least been able to niche down my Asia travel blogs by hosting my European stuff here. Otherwise, I am in no real hurry anymore. As Bangor still feels far far away from improving given the vagueness of the Queen’s Parade redevelopment, the loss of the only relevant local pressure group (FABB: For a Better Bangor), and the despair and uselessness of the ANDBC in boosting any tourism in Bangor at all. But thankfully this was always a side project of ours, testing the water of sorts, for the off-chance of Bangor fulfilling its potential as a not-so-bad place to visit in Northern Ireland.