They say the secret in success in ice hockey is being where the puck is going to be.
If that’s also the case in the promotion of cities, then the Visit Belfast agency was in exactly the right place on Wednesday night when it hosted its 13th annual Destination Belfast event atop Millbank Tower on the Thames in London.
For assembled in the room were conference organisers whose conference business could potentially bring Belfast £25m of business.
Joining me to pitch for that lucrative prize in London were representatives of the Belfast hospitality business who have a compelling proposition to make conference visitors. However, the icing on the cake of our presentation was the first view of plans for the £30m Convention Centre which will open on the Belfast waterfront in 2016.
The ambitious extension, part of the city’s £150m investment programme, will make it possible for Belfast to host larger and more prestigious — and job-spinning — conferences.
During a whirlwind visit to London, I also met with Mayor Boris Johnson to discuss how business in both our cities could benefit from more co-operation. In particular, Belfast has still much to learn from how London, a city of 10 million souls, is built on diversity and shared space. I hope that’s a conversation we can pick up again with Mayor Boris in Belfast and to whet his appetite for a visit to my home town I presented him with a personalised ‘Boris 1’ Belfast Giants jersey.
I was in another great city with strong connections to Belfast – Cork — last night to open a new exhibition by Robert Ballagh in the Crawford Gallery, one of our great national institutions. ‘Seven’ consists of seven self-portraits of the artist and seven of his most famous portraits of major cultural and political figures, including Noel Browne, Eleanor McAvoy and James Joyce.
It’s a stunning collection by our greatest artist who celebrates his 70th birthday on 22 September. A strong advocate of peace and social justice throughout the country, Robert Ballagh is no stranger to Belfast or City Hall either: his portrait of former Lord Mayor Alex Maskey hangs in the Dome of Delight.