Further growth expected in Belfast tourism market after record 2018

The Disney Magic is set to dock in Belfast in September as the city is set to build on a record year for tourism in 2019
Gareth McKeown

BELFAST tourism is set to continue to flourish in 2019, building upon a record year in 2018.

Marketing agency Visit Belfast says it is "confident" the city remains on track to double out-of-state tourism spend to the city by 2021, with growth expected across the board.

Visit Belfast chief executive Gerry Lennon said he is optimistic for the year ahead.

"We are confident that we will continue to see tourism growth for the city, particularity with the ongoing investment in our tourism infrastructure, dedicated tourism marketing and high profile events such as the Open in Portrush and HBO's Game of Thrones:The Touring Exhibition coming to the Titanic Exhibition Centre," he said.

"Working closely with our funders Belfast City Council and Tourism Northern Ireland, and in partnership with the wider tourism industry, Visit Belfast remains focussed on - and on track to - doubling out-of-state tourism spend to the city by 2021.”

Speaking at a stakeholder event with its strategic partner Diageo Northern Ireland, Mr Lennon also reflected on another peak year for tourism, with record hotel room demand, visitor enquiries, and cruise ship arrivals all driving a growing contribution to the city economy in 2018.

Official statistics from the Civil Aviation Authority show that in the year to the end of October, around 7.5 million air passengers accessed the two Belfast airports, around 3.7 per cent more than last year, while the city's monthly hotel occupancy rates to date stood at 78 per cent. Room sales also rose 15.5 per cent over the same period.

There were six new hotel openings in the city in 2018, with Northern Ireland's largest, the £53 million Grand Central, as well as the AC Marriot, Maldron Belfast City Centre, Hampton by Hilton, EasyHotel and Flint adding a further 1,000 bedrooms.

Belfast's ability to attract conferences in a highly competitive national and international arena was also notably strong in 2018. The city played host to more than 60 conferences during the year, with 30,000 delegates contributing a record £45m for the local economy.

“Now that the newly repositioned Belfast ICC (formerly Belfast Waterfront) is embedded in our conference and events offering, Belfast is reinforcing its reputation as one of the best conference destinations in the UK, if not beyond,” Mr Lennon said.

Cruise ship tourism is another area of strength, with a total of 115 ships bringing a record 189,000 visitors to the city last year, with the outlook for 2019 brighter still according to Visit Belfast.

Early data indicates that 104 cruise ships will dock in the city in 2019, although the final number is expected to surpass last year's total when the official figures are released in the coming weeks.

According to the data collaborated by Crew Center, last updated in mid October, the first ship will dock in Belfast on March 12 2019, with the season running until October 24.

Among the new arrivals in 2019 will be Disney Cruise Lines, with the company's Disney Magic ship set to dock in Belfast on September 11.

Last month Visit Belfast celebrated the five-year anniversary of the launch of its £1.8m flagship visitor information centre on Donegall Square North.

More than 2.2 million enquiries have been handled since it opened, while visitor advisors handled around 850,000 tourist enquiries last year, compared to 340,000 in 2013.

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