By Niamh Ferguson
This year, Belfast looks set to become a major tourist destination with the launch of “ni2012.” This campaign introduced by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is dedicated to showing what Northern Ireland can offer on a world stage level.
With the Titanic centenary celebrations, the return of the Irish Open to Royal Portrush and many other exciting events scheduled throughout the year, the “ni2012” campaign is expected to boost the number of visitors to the country.
Arlene Foster, Minster for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, has claimed: “This is the time to welcome the world to our place and show them why we’re proud of it.” The Northern Ireland Executive is committed to bringing tourism to the country and many of these attractions and events are publicly funded.
Receiving much media coverage, Titanic Belfast opened its doors earlier in the year to coincide with the centenary of the ship’s sinking, creating a buzz throughout the city and gaining much attention from overseas. Many visitors were met with disappointment during the initial weeks of opening to discover that tickets were sold out until April 16 however, with the 100th year landmark now passed and the attraction inevitably no longer selling out for days at a time, will the considerable sum of public money spent on its construction (£60 million) be seen as a worthy investment in years to come?
On this issue, I spoke to Minister of Finance, Sammy Wilson: “On the general point I believe that there is considerable scope for development of the Northern Ireland economy through events which promote tourism either appealing to the home market or to the foreign market.
“Obviously events like the Irish Open and Titanic which are very strong worldwide brands have huge potential to bring in people from outside Northern Ireland and to result in considerable expenditure in the Northern Ireland economy creating jobs and increasing our GDP.
“For these reasons the Northern Ireland Executive have decided to put some public money into the Titanic Signature Project and also the promotion of the Irish Open. I believe that money will create a return which will show it to be a worthwhile investment.”
According to The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, in 2011 1.8 million tourists visited Northern Ireland, generating £368 million in revenue, an increase of 20% compared to 2010. With more reasons to visit Northern Ireland in “our year”, it is not unreasonable to assume that the quantity of tourists and revenue may increase, however will the initial investments be sustainable beyond 2012?
The Titanic building has been described as Northern Ireland’s Eiffel Tower or Guggenheim museum and Claire Bradshaw, the centre’s marketing manager maintains that Titanic Belfast will be appealing to visitors, even after the centenary celebrations have finished. “What we say is come down, go through the experience and I promise you will not be disappointed.”
The project is being funded in part by the Department of Enterprise and Belfast City Council as well as the Belfast Harbour Commission and Titanic Quarter Ltd. The £92 million which is being spent on the “experience” is not only the iconic building but on opening the Harland and Wolff drawing offices to the public and the renovation of the SS Nomadic, serving as extra attractions for tourists. It has been suggested that the centre needs 290,000 visitors a year just to break even. It is hoped that all these extra attractions will increase numbers and revenue.
It is not only the Titanic Signature Project which has created interest in the country. Royal Portrush Golf Club is set to host the Irish Open for the first time since 1947 at the end of June. The prize for winning this event will be €2 million and the Northern Ireland Executive is expected to give a minimum of £2 million to this cause. With tickets selling fast and golf fans set to visit from all over the world surely this investment will be worth it.
I spoke to the professional of the club, Gary McNeill, about what he thinks the event will do for the North Coast.
“The Irish Open will do a lot of promoting for the area and for Royal Portrush. It’s our chance to showcase the area; it’ll bring tourists in not just this year or next year but I imagine for the next ten years. We have inquiries coming in everyday from across the water and I know a lot of people will be coming from England, Scotland and Wales. There will be a lot coming up from the Republic of Ireland. Just from the sounds of things and by ticket sales already I’d say most of Northern Ireland will be here as well.”
This is a one off event, which may return to the famous golf club in the coming years. It will be up to the North Coast to indeed showcase itself as a reason for people to visit.
With Derry adopting the title of “UK City of Culture” next year, and with Belfast continuing its popular annual events such as The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, the internationally acclaimed Festival of Fools and Queen’s Belfast Festival amongst others in 2013, we may see tourists visiting the attractions and venues that made 2012 “your time” and “our place”.
Follow the #ni2012 campaign on Twitter – www.twitter.com/DiscoverNI