Belfast capitalizing on domestic peace

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NEW YORK -- After the recent abatement of three decades of sectarian violence, Belfast is "a city coming out of the doldrums ... and tourism is a direct link to growing prosperity," according to Belfast Lord Mayor Martin Morgan.

In an address at the Sky Club here Tuesday, Morgan cited the growing importance of tourism --including 10 cruises this year -- to the economy.

Belfast's visitor numbers jump 22% in 2002 compared with the previous year. Local authorities said that jump is just the beginning.

And for 2003, the city predicts 36% growth in arrivals over last year. That comes as there has been up to $900 million in recent infrastructure investments.

Morgan's remarks came as top political and tourism figures from Belfast visited the Big Apple this week to promote burgeoning U.S. travel to the up-and-coming destination.

Gerry Lennon, CEO of the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau, said in 1994, the city had only 900 hotel beds, serving between 150,000 and 200,000 mostly business visitors who spent $48 million.

By last year, Belfast boasted 3,000 hotel rooms and hosted 700,000 visitors who spent "hundreds of millions of dollars," Lennon said.

Lennon hopes to position Belfast -- "the last undiscovered part of Ireland"-- as a short-break and conference destination for travelers from North America, Belfast's third-largest source market.

Key to that effort would be the restoration of nonstop flights from the U.S., suspended after 9/11; Belfast is, in theory, a 6-hour flight from Boston. For more on Belfast, visit www.gotobelfast.com.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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