Investment in Belfast makes city more competitive

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- With hotel developments booming and new investments in tourism infrastructure, Belfast is coming into its own as a leisure and business travel destination.

One of the more obvious changes to the city is the newly opened Belfast Welcome Center.

According to the Belfast Visitor & Convention Bureau, the center was designed as a one-stop-shop for business travelers and vacationers.

Providing a range of services such as tourist information, currency exchange, tour bookings and hotel reservations, the facility also has a retail outlet, an Internet cafe, and space for local exhibitions.

Tourist officials say Belfast is now competing effectively with other U.K. and European cities. Above, an evening at the Belfast Grand Opera House. Gerry Lennon, chief executive of the bureau, said the city is now competing effectively with other U.K. and European cities:

"This year promises to be the year Belfast consolidates its position as credible tourism destination. The infrastructure, the attractions and the sheer vibrancy of the city provide an irresistible cocktail guaranteed to appeal to business and leisure visitors alike."

Investment in Belfast's infrastructure has seen a surge in the last three years, with the arrival of new hotel brand names including the 175-room Posthouse Premiere and a planned 140-room Ramada opening this year.

Other established hotels have been adding rooms, such as the Europa, which is now the biggest hotel in Northern Ireland, and the Malone Lodge Hotel.

In 1999, the last year for which figures were released, 1 million day-trippers visited Belfast, while 490,000 visitors stayed one or more nights in the city, boosting its economy by an estimated $20 million.

Here's a roundup of important developments:

  • Investment within Belfast's hotel sector has more than tripled the number of hotel rooms in the last five years. In the last several months, 248 rooms were added.
  • Forte Posthouse opened its four-star hotel in September. It boasts a conference center along with 175 rooms.

    Hastings Hotels invested about $17 million in the refurbishment of its three Belfast properties, including the addition of 56 air-conditioned executive rooms to the Europa.

    Malone Lodge Hotel added 17 rooms and new conference and meeting facilities.

    Overall, hotel investment in the last three years and projected over the next three years is estimated at almost $175 million.

  • More than 100,000 conference delegate bednights are confirmed for Belfast to date up to 2004.
  • Belfast is working with the Port of Belfast to promote the city as a cruise destination. Seven cruise ships, including three from Holland America Line, docked in Belfast in 2000, bringing in 8,500 passengers. Seventeen ships have already confirmed Belfast as a port of call for 2001.
  • Phase One of the Odyssey opened last December. Comprising a 10,000-seat sports arena, it is home to the Belfast Giants ice hockey team.
  • Phase Two, which will include an IMAX theater, a retail and leisure pavilion featuring a Hard Rock Cafe and a Science Centre operated by the Ulster Museum, will open in this spring. Once completed, the Odyssey will be the biggest purpose-built sports center in Ireland.

  • The Linenhall Library, established in the 18th century to provide a center for freedom of speech and information, underwent an extensive refurbishment. The library, founded in 1788, was expanded to include more space for collections, an events area and a new reading room.
  • More information about Belfast is available on the Web at www.gotobelfast.com.

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