Belfast’s position as Ireland’s fastest growing cruise destination will receive a major boost from a £7m investment by Belfast Harbour to create the island’s first purpose-built cruise facility.

The investment will ensure that Belfast will be able to handle all cruise ships currently operating in the Irish Sea, as well as next generation ships which carry over 4,500 passengers and crew. It will also enable visitors to disembark directly within walking distance of the city’s Titanic visitor attractions – Titanic’s Dock & Pumphouse, Titanic Belfast and SS Nomadic.

A record 60 ships are scheduled to call at Belfast this year representing a 45% jump in passengers and crew, up from 75,000 to 110,000 in just one year.  Associated spend with cruise visits is expected to generate more than £18m for the local economy in 2013.

Roy Adair, Belfast Harbour’s CEO, said:

“A decade ago hardly any cruise ships berthed in Belfast.  Now, thanks to our Cruise Belfast partnership with Visit Belfast, considerable previous investment in our existing facilities for accommodating cruise ships and tourism attractions such as Titanic Belfast and the new Giant’s Causeway Centre, Northern Ireland has a thriving cruise sector.

“The 2013 cruise season will be the best on record with 60 ships scheduled to call at Belfast.  We believe that there is further scope to grow Northern Ireland’s popularity and the new facilities will enable us to promote Belfast as a tourist destination to an even wider range of operators.”

The Minister for Regional Development Danny Kennedy welcomed the investment announcement:

“This significant investment is very good news. I look forward to the completion of a purpose built cruise facility in 2014 further enhancing the visitor experience to Northern Ireland. Belfast Harbour is to be congratulated on their continuing success in attracting cruise ships and tourists to the city.”

The Harbour’s investment means that from 2014 cruise ships will move from Stormont Wharf on the County Antrim side of the Port to a berth adjacent to Alexandra Dock in County Down.  The new facility, which will also include a 2.5 acre marshalling area for coaches and a new welcome centre to showcase Northern Ireland, is beside Titanic’s Dock and the current berth of HMS Caroline.

Last year around one million people visited Titanic Belfast and Titanic’s Dock.  SS Nomadic, Titanic’s tender ship, opened to the public earlier this month and plans are being progressed to turn HMS Caroline, the sole surviving vessel from the 1916 Battle of Jutland, into a floating museum.

Gerry Lennon, CEO of Visit Belfast, added:

“The success of Belfast as a cruise destination is a measure of how far we have come as a city and of the vision and commitment of the Cruise Belfast partnership to tourism. Belfast’s rise in popularity as a cruise destination has been nothing short of breath taking. This year the number of calls has jumped by 33%, including 13 ships which will be making their first visit to the city.  By the end of this year, Belfast will have welcomed almost 600,000 passengers and crew, over 380 cruise ships and over 50 different operators since the first ship called in the mid-1990s.

“Belfast’s achievement in this highly competitive cruise sector is the result of years of investment and hard work by our promotional team and the wider tourism industry who support these visits and ensure the welcome and experience received by passengers and crew exceeds all expectations.

“We want all those who visit to recommend our great city as a place to visit in the future. Our Belfast Welcome Centre travel advisers meet and greet all ships, and provide visitors with essential information to ensure they maximise their enjoyment and time in Belfast.”

Regular visits from cruise lines already include Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Saga Cruise and Crystal Cruises among others.  This year they will be joined by new operators such as MSC and the cruise season has extended from September to October.

Last year, Cruise Critic UK, the leading source of cruise information on the web, named Belfast as ‘Best UK Port of Call’ in its Editors’ Picks Awards 2012. This year the city was also ranked on Trip Advisor as one of the UK’s top destinations after registering one of the greatest increases in positive feedback from travellers.

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