Cruise Belfast, the partnership between Belfast Harbour and Visit Belfast, has today welcomed the 1,000th cruise ship call to Belfast.

The MS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Belfast today, marking a significant milestone for tourism in Northern Ireland, as well as the region’s gradual economic recovery from the pandemic.

Cruise tourism to the city restarted in June this year, with domestic, UK-only cruise itineraries and, to date, the arrival of MS Queen Elizabeth is the 66th cruise call to Belfast this year.  The MS Queen Elizabeth, which is Cunard’s newest luxury ocean liner, first visited Belfast in 2016 and this will be her sixth call to Belfast Harbour.

The celebrated arrival of the ‘Berlin’, the first cruise ship to arrive into Belfast in 1996, marked the start of what has been a huge success story for tourism in Northern Ireland, with cruise calls growing year on year, welcoming an incredible 1.7m visitors in the 25 year period.

2019 was a record year for cruise calls, with 146 vessels bringing 285,000 visitors to Northern Ireland, before cruise operations temporarily ceased due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Robinson Port Director, Belfast Harbour said: “The development of Belfast and the wider region as a cruise destination has been a major success story for Northern Ireland’s tourism sector and has involved a number of key partners working together. As the economy recovers from the pandemic we have been delighted to start welcoming cruise ships back to the city and we look forward to the number of calls increasing again next year.

“Celebrating the arrival of our 1000th cruise call to Belfast Harbour is a milestone event, not least for all of the partners who work in closely together to sustain and grow local cruise tourism.  As hospitality and tourism rebuild after an exceptionally challenging period, I have no doubt that those cruise visitors arriving on today’s 1000th vessel will have received Belfast’s customary warm welcome.”

Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive of Visit Belfast added: “We were thrilled to welcome the MS Queen Elizabeth and her passengers and crew to Belfast this morning as the 1,000th ship to come to Belfast. This cruise season has been very different to seasons past, but it is testament to the reputation Belfast now has as a cruise destination that the city has been able to safely resume welcoming cruise visitors this year and we are able to celebrate this milestone today.

“Through close partnership working and the commitment of the tourism industry, Belfast has built a reputation as a safe, welcoming and exciting cruise destination, and as we look to rebuild the city region’s visitor economy, cruise tourism will continue to play an important role.”

John McGrillen, Chief Executive of Tourism Northern Ireland also said: “Cruise visitors make an important contribution to Northern Ireland’s tourism mix, bolstering perception of the destination and attracting visitors from across the globe to explore different parts of the country on day trips. Today’s visit by the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner marks a new milestone following a challenging period for the global tourism industry. We wish her passengers and crew a very enjoyable stay as they experience for themselves Northern Ireland’s giant spirit and warm welcome.”

Belfast was named by Cruise Critic as the ‘Best Port of Call’ in the UK and Ireland in 2019 for cruise ships following an investment by the Port to create new quayside facilities and funding from Tourism Northern Ireland for a dedicated cruise Visitor Information Point. Managed and staffed by Visit Belfast, the terminal uses the latest digital and audio-visual technology to help travel advisors showcase the range of visitor attractions on offer across Belfast and Northern Ireland.