A strikingly innovative visitor information centre for Belfast has officially opened today – a tourism milestone which will benefit thousands visiting the city every year and residents alike.
The Visit Belfast Welcome Centre, on Donegall Square North, across from the City Hall, is one of the key capital funding projects within Belfast City Council’s £150 million Investment Programme. The £1.82 million building includes a contribution of £747,000 from the European Regional Development Fund, under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, and administered by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
A ‘one-stop-shop’ for visitors wanting to find out about city events, buy tickets or book holiday accommodation, new features include information ‘islands’ telling the story of Belfast through people, places, experiences and events; digital maps which explore each part of the city; self-service touch screens listing more than 400 major attractions across Northern Ireland, and a gift shop with unique, Belfast-themed products.
The accessible, ground floor location replaces the former Belfast Welcome Centre premises in Donegall Place.
The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, today joined the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment Arlene Foster MLA, Alderman Gavin Robinson, Chair of the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, Councillor Deirdre Hargey, Chair of the Development Committee, Peter McNaney, Chief Executive of Belfast City Council, Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive of Visit Belfast, Alan Clarke, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and Colette Fitzgerald, the EU Commission’s representative in Northern Ireland, to officially open the new premises.
“Tourism in Belfast has come a long way since the first Welcome Centre opened 14 years ago, and this world-class, 21st century facility truly reflects the vibrant, contemporary, must-see destination Belfast has become,” said the Lord Mayor.
“The pace of our success shouldn’t be underestimated – there were 7.59 million visitor trips here last year, bringing more than £400 million into local businesses and shops. Belfast is finally on the map for all the right reasons, whether it’s through our fantastic array of visitor attractions, the warmth of our welcome or our ability to stage major events.
“Belfast City Council has been at the forefront of this transformation, with ongoing investment into one of our biggest growth sectors. This centre is next step on our journey, using new technology to great effect to reflect the growing demand from visitors for information ‘on the go’, while still maintaining the high level of customer service expected by tourists and residents.”
Alderman Gavin Robinson said the new centre was a further demonstration of how council is working together with partners from all sectors to strengthen Belfast’s economic infrastructure.
“Our Investment Programme is the biggest investment in Belfast for a generation, and it’s already making a difference to communities across the city, with 12 projects now completed, another nine on the ground and a further 27 in the pipeline, helping us create more than 8,500 construction jobs over the next decade,” he said.
“We set out to work with others in delivering projects that market Belfast internationally and make our city a great place to live, work, visit and invest, and today is a great example of how our work is coming to fruition.
“Many other projects we’re progressing will complement this centre – new conference facilities at Belfast Waterfront will enable us to compete more effectively for international conferences and attract more business tourists, a digital hub and innovation centre will provide more economic opportunities, many of which will be tied to the tourism and hospitality sectors, and new initiatives like a public bike hire scheme will develop our tourism infrastructure further.”
Minister Foster described how the visitor centre would also act as a gateway to attractions beyond Belfast, promoting the wider region to those visiting the city for major events next year, like the opening stage of the Giro D’Italia.
“This new visitors’ centre is a state-of-the-art tourist hub and it is situated in a great location. The new facility will help generate higher footfall and it will be the first point of call for hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city. This, in turn, will create additional direct and indirect spending opportunities in Belfast and it also provides a further boost to tourism here,” she said.
“It was important that we invested in the hands-on, customer service element of the visitors’ experience of Belfast and the support that has been provided reflects the importance we place on ensuring that visitors to our city get the best possible information for a great experience.”
Colette Fitzgerald, the EU Commission’s representative in Northern Ireland, also acknowledged the role of European funding in developing the centre, commenting: “I am delighted that the European Union is able to support the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to boost the numbers of visitors coming to discover all that Northern Ireland has to offer.”
Staff are expecting to deal with more than 400,000 visitor enquiries in the new building’s first year of operation, according to Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive of Visit Belfast, who will run the centre.
“The new Visit Belfast Welcome Centre is reflective of the changing information needs of our global visitors and how they use technology to inform and enhance their visit,” he said.
“The technologies incorporated in this state-of-the-art centre embrace a ‘best-in-class’ approach to ensure that visitors see more, experience more and enjoy more, and will increase our capacity in meeting the demands of an increasing number of tourists coming to Belfast.”
The Visit Belfast Welcome Centre is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, and administered by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.
New Belfast Welcome Centre The new Belfast Welcome Centre has been officially opened The new Belfast Welcome Centre has been officially opened Lord Mayor outside Belfast Welcome Centre