The organisation which promotes the city locally, nationally and internationally, also said that figures for July and August showed no slowdown in visitor interest, with hotels experiencing buoyant demand during the peak summer months.
It said its Visitor Services team, which operates the flagship Belfast Welcome Centre in the city centre, in addition to two Tourist Information Centres in both key local airports, handled a record 340,000 enquiries between January and June, a third more than last year, as visitor numbers for July and August rose by a fifth and a quarter respectively.
Cllr Deirdre Hargey, Chair, Belfast City Council’s Growth and Regeneration Committee, said:
“Belfast’s tourism figures for the year to date are hugely encouraging for the development of the city’s tourism industry and should mean record success for the year as a whole.
Belfast’s fast-growing appeal continues to attract increasing numbers of visitors from around the world, and, as a result of successfully developing tourism over the past decade, the city is well-positioned to take full advantage of even more growth.
“Tourism attracts more than 6.5 million visitors to the city each year, contributing more than £450 million annually to the local economy while supporting more than 10,000 jobs. Working closely with Visit Belfast, and with all our partners, we aim to build on the success achieved to date and to maximise the opportunities for the full year ahead and beyond.”
More than 1.5 million visits to the visit-belfast.com website were recorded between January and August, up 45% on a year ago, according to Visit Belfast, which said the Tall Ships Maritime Festival had proved hugely successful in attracting interest and a drive in visitor numbers from right across the world.
Supporting an influx of business and leisure tourists, Belfast’s hotel sector performed particularly strongly, Visit Belfast said, with average hotel occupancy from June to August up 3.8% to 86.2% as room sales rose 4.7%. From January to August, average room occupancy rate in the city reached a record 80.4%, almost 5% up on the year before.
Weekend hotel occupancy grew steadily month-on-month, with figures for May to August showing hotels more than 94% full. It said that hotel revenues had also recorded double-digit increases since March, with figures for July and August showing a rise of 25% and 14.3%.
Visit Belfast said the city’s tourism growth could also be traced back to success achieved across city-break campaigns, group tour business and in bidding for – and winning – major conferences and events. In the year to the end of June, the organisation has secured 24 national and international conferences for the city worth an estimated £28.3 million and delivering 66,340 bed nights for local hotels.
A total of 37 events have already been held since January, generating around 42,500 bed nights and an economic impact of around £13 million.
Cllr Hargey added:
“Belfast has firmly established itself as an up-and-coming city with a growing reputation for great food, drink, top quality hotels, unrivalled shopping choice and attractions that can compete on a global scale. It’s easy to get to, easy to get around, is packed with warm and welcoming people and offers great value for money.
“Belfast always has a busy programme of festivals and events to support our tourism growth – and this summer was no different. Last year, the Giro d’Italia brought thousands of additional international visitors to our shores, while in July of this year, the city welcomed thousands more visitors to enjoy the Tall Ships and maritime festival event as well as the Gran Fondo.”
In addition, this year will be one of Belfast’s best years for cruise tourism, with at least 60 ships expected to have visited by the year-end, bringing with them more than 110,000 passengers and crew.
Visit Belfast is a public-private sector partnership, representing almost 550 tourism businesses it is funded by Belfast City Council and supported by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and strategic partners Translink, Diageo Northern Ireland and Value Cabs, as well as corporate partners Hastings Hotels Group, Victoria Square and Titanic Belfast.
Visit Belfast represents member and partner businesses from the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors and is the tourism destination marketing & management agency responsible for promoting Belfast locally, nationally and internationally as a leading city break, conference, cruise and day trip destination.
Main Pic: Deirdre Hargey, Chair, Belfast City Council’s Growth and Regeneration Committee, pictured with Mary Jo McCanny, Director of Visitor Servicing