Titanic site to exceed all expectations, says expert
One of the UK's leading travel journalists has said he expects the Belfast Titanic complex to exceed "all estimations" when it opens later this year.
Simon Calder, travel editor with the Independent in London, has joked that come April, staff at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, which is the biggest attraction in the Republic, "will wonder where everyone has gone".
Fresh from tasting beer in Brussels and getting a massage in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Mr Calder took a tour of the site on Tuesday and has reiterated that the building will do economically for Belfast what the Guggenheim museum has done for the Spanish port city of Bilbao.
The £97m building will house nine galleries with interactive exhibitions, an underwater exploration theatre, recreations of the ship's decks and cabins and a 1000-seater banqueting suite. Around 400,000 people are expected to visit the site each year.
Mr Calder applauded the launch of the Northern Ireland Tourism Board's 'Our time, our place' advertising campaign, which aims to highlight eight 'tier one' events this year, including the Titanic Festival, which will include an MTV concert, the Peace One Day event in Londonderry and the Irish Open golf tournament at Royal Portrush.
"Titanic Belfast will be transformational and I confidently predict it will exceed all estimations in terms of visitor numbers and revenue generated," he said.
"It really celebrates Belfast's industrial heritage. Like Bilbao, there is a great shipbuilding heritage, it is a divided city, but the Guggenheim is great on the outside but rubbish on the inside - unlike the Titanic building.
He added that enticing visitors to Belfast for the Titanic commemoration will lead tourists to other gems like the Antrim coast and Fermanagh lakes.
But he said there will be challenges ahead.
He claimed transport links to Northern Ireland are questionable, especially with the London Olympics, when traditional air routes will be pushed to capacity.
Mr Calder added that as well as the difficult economic climate, the weakening euro may tempt visitors to the continent.
He also warned that Belfast is not the only city wishing to capitalise on the Titanic legend.
"There are many places trying to claim the Titanic legacy," he said.
"Southampton has opened a museum, Cherbourg in France claims to be a Titanic town and now Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in Canada are saying 'we have Titanic heritage'."
However he said that Northern Ireland is braced for "its most remarkable year ever" and is hopeful the world can discover "the most welcoming of people in the most welcoming of places".