Tourism Minister Arlene Foster has said that Belfast is aiming to become the premier cruise ship destination in the UK.
The Minister was speaking on board the Crystal Serenity, one of 60 cruise liners expected to dock in Belfast this year.
Arlene Foster said: “It is wonderful to see the Crystal Serenity, which carries over 1,000 passengers, joining the long list of cruise ships which are choosing to make Belfast one of their ‘must see’ destinations.
“Cruise ships visiting Belfast have the advantage of being able to dock in a harbour very close to the city centre and just a short distance away from some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, including the Giant’s Causeway on the north coast and County Down’s Mountains of Mourne.
“No wonder then, that Cruise Critic, one the most influential cruise sites on the internet, has named Belfast as the ‘Best UK Port of Call’ for 2013. We will continue to work hard on our cruise ship offering to ensure our visitors enjoy the very best Belfast and Northern Ireland has to offer.”
Cruise ships are a tourism growth area. In 2012 some 45 ships docked in Belfast and approximately 75,000 passengers and crew visited the city. Regular visits from cruise lines already include Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Saga Cruise and Crystal Cruises among others.
Arlene Foster continued: “Cruise ships are a tourism growth area and it is important that we continue to encourage more operators to include Northern Ireland on their itinerary. We are already seeing significant progress, with 60 ships due to dock here in 2013 compared to 45 last year.
“For every ship that docks, Visit Belfast with the support of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, provides a full range of visitor servicing facilities under the ‘Cruise Belfast’ banner. This includes free literature, tailored and translated ‘what’s on listings’, musical performances to welcome the ships, and a complimentary shuttle bus to Belfast city centre.”
The Minister also outlined Belfast Harbour Commissioners plan to invest £7million in the infrastructure in Titanic Quarter to create a purpose-built cruise ship facility.
Arlene Foster said: “The berth facility will be located beside Titanic’s Dry Dock & Pump-House and will include a new welcome centre and a large area to accommodate coaches. The improvements to infrastructure will ensure the best possible cruise ship experience and enhance Belfast’s reputation among cruise operators and visitors alike.”
The new facility will mean that from next year incoming vessels will move from Stormont Wharf on the County Antrim side of Belfast Port to a berth adjacent to Alexandra Dock in Titanic Quarter.