It has been billed as the jewel in Belfast’s crown - but weeks before the Titanic Centre opens it is already mired in a public relations storm.
A row erupted on Thursday as management of Titanic Belfast were forced to defend a policy banning baby buggies from the building’s interactive galleries.
Inside Titanic Belfast, visitors can explore the liner’s history through hundreds of attractions.
But it is the centre’s nine interactive galleries which have caused controversy.
A policy banning buggies from the rooms was highlighted by one outraged mother from Ahoghill, who contacted The BBC’s Nolan Show to voice her concerns.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, Claire, who had been planning a day out with her husband and nine-month-old son, said she was baffled by the policy.
She said: “I have been wanting to go the centre for some time. I drive past it every day on the way to work and it looks fantastic. But when I went on the website I found I can’t bring the buggy in.
“This really excludes all children under four. To say you’re not allowed to bring in your buggy and if you can’t find a way around it, tough — it’s unbelievable.”
Management at the Titanic Centre were not backing down. A spokeswoman said: “Restricted access for baby buggies is not an unusual practice in major tourist attractions, due to consideration for health and safety and operational requirements.
“While baby buggies cannot be accommodated in the interactive galleries, Titanic Belfast has a carer and disability access policy and individual needs will be accommodated as required.
“We will offer free-of-charge carry slings as an alternative along with a secure holding area for buggies, and visitors are welcome to use their own carry sling if they wish. Buggies will be accommodated in all other public spaces.”
Dismissing the statement, Claire said: “It’s a modern building and it will have been designed for wheelchair access — so why not buggies? I would say this would probably affect hundreds like me, tourists, like families from Dublin stay-cationing, and local families who will be using the centre when the tourists stop coming.”
Other attractions with a no-buggy policy include:
- Madame Tussauds Museum, London
- Buckingham Palace, London
- The Eiffel Tower, Paris
- Croke Park Museum, Dublin
- Marble Arch Caves (certain areas), Co Fermanagh
- Tower of London (certain areas), London
- Windsor Castle (certain areas), Windsor
Should buggies be prohibited from one of our biggest tourist attractions?
Yes, this is the only practical solution in light of the centre’s design
Dr John Kyle, Belfast City councillor
This is the only practical solution to a difficult situation. It is regrettable that the layout and nature of the displays in the interactive rooms make it impossible for buggies.
We have to say sorry for that, but this is the best solution for everyone.
The organisers are saying it is not possible to bring your buggies in with you and I’m prepared to take their word for that. They will provide facilities, such as baby slings for parents.
The organisers have to decide on a policy and hopefully it’s not going to interfere with people being able to use the facilities in the interactive rooms.
Perhaps once the centre is open we will be able to go back and have a look at this again, to see if there are any alternatives.
You want this centre to be as inclusive as possible. You want this to be as family-friendly as possible.
This is all about tourism in Northern Ireland. It’s a very important issue. My view would be that this major tourist attraction is made as family-friendly as possible. You want to make it accessible to as many people, especially children, as possible.
I think it’s really important that children should be included in this. It is an educational centre after all.
No, it is supposed to be a family attraction, I certainly won’t be visiting the centre
Claire Scarborough, events manager, Belfast
I am absolutely disgusted at this ban on baby buggies, particularly as this new centre is part publicly funded. How can they have one rule for buggies and another for wheelchairs?
It just seems to me that this is to discourage parents from bringing children along. I have a 19-month-old daughter and my priority is to keep her safe and secure.
According to the information on the Titanic Visitors' Centre website, to fully participate in the whole experience could take between two to three hours. So that means I would have to carry her for that length of time. That is a pretty daunting prospect. Children get bored easily and want to run off, that to me would be more disruptive than bringing a buggy into the centre.
I took my daughter to an aquarium while on holidays in Dubai and was told at reception that we couldn't bring buggies in, but that was because there was a water show and the surface was slippery.
That, to me, was a legitimate concern, but I just can't see the thinking behind this. To me it seems very exclusionary.
This is supposed to be a family attraction, we're told children under five can go free, yet this ban will deter parents from visiting with their children.
I certainly won't be visiting the centre and think the people behind it should rethink this ridiculous ban.