Titanic museum needs 300,000 visitors a year
The Titanic Signature Project in Belfast needs to attract at least 300,000 visitors a year to secure its long-term future, the audit office said.
The centre is expected to cost around £90m and is the most expensive tourism project ever built in Northern Ireland.
A decision on £18.4m European funding is still awaited.
The audit office report said: “Although Titanic Quarter Limited — the building developers — would underwrite losses of up to £5m in the first seven years, if predicted visitor |numbers do not materialise, the long-term future of the building would be doubtful”, adding: “Utilising £60m of public funds, it will be more expensive and will deliver less financial benefits than a proposed alternative attraction at the Odyssey”.
The building needs 290,000 visitors a year to break even.
Titanic Quarter Limited (TQL) has exclusive development rights.
Without competition it appointed an associated company, Harcourt Construction (NI) Limited, to construct the building.
The report said: “Compared to other world-class attractions, the Titanic Signature building will be one of the most expensive relative to the number of visitors it expects to attract.”
Because of the economic downturn, large parts of the Titanic Quarter are under-developed.
The report said: “When completed, the Signature building and the other Titanic heritage assets will be surrounded by many acres of undeveloped brownfield land, which may detract from its appeal to tourists and will limit its overall impact.”
The audit report covered a series of “signature” projects, including the development of a Giant’s Causeway visitor centre. That will require revenues of £1.6m a year to cover its costs.
“That will be challenging in the current climate for tourism in Northern Ireland,” auditors observed.
The other projects include: the Walled City of Derry; Saint Patrick and Christian heritage and the Mournes national park.
Kieran Donnelly, comptroller and auditor general, said: “The signature projects represent the best way forward for tourism in Northern Ireland and have the potential to achieve international standout and increase visitor numbers.
“Substantial progress has been made, although there have been delays and no signature projects have yet been completed.”
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The building is due to be completed in March next year, in time for the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic in April 2012. Belfast City Council has given £10m; the harbour commissioners and development company Titanic Quarter Limited have both paid more than £10m. More than half the money is coming from the Tourist Board and the Department of Enterprise.