Video: Ireland's first cruise facility to be built in Belfast
Ireland's first purpose-built cruise facility is to be built at Belfast Harbour.
The £7 million investment will ensure that Belfast will be able to handle all cruise ships operating in the Irish Sea, as well as next generation ships which carry over 4,500 passengers and crew, a harbour spokesman said.
It will also enable visitors to disembark within walking distance of the city's Titanic visitor attractions - Titanic's Dock & Pumphouse, Titanic Belfast visitor centre and SS Nomadic - by next year.
Roy Adair, Belfast Harbour's chief executive, said: "A decade ago hardly any cruise ships berthed in Belfast. Now, thanks to our Cruise Belfast partnership with Visit Belfast, considerable previous investment in our existing facilities for accommodating cruise ships and tourism attractions such as Titanic Belfast and the new Giant's Causeway Centre, Northern Ireland has a thriving cruise sector.
"The 2013 cruise season will be the best on record with 60 ships scheduled to call at Belfast. We believe that there is further scope to grow Northern Ireland's popularity and the new facilities will enable us to promote Belfast as a tourist destination to an even wider range of operators."
This year will see a 45% jump in passengers and crew, up from 75,000 to 110,000 in one year. Associated spending with cruise visits is expected to generate more than £18 million for the local economy.
Regional Development Danny Kennedy said: "I look forward to the completion of a purpose built cruise facility in 2014 further enhancing the visitor experience to Northern Ireland.
"Belfast Harbour is to be congratulated on their continuing success in attracting cruise ships and tourists to the city."
Next year cruise ships will move from Stormont Wharf on the County Antrim side of the port to a berth adjacent to Alexandra Dock in County Down. The new facility, to include a 2.5 acre area for coaches and a new welcome centre to showcase Northern Ireland, is beside Titanic's Dock and the HMS Caroline.
Last year around one million people visited Titanic Belfast and Titanic's Dock. SS Nomadic, Titanic's tender ship, opened to the public earlier this month and plans are being made to turn HMS Caroline, the sole surviving vessel from the 1916 Battle of Jutland, into a floating museum.
Gerry Lennon, chief executive of Visit Belfast, added: "The success of Belfast as a cruise destination is a measure of how far we have come as a city and of the vision and commitment of the Cruise Belfast partnership to tourism.
"Belfast's rise in popularity as a cruise destination has been nothing short of breathtaking."