Belfast named best stop for cruise ships in the UK and Ireland
Belfast has been named the best port of call in the UK and Ireland for cruise ships.
The accolade was awarded by a global panel of cruise experts as part of the Cruise Critic Editors' Pick Awards.
It follows a record-breaking cruise season for the city, with 146 cruise calls and around 280,000 visitors.
The judges were particularly impressed by a £500,000 investment by Belfast Harbour and Tourism NI in the island of Ireland's first dedicated cruise terminal, officially opened in July.
The welcome facility, which includes a visitor information centre managed by Visit Belfast, has facilities for coaches and taxis and an easily accessible deep-water berth to accommodate larger cruise ships.
The judges also praised the location of the terminal for providing "easy access to the city's world-class attractions, such as Titanic Belfast in the city's famous Titanic Quarter".
Belfast Harbour CEO Joe O'Neill said yesterday that cruise ship tourism formed part of a wider commitment to support the city's development through the creation of an appealing and iconic waterfront.
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"A successful cruise tourism sector will encourage new tourist and leisure projects and further enhance Belfast's reputation as a leading destination, including within the cruise market," he explained.
In total, Cruise Belfast has brought 784 ships to the city since 1999.
In the last five years alone, cruise visitor numbers have increased by around 135%.
Gerry Lennon, chief executive of Visit Belfast, said: "In the 20 years since Visit Belfast was established, we have worked with Belfast Harbour to attract cruise visitors to the city and region. The result has been an enormous increase in the number of visitors and ships coming to the city.
"Cruise ships are now a key contributor to Belfast's tourism economy. That is down to investment in infrastructure and the commitment of our tourism industry partners to providing more and better products for visitors to enjoy while they are here."
John McGrillen, Tourism NI's chief executive, said the award was a great achievement for Belfast's international reputation and a result of major investment in the cruise tourism market.
"We are continuing to work with Visit Belfast and Belfast Harbour to deliver world-class experiences for the cruise market visitor in the city and across the wider region," he added.
The awards are based on Cruise Critic editors' impartial cruise expertise, which draws upon first-hand experiences and industry knowledge.
In addition to its record-breaking cruise season, Belfast Harbour also welcomed a number of firsts during 2019, including the visits of Disney Magic and SAGA's first new-build vessel, the Spirit of Discovery.
The port also welcomed some 6,500 visitors and crew onboard the MSC Meraviglia, the largest ship by passenger capacity to ever visit Belfast.
Belfast Harbour has invested in new facilities to market the city as a cruise port. Cruise and Maritime has already scheduled a number of departures from Belfast for next summer.