Titanic's success highlights need for more attractions
In its first 12 months Titanic Belfast has smashed all estimations for visitor numbers and things are looking good for year two as David Elliott reports
Underpromising and overdelivering is a mantra few businesses manages to fullfil. Normally it's the other way round, with sky high promises being only half met and stakeholders – that terrible name for people who've invested time, money or emotion in a project – left wondering why they bothered.
When it comes to Titanic, it could be said that disappointment was the order of the day in relation to the magnificent ship's maiden voyage but that emotion is far from the truth for the visitor attraction commemorating the vessel.
Titanic Belfast, as it's rightly called, really has overdelivered on its promises, pulling in many more visitors than even the most zealous fans of the project could ever have thought possible.
It has now welcomed over one million visitors through its doors since opening on March 31, 2012 – close to the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking – and beaten many targets along the way.
Commentators had initially said the 290,000 target, set out by the National Audit Office, in the exhibition's first year was a tall order, while the 400,000 needed to make it a commercial success were just a pipe dream.
That's not surprising given no other attraction in Northern Ireland has even come close to such numbers.
In the event those numbers were surpassed with ease and by the 12-month mark a whopping 807,340 visitors had checked in at the Titanic Belfast building.
A boon for those stakeholders certainly – the attraction cost £97m to build but is already on its way to paying that back on an average adult ticket price of £14, not counting ancillary sales from memorabilia and conferences – but there is also a big multiplier affect for companies with exposure to the tourist industry such as hotels, restaurants and transport companies.
Total tourist expenditure in Belfast in 2012 reached £54.3m and Titanic Belfast reckoned Titanic Belfast was responsible for £27.2m of that.
That's particularly true when you consider that 60% of the one million visitors totted up at Titanic Belfast by the end of July this year – that's 600,000 people – come from outside Northern Ireland and will be spending much more than just the price of an entry ticket and a cup of tea, particularly if they're spending the night here (incidentally, Titanic Belfast has sold 129,000 since first opening).
"Sixty per cent of our visitors are coming from outside of Northern Ireland. Thirty per cent are from the Republic of Ireland, which is a route of traffic which isn't normally so sustained," Titanic Belfast chief executive Tim Husbands said. "Sixty per cent of our visitors only come to Belfast because Titanic Belfast is here and the impact of this is hugely significant. Our hoteliers are reporting a very strong 2012."
Earlier this year hotel specialist Michael Williamson from ASM accountants in Belfast name checked the attraction as one of the reasons for a 15% increase in hotel occupancy rates in 2012.
And the latest figures mean that only the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is more popular on the island of Ireland.
"Belfast has never been the most confident market for hotels so it is great to see some good news. These numbers will have a drip effect into the rest of Northern Ireland as visitors travel. We aren't sure yet whether the Republic has benefitted," he said.
Of course, the hype surrounding the opening of Titanic Belfast combined with the big marketing effort of NI 2012: Our Time, Our Place mean that the first year of business for the attraction was bound to be busy.
The more telling measure of success will be how many visitors head Titanic Belfast's way this year and in the following years.
"We've high expectations for years two, three and four," Mr Husbands said. "We're four months in to it and we're performing well. It's difficult to put a guesstimate as to where we're going to be at year end but the forecast for the second year was around 450,000 visitors and I would say very confidently we will achieve that and more."
In the longer term he said parts of the exhibition will be refreshed to encourage repeat visitors.
And the chief executive said Titanic Belfast's success shows a need for more attractions of its ilk to give visitors even greater choice.
"The first year outstripped our estimations. It proves there is a need for a tourism product and Northern Ireland needs to asses what other attractions can be created to encourage that," he said.
Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir (below) certainly believes the 1m visitor mark is a great reflection on the city's progress.
"This is a remarkable figure and highlights the transformation of Belfast as a tourist destination," he said.
"Our city is so proud of Titanic Belfast which is now recognised as one of the world's most iconic buildings, and is also a symbol of our renewed confidence as a destination with much to offer international visitors."