Record numbers of cruise ships and passengers set to dock at Belfast Harbour
Some 117 ships bringing 200,000 visitors to Northern Ireland are expected to sail into Belfast Harbour this year, according to the latest projections.
Cruise Belfast has confirmed details of its 2018 cruise schedule and 25% more ships are booked to dock in the city compared to last year.
These include eight new cruise lines which have added Belfast to their itineraries, joining well-known operators Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Cunard.
More than half of the ships calling will each bring over 1,000 visitors, with the largest vessel, the 330m long Royal Princess, bringing more than 61,000 passengers to the city during her 12 calls.
August will be the busiest month with 26 cruise calls bringing over 40,000 passengers and crew.
Among the new operators is Swiss-based Viking Line, which previously concentrated on the European river cruise market.
Viking Line has scheduled four calls to Belfast this year, bringing almost 6,000 visitors in total.
Other first-time callers include 'mega-yacht' operator Variety Cruises, which is scheduled to call 10 times this summer.
The length of Belfast's cruise season has also extended with the first call due in the middle of this month and the last in mid-October.
For the first time it's expected that passenger and crew numbers to Belfast will break the 200,000 mark, up almost 50,000 in 12 months.
Michael Robinson, Belfast Harbour's commercial director, said the figures reflect the city's growing popularity with tourists.
"Our partnership with Visit Belfast on the Cruise Belfast initiative continues to bear fruit. Belfast's popularity as a cruise destination continues to grow and this is evidenced by the record numbers of passengers and ships due to call this year," he said.
"It's particularly encouraging that the profile of the cruise lines choosing to come to Belfast continues to diversify, including boutique vessels as well as large operators such as Princess, Celebrity, Cunard and TUI continuing to schedule Belfast.
"This year Belfast will play host to an unprecedented 117 ship visits, which is testament to the work of all involved in developing the sector."
Trade through Belfast Harbour in 2017 increased to a record 23.7 million tonnes, up by 600,000 tonnes on the previous year.
Freight traffic on StenaLine's roll-on/roll-off services also reached a record 514,000 vehicles, with external demand for Northern Ireland's agri-food produce a key driver for the rise.
Demand for animal feeds and grains rose sharply by 11% to 2.2 million tonnes, assisted by improved farm incomes arising from higher milk prices as well as last year's poor weather conditions.
Container traffic also rose by 1.6% to over 125,000 units.
Mary Jo McCanny, director of visitor services at Visit Belfast, said: "Belfast's profile as a travel destination couldn't be better with recent accolades from National Geographic Traveller and Lonely Planet.
"The cruise market is one of the most competitive so we work hard with Belfast Harbour to ensure we deliver on our sales and marketing promise by delivering a first class welcome and visitor service when each cruise passenger or crew member comes ashore in Belfast."