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£50 Titanic charge: why it’s needed

The people behind one of Northern Ireland's iconic Titanic attractions have insisted they will make the ship’s centenary a success.

The bosses at Northern Ireland Science Park have said they will build a Titanic legacy which the province can be proud of after facing stinging criticism for introducing a £50 fee for coaches to visit the Titanic's Dry Dock and Pumphouse.

Two years before the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the world famous liner is marked they installed entry barriers at the entrance to the attraction.

As well as charging tour buses, visitors in cars or taxis will also be charged for parking for the first time.

Visitors can avoid the charges if they pre-book and pay for tours of the site or spend money in a nearby visitors’ centre.

The move sparked major criticism that it could harm tourism.

But speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the bosses insist it is not about making money but a “safety and management issue”.

They have also said they believe it won’t put off tourists and 2012 will be “a great success”.

Mervyn Watley, NISP director of facilities, said: “The £50 charge is the charge that you will pay if you come here and have not made a booking.

“That is dealing with the operator who decides to drive on, not booked.

“We have to try and cope with that and react to that. I don’t want to charge anyone £50.”

But Mr Watley said unexpected coaches and tour buses that have not booked ahead were causing problems.

“What is throwing things awry is the coaches just arriving just on spec and you have 50 people queued out that door,” he said.

“They aren’t happy, the staff are under pressure.

“It (the charge) is set at that level to dissuade people from doing it, as it’s very, very hard to manage groups like that.”

But NISP chairman Frank Hewitt said barrier charges for buses could be reviewed.

“It wasn’t some great kind of money making racket that we were trying to develop here because the amount of money is so small it wouldn’t be worth the hassle,” he said.

“We would certainly talk to the operators. We couldn’t in all honesty make it free, but if they will come and talk to us about the number of times they are likely to be out here we would certainly talk to them.”

But the NISP insisted that it didn’t believe the charges would affect the draw of tourists to the site, especially in the run up to 2012, which marks 100 years since the liner struck an iceberg off Newfoundland.

Mr Watley added that both the Pumphouse and the Dry Dock will be part of the “jigsaw” of Titanic tourist attractions in Belfast.

Among the plans being developed is the £90m Titanic Signature Building at the head of the Titanic slipway.

NISP revealed it has plans to try and open up the access to the bottom of the Dry Dock to the public.

But a number of safety issues have to be investigated first.

It will be part of the Titanic Quarter and the Titanic Signature Project.

Major events are also planned in cities across the world, including New York, Liverpool and Southampton.

“2012 is important for Belfast as a city,” Mr Watley said.

“The Titanic Signature Project will be completed up the road, which will be the magnet of the 2012 experience, but there are other linked on sites.

“The drawing offices, SS Nomadic, the Pumphouse and the slipways.

“We work extremely closely with Titanic Quarter with the Tourist Board and Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau pulling that together.

“I think we all need to work together on that good visitor experience.

“Belfast will have an awful lot more by 2012 — this is a small piece in the jigsaw. We are not the leaders on it, but we are very much part of it.”

“We are developing all the time.”

Belfast Telegraph