Titanic project can’t be allowed to sink: Long
The east Belfast MP has stressed the importance of the Titanic Signature Project after an Audit Office Report stated that it was doubtful the project would break even in the long term.
East Belfast Alliance MP Naomi Long has said that the Titanic Signature Project is extremely important to the economy of both east Belfast and the whole of Northern Ireland.
It is estimated that the Titanic Signature building in east Belfast needs to attract at least 300,000 visitors a year to secure its long-term future, and needs 290,000 visitors a year to break even.
Titanic Quarter Limited has exclusive development rights and without competition it appointed an associated company, Harcourt Construction (NI) Limited, to construct the building.
The centre is expected to cost around £90 million and is the most expensive tourism project ever built in Northern Ireland.
A decision on £18.4 million of European funding is still awaited.
The audit office report said: “Although Titanic Quarter Limited - the building developers - would underwrite losses of up to £5 million in the first seven years, if predicted visitor numbers do not materialise, the long-term future of the building would be doubtful.”
It added: “Utilising £60 million of public funds, it will be more expensive and will deliver less financial benefits than a proposed alternative attraction at the Odyssey.”
Naomi Long MP said: “The Titanic brand is one of the most globally recognisable linked to Belfast. Cities with a much weaker connection to the story have been exploiting the tourist potential of that connection for years, whilst Belfast has been much more low key.
“The signature project is a very exciting initiative which has massive potential in relation to attracting significant tourist numbers and growing our economy.
“Belfast has already received positive reviews as a tourist destination in recent days; however, if we really believe in ourselves and are committed to growing this sector, we need to invest in developing the required infrastructure to keep people coming back.
“We are fast approaching the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic and this project is a key part of this centenary and the tourism potential must not be underestimated.
“It also sends out a very strong message out about Northern Ireland that we are delivering exciting and ambitious projects and will, I believe, help us market ourselves globally and attract not only tourists, but also investment and jobs here.
“Any project of this scale will inevitably carry with it some risk — the key is to ensure that it is managed well and positively promoted nationally and internationally.
“We need to focus on capturing that momentum for Northern Ireland and the positive potential of the project and do all we can to ensure it is a success,” added Naomi Long.
The £22m project is set to open in time for the centenary of the sinking of the ship in 2012. The report has also raised concerns over the new Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre due to difficulty in predicting tourism numbers.