Belfast Telegraph

Top Belfast attractions feel the pinch as slump in visitor numbers hits their takings

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Profits at some of Belfast’s top attractions have nosedived for the second year in a row as cash-strapped tourists continue to tighten their purse-strings.

Landmark council-run facilities such as Belfast Zoo, Belfast Castle and Malone House have all reported a significant drop in earnings during the past year.

The 2011/12 fourth-quarterly finance report, which is due to be discussed at the City Hall this week, has blamed the recession for falling income from fees and charges at the three venues.

“Malone House, Belfast Castle and the zoo continue to struggle in the current economic climate,” the document said.

Falling visitor numbers, poor summer weather and reduced shop sales were cited as the main reasons for a £150,000 drop in revenue at Belfast Zoo.

Last year takings had dropped by £143,000.

Belfast Castle, one of the city’s most popular wedding venues, also reported a £36,000 reduction in income during 2011/12.

This figure compares with an £87,000 fall during the previous financial year.

While profits at Malone House — another restaurant and wedding location in south Belfast — were down £10,000 in 2011/12, it is a significant improvement on the £81,000 fall of the year before.

“Although the fees and charges for events have dropped, the income from the franchise agreements are improving,” the report added.

“Both sites (Malone House and Belfast Castle) have also had a tighter control on their expenditure to reduce the impact on the overall subsidy of the facilities.”

It is thought that the opening of the new Titanic Belfast building, the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) and the new Causeway Visitor Centre has been putting established attractions under pressure.

SDLP councillor Bernie Kelly said: “We are addressing the issues and will be discussing further strategies on Thursday night.

“We are doing our best to advertise and try to be competitive.

“But we do offer good value for money.”

The financial report, which is due to be presented to the council’s parks and leisure committee on Thursday, has also highlighted a departmental budget overspend of £33,000.

It is thought that a huge £364,000 bill for compensation claims has added to the squeeze.

The report said: “Compensation claims are overspent by £62,000 in leisure and £304,000 in parks and cemeteries.

“The department has been working closely with legal services to improve the reporting and inspection processes around these. However, the majority of these claims are historical and take time to settle,” it added.

Increased utility and fuel costs have also contributed to the overspend. “Leisure is £250,000 over in water and electricity costs... This is being addressed,” the document said.

A collapsed borehole at the zoo which required links to the mains water network cost the council £78,000 in water and sewage charges, but has now been fixed.

The report said: “Parks are £179,000 over-spent on utilities, specifically water charges.”

Fuel costs soared by £85,000, reflecting the huge rise in petrol and diesel prices.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said that he was confident that the council-owned attractions would bounce back to profit.

“If you look at a number of zoos throughout the UK you will find that income has dropped,” he said.

“There are a number of factors, including the inclement weather as well as the current economic situation,” he added.

“Our zoo at Bellevue is very well run and, like Belfast Castle and Malone House, has great staff. They are great for the city.

“The council had expected that they would suffer throughout the recession and we fully understand that.

“Hopefully during the next financial year, which is already well under way, you will see a steady improvement.

“There is nothing to worry about, I’m sure it will all come back again.”

Factfile

  • Belfast Zoo profits down £150,000
  • Belfast Castle profits down £36,000
  • Malone house profits down £10,000
  • Compensation claims costs: £364,000
  • Utilities cost overspend: £429,000
  • Parks and leisure budget overspend: £33,000

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