We had the great pleasure of supporting the recent ‘Meet the new Belfast Waterfront’ soft opening event, which was designed to showcase the new £30m convention centre extension and highlight the scale of the opportunity that it now presents Belfast and Northern Ireland.
As well as a chance to see first had the new facilities and space, we heard from a number of speakers on the massive opportunity that we now have to put Belfast on the map for lucrative large scale international conferences and exhibitions. Belfast City Council Chief Executive, Suzanne Wylie was clear that the initial phase of the Waterfront Hall was a major catalyst for the regeneration of Belfast and she was confident that the new convention centre will now do likewise. She summed it up perfectly saying Belfast was ‘ready for investment, visitors and fresh challenges.’ Having walked the floors of the new 4,000m2 space it is hard to disagree and in many ways, you can only wonder as to how we have managed to do without such a facility all this time.
While the new infrastructure is important the speakers agreed that it won’t help us fully realise the opportunity on its own. The need for stronger collaboration within the tourism industry was a common theme that resonated throughout the event. John McGrillen from Tourism NI suggested it was one of the key themes to help internationalise Belfast, while Ben Goedegebuure, from Maritz Travel, suggested that to truly stand out from the crowd the industry needed much more collaboration and partnership working to maximise its potential. That means everyone pulling together where it makes sense, everyone being welcoming to our guests and everyone ensuring they leave with a positive impression about our city.
The Waterfront Hall itself is itself a beacon of such collaboration and partnership. The expansion programme is funded by Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund, under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, and administered by Tourism Northern Ireland.
Recent news suggests that the past year has been the best ever for conference tourism in Belfast, bringing in around £45 million, according to Visit Belfast figures. That is before we welcome the first major conference to the new facilities on 11th May which will see the biggest annual meeting of surgeons this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland will welcome around 2,000 specialists from across the world for `Belfast Surgical Week`, generating an anticipated £2.2m for the local economy.
Conference tourism is considered particularly important because it brings people into the city mid-week and the business travellers and conference delegates attracted are typically higher-spending than the average leisure tourist. They are also likely to return if they have a good time and also spread the word among their peers. The opposite is also true of course, if their experience is memorable for all the wrong reasons.
We can’t help but think that the new Waterfront Hall opening is another watershed moment for Belfast and we should all wish it fair weather. Oh… and don’t forget, if you bump into a Surgeon or two in our local restaurants or bars at the start of May, make them feel welcome but please don’t be tempted to ask them for a free consultation on your niggling health problems !
To get a taste of the new facilities you can watch the 3D flythrough below.