Belfast is quickly establishing itself as one of the UK’s must-visit cities and Belfast’s regeneration is showing no signs of slowing down.
The Northern Irish capital has undergone some drastic transformations over the past decade which have in turn regenerated the city and cemented it as the next big destination.
Boasting a thriving tourism market and increased investment has ensured that Belfast is on the crest of a significant wave with the cities popularity expected to continue to grow.
In 2016, there were an estimated 4.6 million overnight trips to Northern Ireland which equates to almost a third of all tourism traffic to the region.
This strong performance is reflected in the cities hotel industry which in 2016 saw 991,000 hotel rooms sold at an average price of £77.95 per night, marking an increase of 4.1%.
An annual industry survey from ASM Chartered Accountants uncovered that hotel occupancy in Belfast also grew with record high figures of 83.5%, a significant increase on the previous year where occupancy sat at 77.5%.
This brought in a spend of £851 million for overnight trips alone with the city of Belfast accounting for around £335 million of that figure.
From shopping to culture and world-class entertainment facilities, Belfast has welcomed some fantastic tourism landmarks that have helped to increase the cities offering to visitors.
The cities rich past has been the driving force behind many of Belfast’s most popular tourist destinations such as the Titanic Belfast, Ulster Museum and Belfast Castle which have all received significant investment and transformed key areas in the city.
The development of these tourist attractions has further fuelled a drive in the hotel market with many high profile developers investing in the city of Belfast to provide guests with a base to stay.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster commented; “Today’s tourism statistics show the importance of the sector to Northern Ireland’s economy and demonstrate not only how more tourists are visiting the region but are also spending more money as the hospitality sector continues to grow and add value to the economy.
“In Belfast, there was an increase of almost £60m in terms of tourism spend in 2016 compared to 2015.”
These figures are expected to keep on rising with significant development projects in place for the next couple of years including the Linen Quarter, the City Quays project at Belfast Harbour and several hotel developments including those by Signature Living.
From the mid-1990s to 2007, Northern Ireland experienced one of its most economically prosperous and politically stable periods. However, the global economic downturn hit the country hard with a fall in employment, investment and the housing market.
Following a period of uncertainty, Belfast fought back and is now emerging from the recession as one of the most upcoming cities in the UK with growth across all areas.
In 2015, the council created a £18.7 million City Centre Investment Fund to support the implementation of projects which help towards the continued regeneration of Belfast.
The council have been working hard to ignite Belfast as a tourism hotspot investing vital funds into the regeneration of key areas for business, leisure and tourism purposes.
The council set out a City Centre Regeneration and Investment Strategy which pinpoints key action areas which include the Inner North, North East Quarter and Oxford Street & the Earner Bank as well as focusing on the transport hub.
The Belfast regeneration strategy outlines; “Belfast has done well in recent decades to improve an economically dynamic and attractive city centre. It has, however, some way to go in comparison to other European cities of comparable size.
“It needs more; more people working and living in the centre, more visitors, more attractions, more commerce, more jobs, more street life and nightlife, more trees, more in-migrants and more development. More serenity, more bustle, more buzz. It is the combination of all those elements that makes a great city centre, that provides the self-fuelling chemistry for regeneration.”
There are a number of large-scale projects underway in Belfast which will reignite specific areas and help to establish the cities offering to both locals and visitors.
Increased tourism figures highlight that the regeneration programme is working and attracting new people from all over the world.
Belfast is a city that is being recognised in many forms.
In November 2017, the city was crowned 2017’s Rising Star at the National Geographic Traveller Reader Awards in London. This prestigious award was a great indicator of public opinion and certified that Belfast is a city to look out for.
Another prestigious award came from international travel guide group, Lonely Planet, who placed Belfast as the best place to visit in 2018 alongside the spectacular Causeway Coast.
Not only did this firmly pin Belfast on the traveller’s map but it was also the only area in the UK to make it into the Lonely Guide list, let alone to sit at the number one spot.
Investment in Northern Ireland
Investment in Northern Ireland continues to grow as the region boasts many highly attractive traits ensuring it is no surprise that almost 80% of investors have reinvested.
Around 900 international companies have also invested in Northern Ireland including Seagate Technology, Fujitsu, Bombardier Aerospace, Microsoft, Citi and Liberty Mutua to name a few.
In Belfast around 1,100 new hotel bedrooms are currently under development as well as three hotels by Liverpool-based hotelier, Signature Living including that of prominent heritage sites including The Scottish Mutual Building which will become The George Best Hotel, the former Crumlin Road Courthouse which will be transformed into The Lanyon Hotel and the former War Memorial Building on Waring Street which will become The Waring Hotel.
This increases the cities offering encourages healthy competition for developers and operators to continue to produce world-class facilities which improve the cities standing as a modern destination.
Belfast furthermore has a reputation for being one of the safest cities in the UK which again benefits the local and tourism community massively.
The combination of a young population, high-quality education and thriving tourism market is clearly an attractive offer for international investors and as more and more developments get underway, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.
Furthermore, recent research conducted by CBRE identified Belfast as the third fastest growing office market in the world just behind Bangkok and Stockholm.
Demand for prime office space in Belfast positioned it ahead of other in-demand cities including New York and Amsterdam with an office rental growth of 14.3 percent year on year.
Thanks to a demand from business service firms and media, technology and telecoms companies, the office market in Belfast is experiencing an exciting boom which is expected to carry forward into the future.
There is no doubt that Belfast is a city on the rise and you can become a part of it. Signature Investments have many developments underway that will certainly contribute to the city’s growth.