ROBIN Newton East Belfast DUP MLA and a member of the Assembly’s Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee has welcomed the recent announcement by the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau of a 38% increase in cruise ships berthing in Belfast. This is a good news story but Belfast’s achievement pales into insignificance when compared with other ports. That is not to disparage the efforts of those who have contributed to the growing number of visiting ships. It is to reinforce the message that the potential in cruising tourism and the business opportunities cruising presents is much greater than we are currently realising.
Robin Newton said,
“I heartily welcome the growth in this distinct part of Belfast’s tourism strategy. This is a positive development and I enthusiastically approve of and applaud the efforts of those who are making it happen. The partnership of Belfast City Council, The Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast Harbour and Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau is a winning combination. Cruising has the potential to be an increasing aspect of the City’s economic and tourism strategy. In today’s economic climate we cannot be content; rather we should be openly ambitious and seek to exploit the full potential of this growing holiday activity.
Belfast is increasingly a destination city attracting many types of visitors for a wide variety of reasons. With the increase in the number of the cruise ships there are more opportunities for these travellers to take advantage of the City’s unique offerings. However, if we are not sufficiently ambitious then a social economic impact of the scale $239 million revenue gain from ships calling at New York in 2011, Seattle attracting 202 visiting liners per year and The Port of St John, New Brunswick having 3 ships visiting within 24 hours will pass by Belfast. We may not achieve this scale of figures but if we are not sufficiently hungry for achievement, if we don’t have a strong desire for success; if we don’t put in the effort and investment to make it at this time in our history we will miss our once-in-a-lifetime set of favourable circumstances.
With the already forecast increase in visiting liners the outlook for Belfast as a cruise ship port-of-call seems bright. Encouraging cruising could in the future be even more important for the City’s successful economic growth. However, the need to measure and increase the numbers of passengers disembarking will be vital in realising and calculating the success of the berthed liners. We need to get passengers off the ships to go visit the attractions, go shopping, go to the restaurants and pubs, visit Belfast’s or Northern Ireland’s tourism offerings. An accurate measurement of passenger spending is essential to quantify the total economic impact and/or to secure future investment. Some estimates suggest less than 50% of passengers leave cruise ships to visit the port-of-call. Cruise ship passengers are by and large affluent with a high level of disposable income. Presenting them with an opportunity to gain a special or distinctive experience, a one of opportunity, will increase the numbers coming ashore. It is to this aspect that we need to give additional attention.
Much good work has been done, but more remains to be done. The full economic benefits of the visiting liners need to be exactly and correctly calculated. Based on the study results being favourable we need to roll out the red carpet, put out the welcome mat and get the passengers down the gangplank. Making visiting Belfast and Northern Ireland a most memorable experience for the luxury cruise passengers holds out the promise of major long-term benefits for our economy.”