Visit Belfast unveils ambitious ‘New Horizons’ plan to accelerate city region tourism growth

Visit Belfast has launched an ambitious new three-year strategy for tourism growth with plans to strengthen and elevate the appeal of the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods to drive new growth and fresh exploration.

Launching its new strategy, the Belfast City Region’s official destination marketing and management organisation said it plans to further strengthen the city’s tourism economy by 20 percent over the next three years, delivering a cumulative economic boost of £424 million by 2027 from its combined sales, marketing and visitor servicing activity.

Targeting an annual growth rate of 6.25 percent, Visit Belfast expects to deliver £133 million to the economy this year (2024-25), up from £125 million the year before and increasing to an annual return of £150 million for the Belfast City region in 2026-27.

Belfast’s visitor economy has enjoyed continuous growth and improvement since Covid-19, with Visit Belfast’s three-year Rebuilding City Tourism strategy acting as a driver in rebooting the tourism sector and returning tourism’s economic impact to pre-pandemic levels.

Visit Belfast Chair, Marie-Thérèse McGivern, said: “Our New Horizons strategy builds on the significant progress to date and supports the continued strengthening or investment strategy of Belfast as a thriving, competitive visitor destination.

The successful delivery of our post-Covid Rebuilding City Tourism 2021-24 strategy has ensured that the city’s visitor economy has re-emerged stronger and more dynamic, innovative and competitive in a market that has been characterised by strong headwinds and challenging trading conditions.”

Its new strategy for 2024-2027, New Horizons for the Belfast City Region, sets ambitious plans and targets for sustainable tourism growth. Shining a bigger spotlight on Belfast’s neighbourhood areas which offer a rich and diverse culture, history and heritage filled with authentic and unique experiences, Visit Belfast said it will boost their profile locally, nationally and internationally to enhance the city’s overall destination appeal – and build on the strong growth achieved to date in leisure, business and cruise tourism.

“The targets are bold and ambitious,” Marie-Thérèse said. “Together with Belfast City Council and key partners, we’re committed to increasing the benefits of tourism across our city and wider region including neighbourhoods in a responsible, sustainable way that enhances the visitor experience while working well for the people of Belfast.”

Visit Belfast’s most recent strategy, delivering for a post-Covid era – Rebuilding City Tourism 2021-24 delivered an economic return of £319 million for the city, powered by strong growth in leisure, business and cruise tourism, with room occupancy rates exceeding 84 percent at weekend (and 80 percent midweek), rising footfall and greater consumer spend.

The new 2024-27 economic target for of £424 million represents an increase of almost one third (32.9 percent).

The detailed strategy and plans, which following extensive consultation, were developed with the support of TOPOSOPHY, one of Europe’s leading placemaking and marketing agencies, were presented to key stakeholders and partners at a major event at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park – located in just one of the city’s many neighbourhood areas earmarked for new growth potential.

This year, in 2024/25, Visit Belfast is targeting 780,000 visitors, 445,000 bed nights and 766,000 tourist enquiries, while driving sustainable best practice across the sector.

Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive, Visit Belfast, said: “The aim of our new strategy is to spread the tourism benefits right across the Belfast City region, helping to sustain many more businesses and jobs and building new connections with visitors.

Working closely with our key stakeholders and all our partners, by enhancing the visitor experience and inspiring visitors to do more, spend more and stay longer, we aim to drive new growth and value for the economy.

“Though cost issues and the challenging trading environment persist, Belfast has continued to deliver high levels of visitor satisfaction, establishing itself as an attractive citybreak, business and cruise destination, the outlook is positive in our commitment to maximising tourism’s potential for the benefit of the entire city and region.”

John McGrillen, Chief Executive, Tourism Northern Ireland, said: “Recognising and positively promoting our unique and competitive strengths as a compelling destination is vital in promoting our destination appeal to visitors around the world, to driving growth and to delivering economic impact.

Tourism Northern Ireland will continue to work with Visit Belfast and all our partners to ensure that we maximise our tourism potential, helping to position the region internationally as an attractive place to visit, making our visitors feel welcome while also helping to make the lives better for all our citizens.”

With over 330,000 cruise passengers visiting all parts of Northern Ireland, over six million air passengers across the two main airports, 2.1 million ferry passengers and the opening of the new Belfast Grand Central Station later this year, one of the largest transport hubs in Europe which will cater for up to 20 million passenger journeys annually, Belfast plays an important role as the gateway city to the whole of the region.

Belfast accounts for around 32% of Northern Ireland’s tourism nights and 40 percent of all tourism spending in Northern Ireland.