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Belfast gears up for tourism boom

travel Updated: Mar 07, 2012 13:04 IST
AFP
AFP
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This week, Northern Ireland's capital Belfast launched a new attraction designed to capitalize on one of its most famous (or infamous) exports and boost tourism. 

The Titanic Belfast Festival will run March 31 to April 22 with a series of events to celebrate the centenary of Titanic's fateful maiden voyage, which ended in the early hours of April 15 in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.

Titanic was designed and built in Belfast, which was at the turn of the century a world leader in shipbuilding thanks to the Titanic's manufacturer, Harland & Wolff.

It's a history that, despite the Titanic disaster, the city is still proud of and hopes to leverage with a new Titanic Belfast visitor center, the largest Titanic attraction in the world.

Opening at the start of the Titanic Belfast Festival on March 31, the center tells the story of Belfast's boom days, Titanic's construction and launch, the sinking and the aftermath and the current state of the ship at the bottom of the ocean.

In a nod to the center's history, its external facade replicates the four 90 foot (27 meter) high hulls, while the reception desks resemble the wooden keel blocks upon which Titanic was built and the interior is covered in sheet metal panels.

The new visitor center is just the latest in a series of investments which will see hundreds of millions ploughed into projects designed to turn Belfast and the wider region into a major tourist attraction.

Other recent investments including the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre, the Ulster Museum and the Lyric Theatre, all of the work backed up by a huge advertising campaign branding 2012 as the year to visit Northern Ireland.

Planned attractions for the future in Belfast include a revamp and extension of the Waterfront Hall, the city's arts and entertainment center and the MAC creative arts venue, set to open in April.

Unsurprisingly, the efforts have caught the attention of plenty of travelers and were enough to earn Belfast an accolade from Fodor's as a top destination for this year, as well as further praise from Simon Calder, a leading travel commentator and travel editor at The Independent.

"You know and I know that Northern Ireland is a fascinating, friendly corner of Europe that has been off the map for far too long," he recently told audiences in Belfast, reported the Belfast Telegraph.

"Titanic Belfast will, I hope, achieve for Northern Ireland what Bilbao's Guggenheim managed to do for northern Spain."

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