Tag Archives: Belfast

Belfast-A Changed City

I recently watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation segment on Ireland. Bourdain was surprised at how much was changing in Belfast and Dublin. New buildings and a higher standard of living was coming along with an influx of people. Food was also taking major strides. No longer just Irish stew but much, much more. Ian Murray, writing in the Daily Echo, recently noted the many positive changes to Belfast, which includes Titanic.

Belfast has joined the ranks of the UK’s destination cities. Thankfully so much of the best of the old way of life has also been preserved. Historic pubs such as The Duke of York in Commercial Court, Lavery’s in Bradbury Place, Robinson’s in Great Victoria Street and, of course, The Crown Liquor Saloon next door are still on the tourist trail. A pint is a must, and for gastro pub grub the steak, onions and Headless Dog pie at the John Hewitt on Donegal Street can’t be beaten.

The old and new are being blended together resulting in a very different city.

Source: Daily Echo, Belfast’s Titanic Museum, 18 Nov 2012

Belfast Hotels Have Best Year Ever Thanks To “Titanic Effect”

The people running the Titanic Quarter are in the red but the Belfast hotels did quite well thanks to Titanic. According to Belfast Telegraph, the recently released PriceWaterhouseCoopers report noted the highest jump in occupancy rates since 2006.

Occupancy for April – the month of the centenary of Titanic’s sinking – was up 25% in the city’s top 38 hotels, and overall revenue and revenue per available room was 45% ahead of the year before. Stephen Curragh, PwC partner and hospitality expert, said: “While last year’s MTV Music Awards accounted for around 8,000 room nights, with the event delivering delivering an estimated £22m to the Belfast economy, it was March and the launch of the Titanic Belfast Festival that really saw a substantial jump in Belfast hotel occupancy and revenues.

Source: Belfast Telegraph,City Hotels Experience Titanic Rise In Rates Of Occupancy, 5 Nov 2012

Titanic Quarter Property Company In £20m Loss

The BBC is reporting the property company developing Titanic Quarter in Belfast lost £20m. The loss is attributed to a one-off payment of £13m to the charitable trust that owns the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction. Administrative fees also rose to £19 million from £7 million. A write-down in investment properties makes the total loss after taxes £22 million.

In a word, ouch.

Needless to say, they are trying to restructure and negotiating with Ulster Bank over £75m in loans.

Source: BBC, Titanic Quarter Property Company In £20m Loss, 5 Nov 2012

Titanic Letter Returns To Belfast

Earlier this month a letter was put up for auction in New York. The letter written by Belfast doctor John Edward Simpson aboard Titanic and mailed in Cobh, was thought to fetch $34,000 (£21,692). It failed to reach that reserve price but an anonymous benefactor has purchased the letter and is sending to Belfast. Although copies abound, this is the original. Needless to say the Simpson family is quite pleased. You can view the BBC video here.

Belfast Titanic Quarter Update

Belfast is planning a new rapid transit system that will not only handle tourists to the Titanic Quarter but the needs of the city as well.


One item on the table is bringing back the bendy-bus. Called an articulated bus in the U.S., it is essentially two buses put together with a flexible middle. This allows it to make turns and get around road hazards more easily. They are tricky to run and London phased them out some years ago due to accidents and general dislike of them. Other cities did it as well in the U.K. and Northern Ireland. They were replaced with conventional and double-decker buses.

With Belfast wanting to have high speed buses arriving every five minutes, the bendy-buses are getting a second look. I have taken such buses in San Francisco. They are used on high density lines (the 30-Stockton) where you need such buses to handle the large numbers of people. On that route, the buses are electric so no worry about diesel fumes wafting around. And that line has to weave its way through Chinatown (where the majority of its passengers are heading for or leaving) where traffic is usually heavy during the day.

Buses, whether they are conventional or electric, are a more flexible alternative than light rail. Light rail is very expensive and limits their use to where the rails are laid. When the tourists arrive in 2012, they will need a system that is easy and convenient to use. Perhaps the bendy-bus will be part of it.

Belfast Telegraph, The Possible Reintroduction Of New ‘Bendy-Buses’ Could Be Part Of The Plans For A £150M Rapid Transit System For Belfast, 13 October 2011

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Titanic Memorial Cruises Bothers The Guardian

Disaster tourism. The Guardian  believes the cruise tours planned next year to commemorate Titanic’s sinking fall into this category. These tours are following Titanic’s route in 1912 to where it all ended in the mid-Atlantic. It is hard to say what offends the newspaper most, the tours themselves or that people are actually paying big dollars. Considering their criticism is included with other odd and strange tours, I am leaning to the second. Today the cruise business is no longer about transporting passengers as in 1912 but essentially floating hotels taking passengers to interesting, even exotic destinations.

I understand why many are upset with such tours. But really is it that different from people who travel to famous battle sites, meet with distinguished lecturers and historians, and then have meals? The only difference I see is that people are aboard a ship where they will likely have Titanic themed events and lectures, movies, meals like those served aboard Titanic, and likely a memorial service for those that perished. Of course being a cruise ship of today it will have the latest safety features, a benefit of the very tragedy they are aboard to commemorate.

Belfast is using Titanic 2012 to show the world the city is worth more than battles between Catholics and Protestants. They are busy making things ready for the many tourists coming to see where Titanic was built. For Belfast the Titanic legacy has been mixed. They did not want to talk about it much believing that it tainted them. Much of Titanic was handmade by craftsman who took pride in their work. Its sinking was a terrible blow to all those who had made the dream come true. Yet they ought not to be ashamed. Titanic was a magnificent ship built by workers in Belfast. Its sinking was a terrible catastrophe but ought not to take away the fine work done to build her.

Critics see the cruises as bad since they commercialize the catastrophe. Except that this has been going on ever since 1912 from books, to movies, to exhibits, and feature movies. You can split hairs as to what was done for the right and wrong reasons, but lots of people have made money from Titanic. James Cameron made buckets of money for himself and the studio by commercializing the catastrophe (albeit with a fictional story) with his movie. The movie was spectacular and probably the most close in depicting how the ship looked ever done on screen. Of course now there is a television miniseries coming next year. What will the critics say-a cynical cashing in on Titanic or the retelling of a well known story?

The memorial cruises are no more and no less that what has gone on before. People are free, unless it has changed, to spend money as they see fit. If they want to take a Titanic Memorial Cruise, get a sense of what it was like in 1912, and get dressed up for it, that is their decision. Many will go to Belfast to connect with Titanic, soak up the sights, and get a taste of Ireland as well.

The Guardian notes many other strange and oddball places for people to stay at:
*A comfortable place that requires you to remove shoes upon entry (barefoot, socks, or slippers only)

*A hotel that imposes a Day of Silence on its guests.

*And the best of all-camping with pigs. Not just staying nearby but actually sleeping with them in the pig houses (fresh straw included) so you really get up close and personal with your future ham, bacon, and sausage while still on the hoof.  Of course those who are religiously averse to pigs (or vegans) ought to stay away.

I wonder what James Herriot would think of that. 🙂

The Guardian,Would You Go On This Holiday?, 20 Aug 2011

Uproar Over Entry Fee At Titanic Dry Dock

Anger has erupted over the £50 entry fee to the Thompson Dry Dock in Belfast. The charge is for foot, bus, or taxi. There is also a parking charge. You can avoid the charge by taking a tour bus that prebooks (and thus includes the fee as part of the tour). Many worry it will drive away tourists. The bosses say it is not about making money but safety issues. And that if you take a prebooked bus tour it will not be a problem.

Except if you are on a bus not prebooked. Then you have to get off and line up to pay the entry fee. Those paying gripe about it and of course the cashiers have to deal with long lines of people. So let me get this right. If you prebook through a bus tour than includes the Thompson dock yard, you can go right in. All others, line up and pay.

This is not uncommon. Many attractions and parks here in the United States have entry fees. Bus tours generally include the fees as part of the tour so you do not have to line up to pay. Belfast might want to consider what San Francisco does. There are special passes that allow people to not only travel on city transport but also includes the entry fees for some attractions on Fisherman’s Wharf (and other places). That way people who do not want to take bus tours can purchase those passes (usually good for one or three days). Make them easy to purchase online, at a retail store, or special outlet. Make some family passes as well.

Belfast Telegraph, £50 Titanic Charge: Why It’s Needed, 27 Mar 2010

Belfast Big Wheel Coming Down

After two years of spinning next to city hall, the Big Wheel is finally coming down on 11 April. The wheel was a major tourist success but it also had its detractors. In November 2009 the Belfast Titanic Society complained the wheel blocked access to the Titanic Memorial. And it prevented them from laying a memorial wreath.

The Belfast Titanic Society campaigned for the wheel to be removed. Apparently it worked. Originally the company running the attraction had submitted an application for summer use. They have since decided to remove the wheel.

Belfast’s Thompson Dry Dock Free No More

Visitors to the Thompson Dry Dock in Belfast can no longer visit it for free. The BBC is reporting that it will now cost £50 to enter the area. The fee is being implemented by the Northern Ireland Science Park, the owner of the dock. The dock was opened in 1911 by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. The 850 foot long dock was the world’s largest at the time. It is popular with tourists who want to see a real Titanic attraction. The BBC reports that it is a popular stop for bus tours.

A parking fee has been added as well for tour buses, cars, and even taxis. The article states you can avoid the Thompson charge by pre-booking a site tour or by purchasing goods in the visitors center.

Christmas in Belfast 2009

Christmas in Belfast 2009 with big wheel in background.

A recent travel write-up noted how much Belfast has changed since peace began.

“When I first visited Belfast in the early 1980s it was an uninviting destination by day and a ghost town by night. The Provos were blowing up the place and their Loyalist street rivals were retaliating with murderous intent. Dickens once described Belfast as “a fine place with rough people”. He was wrong. Belfast people are supremely friendly but the place used to be as dangerous as a tin of Spam left out in the sun.”

On a more recent visit, he found the place well worth visiting. Belfast is born again. The City Hall commands views over grand hotels, smart shops, handsome public buildings, an ice hockey arena, waterfront apartments with jetties and scores of hip restaurants. Shoppers are everywhere. Gunmen, police and soldiers are nowhere to be seen. Salmon have returned to the Lagan. The normality is surreal.

During his trip around the city, he went to where Titanic was built and noted: “Unexpectedly awestruck, I’m looking into the massive dock on Queen’s Island where the Titanic was built: 39 metres wide, 259 metres long, 13 metres deep. Belfast once led the world in shipbuilding, linen manufacturing and rope making. There were 49,000 ship workers alone.”

The picture at the top is from the Belfast City Council and shows the 2009 Christmas celebration. One bit of discord is that big wheel you see there. It blocks entrance to the Titanic monument there, which has caused a row between the local Titanic group and the city leaders. You can read about it at the news side of the site. Hopefully the next time they put it up they are more mindful of not blocking the Titanic memorial that likely tourists will want to see. After all that is what they are spending millions of pounds for in the first place.