Updated on June 27, 2022 by Axel Hernborg

Axel Hernborg

Belfast is the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland. Belfast is probably best known for being where the RMS Titanic was built as well as for the violence and suffering here during The Troubles in the later part of the 20th century.

In recent times the world spotlight has shone on everything from its industrial and maritime heritage to its music, golfing credentials, unique stories, and breath-taking scenery.

Although the city isn’t well-known as Dublin to international travelers, the city offers a lively historic city center, with less crowd where experiences feel more authentic. 

Let us have a look at the city’s tourism industry statistics and trends.

STATISTICS & TRENDS

  • It is estimated that there were 2,658,000 external trips to Northern Ireland in 2017 representing a 3% increase compared to 2016.
  • Domestic visitors accounted for 2,193,000 million trips, an increase of 11% compared to 2016.
  • Tourism contributed £2.5m per day in 2018 to the Region’s economy, and the city saw 1.48m overnight stays.
  • The Giant’s Causeway remains Northern Ireland’s top visitor attraction welcoming one million visitors in 2019.
  • Spending by tourists in Belfast outpaced the Northern Ireland average, growing by 20% year on year compared to 4.5% regionally.
  • Visit Belfast is the official destination marketing organization for the Belfast city.
  • Belfast works with more than 500 tourism businesses and services across the industry including accommodation providers, attractions, conference venues and services, tour operators, transport providers, entertainment venues, restaurants and cafes, pubs and clubs, and event organizers.
  • The Belfast City Region’s destination management and marketing organization has raised its growth target for 2022, promising an economic return for Belfast of £97million.
  • It anticipates handling more than 500,000 visitor inquiries, helping to generate local spending of £11 million this year by 2022.
  • Belfast’s tourism sector also expects to see further growth this year, buoyed by a steady and sustained rise in consumer and business optimism from the city’s key tourism sectors – business events, city breaks, and cruises, according to Visit Belfast.
  • Further plans aim to attract 144 cruise visits with an estimated 345,000 cruise visitors as part of its Cruise Belfast partnership with Belfast Harbour – adding to the city’s international arrivals.
  • The Belfast City Region is well placed to recover from the pandemic given the strength of our tourism and cultural offer alongside a wealth of visitor experiences including world-class attractions, award-winning hospitality and food, and a vibrant music scene.
  • Belfast has generated almost 331,000 bed nights for the city, handled over 263,000 visitor inquiries, and directly supported over 400 business partners.
  • The city is home to Michelin-star eateries, world-class venues for music, theatre, and entertainment

MOTIVES & HABITS

  • The main reason for visiting Belfast was for holiday purposes, visiting friends and relatives and then followed by business trips.
  • The majority of visitors to the city are from Great Britain, and Northern Ireland, with the remaining visitors from mainland Europe, the Republic of Ireland/others, and North America.
  • 18% of visitors to the Greater Belfast Area participated in walking or hiking. This is borne out by the popularity of the Tow Path in the Lagan Valley Regional Park, which is the top free visitor attraction in the Greater Belfast Area.
  • The largest number of tourists visiting Belfast is during July and August. 
  • In terms of activities, the outdoors (coastal touring/beaches, houses/castles/garden, enjoying the natural environment), food, and shopping dominate key activities that domestic visitors engage in when taking overnight trips in Belfast.

OTHER TRENDS

  • Over the last decade, Northern Ireland has been transformed and is now considered a ‘must-see’ tourism destination.
  • In the past number of years the Northern Ireland tourism industry has benefited from significant major events such as The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019.
  • Titanic Belfast is the most popular fee-paying attraction in Belfast, followed by the Ulster Museum and W5 (for more Titanic attractions, check out our guide to the London exhibition).
  • Northern Ireland has a high-quality hotel offer with 8,068 rooms available in the four – five-star classification out of a total of 18,768 hotel rooms.
  • Belfast had 15 out of the 41 four – five-star hotels for NI as a whole at the end of March 2018.
  • Belfast’s business tourism sector is well placed for further growth. New hotel developments worth more than £150 million added to the city in recent years.
  • Belfast is now one of the best cities in the UK for hotel investment.
  • In December 2016, Titanic Belfast was awarded the ‘World’s Leading Tourist Attraction’ at the prestigious World Travel Awards.
  • The Ulster Museum is the city’s second most popular visitor attraction in 2017 attracting 533,000 visitors and W5 Science Museum with 323,000 visitors, highlighting the appeal of museums and art galleries.
  • Northern Ireland has also benefited from other significant tourism developments including the opening of new attractions such as the Game of Thrones studio tour.
  • The Game of Thrones movie distributed internationally has attracted overseas visitors to Belfast and the wider region.
  • An estimated 2.4 million nights were sold in hotel rooms in Northern Ireland during 2019. Hotel room occupancy was estimated to be 67% in 2019.
  • In 2019, Northern Ireland welcomed over 120,000 golf visitors, contributing over £52 million to the local economy.
  • In 2018 domestic tourism accounted for 44 percent of all overnight trips taken in Northern Ireland and 31 percent of spend.
  • In real terms, this equates to approximately 2.2 million overnight trips and an estimated expenditure of £300 million by Northern Ireland residents.
  • The Northern Ireland tourism industry has ambitions to achieve nearly £1.3 billion in revenue by 2025 and £2 billion by 2030.
  • Much of the revenue growth is expected to be derived from out-of-state markets. North America, Mainland Europe, and ‘other overseas’ markets are targeted markets.
  • The Northern Ireland hospitality sector is fundamentally different from the rest of the UK, as the vast majority of the businesses are small/micro and locally owned and operated.
  • The Northern Ireland hotel industry is facing an unprecedented staffing crisis due to immigration policies flowing from Brexit and the impact of the pandemic.
  • Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hospitality Industry in Northern Ireland was on an upward trend.
  • With an annual turnover of £2bn and sustaining 65,000 jobs, it is a significant economic sector in its own right.

REFERENCES

https://www.investni.com/international-business/our-sectors/tourism

https://visitbelfastpartners.com/

https://www.nisra.gov.uk/sites/nisra.gov.uk/files/publications/Tourism-Statistics-Annual-Publication-2019_0.pdf

https://www.iccbelfast.com/news/belfast-makes-sense-campaign-to-accelerate-business-tourism-growth

https://www.tourismni.com/globalassets/covid19/marketing/ni-market/ni-domestic-tourism-strategy.pdf

https://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/investinbelfast/key-sectors/hospitality-and-tourism

https://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/getmedia/45e2ab75-fcfa-4cc9-b319-796f89d5ce43/DPS011_TS05.pdf