Titanic centenary puts Belfast on tourist map

Mon Dec 19, 2011 11:55am EST
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By Ian Graham

BELFAST (Reuters) - Once blacklisted next to Baghdad and Beirut as a tourism no-go zone, Belfast has become one of the world's must-see destinations thanks to its troubled past, great golfing present and impending anniversary of the tragedy of the Titanic.

During decades of sectarian violence few foreigners visited Northern Ireland, but a ceasefire and a peace agreement between Catholic and Protestant military groups have transformed the province, prompting a boom in tourists from 400,000 in 1998 to 1.6 million this year.

Next year, as the city marks the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, which was built in Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyard, the tourism authorities are looking for a bumper 20 percent rise.

Urging tourists to give Belfast a try in its "Best of the World 2012" the National Geographic Traveller this month described the city as having "an incredible atmosphere."

"I felt that this place was a treasure that had sort of been preserved," said editor-in-chief Keith Bellows. "It hasn't been trampled on by the big foot of tourism and so I really loved its purity."

Belfast's inclusion came three years after Lonely Planet sparked international interest in the city by putting it in its top 10 places to visit.

The explosion of budget airline flights Europe has also helped, providing an inexpensive opportunity for people to fly to Belfast.

TITANIC BOOST   Continued...

<p>A young girl watches the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Belfast, Northern Ireland March 17, 2011. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton</p>