Northern Ireland

Titanic Belfast : Will it rival Disneyland, Tate Modern and the Guggenheim?

Titanic Belfast
Image caption The Titanic Signature Project is built alongside the Harland & Wolff shipyard where the liner was made

It is the biggest launch Belfast's waterfront has seen in a 100 years. The last one was the Titanic itself.

Now a century later the slipways are dominated by the imposing Titanic Belfast centre designed to commemorate the most famous vessel ever built.

It cost £77m to construct - with most of the funding (£60m) coming from the public purse.

Based on projected visitor numbers, it is one of the most expensive buildings of its kind in Europe.

Per visitor, it cost more than Disneyland in Paris, is almost three times more expensive than the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and cost about seven times more than the Tate Modern.

Development company Titanic Quarter Limited, chipped in £16.35m of private money towards the cost.

Chief Executive Mike Smith said: "We think the building is good value for money.

"I think the developers deserve credit as it was built on time and on budget. People will come to have a look and go through the exhibitions, but this is something that will put Belfast on the world stage.

"People have said that globally this is the most important tourist attraction in the world this year," said Mike Smith.

The centre has already captured the imagination of headline writers across the world, generating positive stories, replacing old pre-conceptions as a result Northern Ireland's troubled past.

But after the initial hype fades, it will still need a steady flow of visitors to sustain itself.

One economic appraisal suggests it will need 290,000 visitors a year just to break even.

"Those numbers are not unrealistic. All visitor attractions need to refresh and if they put the refresh factor in and consider it, then I have no concerns whatsoever, long term, that this will be a successful visitor attraction," said Stephen Boyd, professor of tourism at the University of Ulster.

The centre is part of a concerted effort to up Northern Ireland's tourist game and attract an increasing number of tourists from lucrative overseas markets.

The Lagan Legacy charity runs a barge on Belfast's riverside promoting the history of the entire waterfront. But education officer, Lee Lavis, has yet to be convinced that a rising tide will lift all boats - especially his own.

Image caption Will Titanic Belfast rival the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao for visitor numbers?

He said: "We hope it will mean more visitors for us as well. We are optimistic it will, but we fear we may be overshadowed by the project and the high entrance cost at the Titanic building will make people reluctant to come to see our museum as well.

"The pressures on that building to bring in 300,000 visitors a year to break even means their primary responsibility is to bring visitors to that attraction. Secondary to that is any benefit that can be accrued to any other organisation."

Inside, visitors will be guided through nine exhibitions, spread over four storeys, charting the history of the Titanic from its construction in the nearby Harland & Wolff shipyard to its final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic.

One thing tourists will not see though is the replica of the ship's famous staircase. It has been incorporated into the banqueting hall on the upper floors and is not part of the tour.

It will only be on view to the more business-type guests who will attend sit-down functions on the two upper decks.

Entrance fees are £13.50 for an adult and £6.75 for a child. A family of four gets in for £34 and a family of five will pay £40.75. Parking is extra.

Claire Bradshaw, the centre's marketing manager said: "I understand the times we are in. Where you do have to pay into an experience it will be perceived as expensive.

"What we say is come down, go through the experience and I promise you will not be disappointed.

"It is such an enriching experience. I would imagine you will spend between two and three hours here."

The building forms the key part of what is known as the Titanic Signature Project which cost a total of £92m and includes the renovation to the SS Nomadic, work on the original slipways and improvements to the Thompson dock.

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