JUST six months after opening, the highly-acclaimed Titanic Belfast has welcomed its 500,000th visitor.
Canadian Lynda Price – who was born in east Belfast and is the great-granddaughter of a shipyard riveter who worked on Titanic – saw visitor number targets exceeded when she walked into the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience yesterday.
Of those who experienced Titanic Belfast in the past six months, 65 per cent were from outside Northern Ireland.
Tourists to the experience hailed from 111 countries including Argentina, Nepal, Qatar and Belize.
On arrival Mrs Price, along with her husband David and son Barry, was greeted by Titanic Belfast CEO Tim Husbands, chairman of Northern Ireland Tourist Board Howard Hastings, and Lord Mayor of Belfast Gavin Robinson.
Mrs Price left Belfast in 1976 to live in Calgary, Canada. The retired schoolteacher said: “I am overwhelmed by the reception; this is a day that I will never forget. It is always a joy to be back in Belfast to visit friends and family, and the places where I spent my youth.
“This was to be our ‘Belfast day’ as we are travelling around Ireland, and we made this journey this year because we are followers of the Titanic story and wanted to do this in the 100th anniversary year of its maiden voyage.”
She was presented with gifts from Titanic Belfast, including a personally-signed letter from Dr Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who found the wreck of the Titanic 27 years ago this month.
Mr Husbands said: “Our target for the year was 425,000 visitors so we are obviously excited, proud and delighted that the work and investment put into the project by our stakeholders – Belfast City Council, the Northern Ireland Executive, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Tourism Ireland, The Harbour Commissioners, Titanic Quarter Limited and the Titanic Foundation – has paid off handsomely for the city, helping position both Titanic and Belfast on centre stage in markets right across the world.
“But it is not just about the numbers but also about the Titanic Belfast experience and the significant efforts that have gone in for almost a year before we opened, and since, to ensure that our visitors have a world-class customer experience to match their expectations.”
Mr Hastings said 2012 has been “a momentous year for tourism in Northern Ireland with Titanic Belfast at the heart of its success”.
He said: “This iconic exhibition is now reaping the benefits of worldwide media attention and I am delighted that it has exceeded visitor expectations so far.”
And Lord Mayor Mr Robinson said: “This year has been a truly great one for tourism in Belfast, and Titanic Belfast has undoubtedly been the centrepiece of that success.
“The Titanic story is probably one of the most fascinating, amazing, poignant, thought-provoking and absorbing tales from the last century, if not the last millennium. But, for too long, Belfast’s part in the story, and the role of the people of Belfast in bringing Titanic to life, has been neglected.
“Now, the city that gave birth to the ship, and many others, proudly and rightfully has acknowledged her part in the tale, and Belfast City Council is proud to play its role in celebrating the achievement, commemorating the tragedy and educating the world about our city’s role in the Titanic story.”
The new Titanic Belfast is an iconic six-floor building featuring nine interpretive and interactive galleries that explore the sights, sounds, smells and stories of Titanic, as well as the city and people that made her.
The building houses temporary exhibits, a banqueting suite, education and community facilities, catering and retail space, and a basement car park.
Visitors learn about the construction of Titanic and the wide and rich story of Northern Ireland’s proud industrial and maritime heritage.