A thriving fintech scene and characterful venues await in the capital of Northern Ireland, says
From palaces to renovated prisons, the city's history makes for exciting meeting and event venues, while big investment continues to boost its infrastructure
With a target of attracting £1 billion of investment by 2021, the announcement of a new city-centre travel hub and a portfolio of new hotel openings, it’s no wonder Belfast is rising up the corporate travel destination ranks. Nestled between hills and historic shipyards, Belfast not only has a reputation for being one of the safest UK cities, but also one of the most ambitious, thanks to its meticulously planned Belfast Agenda, a 20-year strategy that aims to boost the innovative metropolitan hub’s fortunes and push it into the dawn of a new era.
Having hosted the 2018 Royal College of Nursing Annual Congress, which welcomed 4,500 delegates and delivered an estimated £4.8 million to Northern Ireland’s economy, and then the World Health Organisation International Healthy Cities Conference 2018 (3,000 delegates and an estimated £1.93 million), Belfast has no trouble shining on the international conference market.
Investment in world-class attractions, universities and accommodation has already triggered a surge in visitor numbers to Belfast. “The city’s renaissance has been led by investment in tourism and higher education,” confirms Fiona Liversidge of Belfast’s tourist board.
Prime ministers, presidents and CEOs can be counted among those drawn to the city’s top-notch venues and – in recent years – its burgeoning financial technology scene. Northern Ireland has been building a reputation in fintech since the early 2000s, when US fintech firm Wombat opened a development centre in the city. More recently, startups such as accountancy software supplier Lightyear and wireless sensor firm Sensoteq have both opted for headquarters in Belfast.
Demand for hotel accommodation is at an all-time high, with occupancy peaking at 81.6 per cent last year. Hoteliers at the centre of investment in the sector are Beannchor Group – owners of the five-star Merchant Hotel and the super-stylish 74-room Bullitt hotel – and the Loughview Leisure Group, which embarked on an £18 million expansion programme at its Ten Square Hotel property, increasing from 75 to 131 rooms. That, plus the opening of the 119room Titanic Hotel, kickstarted a wave of hotel development that has seen international brands Marriott, Hilton and Maldron add their names to Belfast’s accommodation roster. Jurys Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza have also announced refurbishments to their Belfast properties.
Conference venues have been upping their game, too – the Eikon Exhibition Centre, with 10,500 sqm of stadium-like space, 26 hectares of hard-standing and grass areas, and 4,000 free parking places, is in a league of its own, and its recent 1GB broadband installation has boosted its facilities to meet roaring demand.
The £29.5 million development of the International Convention Centre Belfast – previously the Belfast Waterfront – has played a part in attracting corporate tourism since its completion in 2016. Its 7,000 sqm of space make it the perfect location to host meetings for up to 2,000 delegates. Nearby, the 1905 Assembly Buildings Conference Centre may resemble a castle, but its state-of-the-art AV system brings it bang up to date. The venue can hold events for 1,150 attendees.
Belfast also has an array of unusual conference options, such as the iconic Skainos Centre, part of an urban regeneration project featuring nine venues for up to 250 people, with free wifi throughout.
The Titanic Exhibition Centre is another unconventional choice. The 5,000 sqm venue offers a modern backdrop for large-scale domestic, national and international galas, and presentations for up to 5,000 attendees.