Belfast really makes sense
No story of Belfast could start without a look into its past, marked by the thirty-year Northern Irish conflict: #thetroubles. A visitor’s impression is that the 1.8 million inhabitants have left this part of history behind them. While the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 provides the foundation for peaceful development, reconciliation between the Unionist majority and the Nationalist minority still appears to be a utopian dream. Among the consequences of the conflict is the segregation, a lasting reminder of which is the wall that separates the Protestant and Catholic communities. The conflict continues to simmer and the current debate and dilemma around Brexit and the future status of Northern Ireland are pouring more oil onto the fire.
Yet despite the stereotypes and old wounds, life in Northern Ireland goes on as usual. Northern Ireland nowadays closely resembles the rest of the European regions. According to research, Belfast is among the safest cities in Great Britain. Optimism and positivity are reflected in the numerous investments and the return of many of those who left the city back when times were difficult. Meetings tourism represents an important part of the development. Supporting the ambitious plan is the ongoing marketing campaign Belfast Makes Sense, which represents a collaboration of 13 key partners. The key objective of the campaign—launched in February 2019—is to create an annual profit of 60 million pounds. Judging by the infrastructure and the omnipresent spirit of cooperation, they will undoubtedly succeed.
One thing that meetings organisers are especially enthusiastic about is how compact the city is. All the main venues and hotels are within the wider city centre, all of which is within walking distance.
The heart of the meetings offering is the Belfast Waterfront where ICC Belfast is located; this superbly designed convention centre is perfect for events with up to 2,220 participants. During our visit it was hosting a microbiology meeting that took up the most of the centre. In addition to meetings, the acoustically superb Main Auditorium also hosts numerous concerts and other events. Also nearby is the Assembly Buildings conference centre, which occupies the premises of a former church. The main hall can receive up to 1,150 participants and is exquisitely appointed. With numerous break-out rooms, it is especially well suited for scientific conferences. In the immediate vicinity are most of the major city hotels, most of which feature smaller meeting halls.
An important advantage the city offers are the numerous special venues, most prominently the popular Titanic Museum. The area of the former shipyard has been revitalised and turned into the Titanic Quarter; since 2015, its predominant feature has been an imposing museum that the locals have taken to calling “The Iceberg”. At the top of the museum is a banquet hall which can receive up to 750 guests. This hall also features one of the most interesting exhibits in the area, namely the reproduction of the famous wooden grand staircase from the Titanic.
There are 5,500 hotel rooms available to meetings guests, as well as a number of top-quality bars and restaurants. Air travel accessibility is fair; the city’s two airports link it to 194 destinations and Dublin Airport represents a nearby alternative. Belfast offers everything that much bigger destinations do, all wrapped up in a very attractive package at favourable prices.
NASUWT National Conference 2019 / April 19–22, 2019
Venue: ICC Belfast
Association of Research Managers Association Annual Conference (ARMA) / June 17–18, 2019
Venue: ICC Belfast
European Political Science Association (EPSA) / June 20–22, 2019
Venue: Queen’s University
Royal Statistical Society / September 2–5, 2019
Venue: ICC Belfast
British Ecological Society Annual Meeting (BES 2019) / December 10–13, 2019
Venue: ICC Belfast
BEST INCENTIVE IDEA
Black Taxi Tour – Taking a ride in a black cab let us gradually begin to understand the new normalcy of Northern Ireland and gave us a peek behind the scenes of Belfast, where kilometres of walls still divide the two tribes who try, despite the lingering hostility, to maintain and live the status quo. The taxi driver, with his charming dialect, took us on a tour of the divided city’s history, showing us places where tourists rarely end up. The most memorable feature are the enormous murals on both sides, representing the iconography and ideology of conflict. They serve as a kind of a historical storyboard, telling one more about the city than can be gleaned from historical brochures.
The Titanic, the British ocean liner commissioned by the White Star Line company and built by the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, was the world’s biggest and most luxurious passenger ship when it was launched on 2nd April 1912. In remembrance of the tragic events, the Titanic Museum offers various memorabilia, literature and all sorts of other items that you can buy as reminders of the famous ship and its tragic fate.
BEST KEPT SECRETS
Belfast food revolution
It is true—the Irish love their pubs and enjoy their beer and whiskey. They cherish and maintain this tradition in all of its varieties, the pubs ranging from the ancient, traditionally appointed affairs, to more modern variants. That said, it is also true that the last few years have seen Belfast undergo something of a culinary revolution. The city is home to several superb restaurants and it seems that the culinary arts are something that the Irish truly enjoy. According to many, one of the pioneers of this culinary revolution is the OX, who has received a Michelin star multiple times. It helps that they have access to exquisite local ingredients. One way to introduce your meeting guests to contemporary Irish culinary arts is through cooking classes. We recommend the James Street Cookery School, where, in addition to receiving practical knowledge, you will also get to know the extremely passionate and friendly hosts. Celebrity chef Niall McKenna is sure to win you over with his cooking philosophy and magnetic personality.
OFF THE BEATEN MICE TRACK
Imagine growing up in paradise. That’s exactly what happened to David Wilson in 1995, when his parents bought an estate roughly half an hour from Belfast, on the outskirts of Ballynahinch. This year, the protracted renovation of the estate was finally finished and the result is a downright extraordinary venue. It was an immediate hit, both among wedding organisers and as a venue for business events with up to 150 participants. The venue is closely connected to nature—you could say nature is the reason for its existence—and the “wow” factor is part of the experience. Extraordinary!
VOICES FROM BELFAST
An interview with Deborah Collins, Head of Business Tourism at Visit Belfast
Originally a country girl from the Ards Peninsula, Deborah moved to Belfast in 2011. On moving back to NI in 2007, she worked in software sales and business development. She spent seven years in tourism and wouldn’t work anywhere else, it is a joy for her to promote a city that has so much to offer. She says the best part of her job is changing perceptions and seeing the smiles on clients’ faces when they wow them with their offerings.
Film-makers have long since embraced Northern Ireland, and for many reasons. The marvellous nature is one of them, but some are purely practical. Crucial among them are the positive attitude towards the film industry, the systematic support it enjoys, as well as the straightforward conditions for production. A similar future seems to await the meetings industry. Belfast has recorded the fastest economic growth in the UK, particularly in the service sector, which the meetings industry is a part of.
The ambitious plans seem perfectly achievable, thanks in large part due to the close relationships within the industry in general. This was best expressed by Raymond Robinson, who summarised the spirit of the city in the following statement: “What works for the city works for us all.” Last but not least, we were completely won over by the boundless kindness and warmth of the Northern Irish people, something we are sure your congress participants will also notice. We can only hope that the explosive streets of Belfast remain peaceful and serene.