A tourism boom in the Northern Irish capital means more hotel rooms and incentive activities

Business destination focus Ireland Belfast City hall

Everywhere’s 10 minutes away in Belfast. The locals have said it for years, and we saw nothing to disprove them. Soon enough they’ll be saying something similar about hotels.

The city’s persistent accommodation shortage has now got its reaction: with occupancy rates at a record-high 83.5% in 2016, CBRE reports the number of rooms in the Northern Irish capital will double from around 3,400 today to more than 7,000 in the next few years.

That’s welcome news for the expanded Belfast Waterfront, a conference and entertainment centre which has been chasing larger events since it reopened in May last year, with spaces to host up to 5,000 delegates a day, and for the city at large. Further up the Lagan river, the five-storey Giant Atrium of Titanic Belfast continues to dazzle as a reception space for 650. Just behind it, the Titanic Hotel is set to open in September. Its main, 250-capacity event space will be the vaulted Drawing Office, where the Titanic itself was designed.

Two drivers of its general tourism boom caught our attention. First, an afternoon with Caroline Wilson’s Taste & Tour experience, which opened our eyes to the new food and drink scene. The emerald in the crown is Michelin-starred OX. Caroline got us through the door for a between-service glass of white in its Cave wine bar – an elegant, modern spot for a drinks reception, and only five minutes from the Waterfront.

Business destination focus Ireland Merchant Hotel Great Room Restaurant

Dinner in the glass-domed Great Room of the Merchant Hotel is a more classically luxe experience, but that’s not to say the five-star is out of touch. Its cocktail bar’s a sensation, and the hotel’s opening a decade ago – in a converted bank – was a catalyst for the regeneration of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. Close by, Caroline showed us the Spaniard, the Yardbird, the Friend at Hand – pubs, restaurants and whiskey shops, all with event possibilities and a distinct sense of place. For something more contemporary, check out the Merchant’s hipster sister, the Bullitt, whose rooftop bar and garden is set to open in October. 

Business destination focus Ireland Winterfell Tours

The second of those two drivers? Game of Thrones. Contrary to how George RR Martin tells it, bits of the Iron Islands, the Stormlands, Braavos and more are all within the scope of an away day trip. During filming, McComb’s Coach Travel takes cast and crew between locations. Its comfortable fleet is available for private GoT tours of the Glens of Antrim, where you can also tick off Giant’s Causeway. To go fully immersive, Winterfell Castle & Demesne is 40 minutes south of the city. Groups can meet direwolves, get dressed up for medieval banquets and create their very own scenes from the series. 

Find out what other Irish cities like Dublin and Cork, have to offer the MICE market