Husbands and 'Titanic' a perfect match

Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 00:00

Tim Husbands could be forgiven for shouting “I told you so” very loudly if he so chooses today.

Not only is Husbands the recipient of the Business Person of the Year accolade in the annual Belfast Business Awards, he is also enjoying unrivalled success as the chief executive of Northern Ireland’s hottest tourist attraction.

From the day he was appointed chief executive of Titanic Belfast, Husbands has resolutely maintained that the most expensive local tourism project would become an “iconic visitor attraction”.

When Titanic sailed from Belfast in 1912, no one expected the magnificent passenger liner to suffer a tragic fate. It had departed in a blaze of glory, and was hailed at the time as a testament to Belfast’s engineering prowess.

One hundred years on it is fair to say that, before it opened, there was not the same degree of confidence about Titanic Belfast – the £97 million visitor centre located in the shadows of the slipways where the ship was built.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office had warned that Titanic Belfast would “utilise £60 million of public funds” and that there was a risk that its impact “may fall short of the anticipated step change in tourism”.

But Husbands and his team have proved the doubters wrong. It was originally estimated that annual visitor numbers would be in the region of 425,000. It needs to attract 290,000 visitors each year to make it financially viable. But though open just eight months, the attraction has already welcomed 605,000 visitors.

Husbands has always maintained that Titanic is something that everyone in Belfast should be proud of and that visitors to the North should have a “world-class customer experience to match their expectations”.

The fact that Titanic Belfast has become a must-see tourist destination in such a short space of time is not only a testimony to his hard work but also the risk taken by key stakeholders – chiefly Belfast City Council, the Northern Ireland Executive, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Tourism Ireland, the Harbour Commissioners and Titanic Quarter Ltd.

Had it failed to live up to their expectations it is unlikely Husbands would be celebrating his new accolade, or that Titanic Belfast would have picked up the 2012 award for Best Hospitality Business.

The awards, now in their seventh year, are designed to celebrate the best of the city’s businesses. That includes the successes of people prepared to take a risk and go into business despite the current environment.

People like the chefs behind the Belfast Cookery School, which won the Best New Business award. The city’s first purpose-built cookery school operates in association with one of Belfast’s best-known restaurants, the Mourne Seafood Bar.

The evening also shone the spotlight on the city’s best creative businesses, with the gong this year going to the Mac – the Metropolitan Arts Centre – the city’s new £18 million (€22.4 million) arts venue.

While relative newcomers may have enjoyed top billing in the 2012 awards, organised by Belfast City Council in partnership with Belfast City Centre Management, other well-known business names also enjoyed their moment in the limelight.

The Zip Yard, a clothing alterations franchise, sewed up the award for Best Business Expansion, while high-tech pioneer Andor Technology picked up the Best International Trade award. The 25-year-old lifestyle store Equinox on Howard Street also won the award for Best Customer Service in Retail.

There was a special mention for two organisations who won the Best Social Economy Business award – Ortus, the Business Development Agency, and the East Belfast Mission. The transport body Translink and Go Berserk, an online learning resource, shared the joint winner of Best Business Innovation award.

Other winners included Queen’s University and Premier Bakeries in Apollo Road, which won the Best Green Business award.

Rory McNaughton, who set up his own business Contract Services, providing maintenance and installation services, was named 2012 Young Business Person of the Year.

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