Belfast's Titanic efforts pay off


Titanic Belfast is seeking to balance its opening celebration with a mindfulness of lives lost

THE DOORS of Titanic Belfast, the stunning new addition to the city’s skyline, open to the public at noon today after a simple ceremony.

Just as when the Titanic itself rolled off the Harland and Wolff slipway 100 years ago, two flares will be fired to mark the opening of Titanic Belfast. The hope is there will be no further ill-fated comparisons with the original White Star Line ship, which sank on April 15th, 1912, with the loss of more than 1,500 passengers and crew.

Titanic Belfast is a six-floor building with nine interpretive and interactive galleries that explore the sights, sounds, smells and stories of Titanic, as well as the city and people who built it. It is the world’s largest exhibition on the ill-starred vessel.

Supported by the Northern Executive and funded by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast City Council, Belfast Harbour and Titanic Quarter Ltd, it is operated by Titanic Belfast Ltd and will be owned by the Titanic Foundation Ltd.

The organisers of the opening are hoping to strike a balance between celebrating a major new local and international tourist attraction and being mindful of the fact so many lives were lost.

“Given the stunning visual appearance of Titanic Belfast, we’re letting the building speak for itself with a simple ceremony, marked by the firing of two flares – as was the case when Titanic was launched,” explained Tim Husbands, the exhibition’s chief executive.

However, the general mood is one of celebration, as was the case last night when a gala dinner for 1,000 people was held in the Titanic Suite, on the upper floor of the building. From today, and for the next few weeks, a series of events will be held in and around Titanic Belfast to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking.

“Belfast gave the world Titanic, but now it’s time to bring the world back to Belfast – not just this April but for the 362 days on which Titanic Belfast will be open during the year,” said Husbands. “Other major events such as one of the world’s largest lighting shows and an MTV concert will take place during the Titanic Festival in April,” he added.

Interest in the building has exceeded expectations.

Almost 100,000 tickets have been sold for the coming year. Some 425,000 visitors are expected each year.

“Over the next few months we will be welcoming visitors from the four corners of the world as well as every corner of the UK and Ireland,” said Husbands.

The building can hold 3,547 visitors at any one time, the same number as the capacity of Titanic. Some hundreds of tickets are being made available for walk-in visitors each day, although the general advice is that people should try to book online.

“The atmosphere promises to be very special, and we encourage people to come down and enjoy this historic moment, but also to take time to plan their journey,” said Judith Owens, operations director for the exhibition.

The building will also house temporary exhibits, a banqueting suite, education and community facilities, catering and retail space and a basement car park. Visitors will learn about the construction of the Titanic and the story of Northern Ireland’s industrial and maritime heritage.

The tour is divided into nine sections, starting with 1912 Belfast and moving through the ship’s construction, launch, maiden voyage and sinking. It deals with the popular culture it inspired, and how its remains were located in 1985 by US oceanographer Prof Robert Ballard.