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Services Projects 29 Insights 46 Podcasts 17 Careers About
Visit Belfast Strategy and Business Plan
Strategy & Consulting
Visit Belfast
Belfast is a small capital city with a big heart, with a strong spirit, palpable energy, a dark sense of humour and above all, where ‘the craic is mighty’. Visitors who’ve experienced Belfast will inherently recognise these worthy characteristics, described in the city’s tourism strategy Make Yourself at Home. Indeed, Northern Ireland’s capital is in transition, with a lot of stories to tell the world. This requires the city’s destination marketing and management organisation (DMMO) to be agile and able to serve the city in the most effective way possible. Having delivered its 2021-2024 Rebuilding City Tourism strategy successfully, Visit Belfast wanted to develop a strategy and business plan for the coming three years that would build on the city’s (already strong) achievements in the field of making tourism more environmentally sustainable, while boosting efforts to achieve a much greater social and economic impact from tourism.
The Brief

With this in mind, in October 2023, Visit Belfast commissioned TOPOSOPHY to develop a rigorous and forward-looking three-year strategy for 2024-2027, together with a comprehensive business plan covering all of Visit Belfast’s operational areas for the first year of this period. One of the key aims of the new strategy was to draw on international best practice in destination marketing and management, and to reflect the major changes that are occurring in the way that consumers in Belfast’s source markets are spending their time and money, while adapting to meet the needs of visitor economy businesses that are currently facing strong headwinds.

With Visit Belfast operating as a public-private partnership, it was key to ensure that we received input on this strategy development process from a wide range of major stakeholders, including Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Belfast Harbour, neighbourhood tourism organisations, business improvement districts, and of course Visit Belfast’s major commercial partners.  

Objective 01

Develop a three-year organisational strategy for 2024-2027, and one-year business plan for the first year of this period

Objective 02

Carry out an in-depth analysis of the city’s tourism performance and set out forecasts for its future growth trajectory

Objective 03

Ensure that the new strategy aligns key city and regional policies; such as Northern Ireland’s 10-Year Plan for tourism, and the city’s tourism strategy Make Yourself at Home.

Objective 04

Engage with a wide variety of major stakeholders, including neighbouring local authorities, strategic and commercial partners and neighbourhood tourism organisations.

Objective 05

Identify pioneering ways for the city to achieve greater social and economic impact from tourism, together with actions to deliver on these.

Objective 06

Establish additional environmental, social and economic KPIs that would allow Visit Belfast and partners to track its progress and impact 


Visit Belfast delivers services on behalf of the city in major areas such as destination marketing and communications, visitor servicing, business events, and sustainability and impact. In recent years the city has become established as the biggest cruise port on the island of Ireland (winning awards against other UK competitors), and has become recognised as an outstanding destination for business events too. The city wanted to build on this success to enhance the city’s leisure tourism appeal at a time when increasing numbers of consumers in both the UK and Republic of Ireland are looking to take ‘staycations’ close to home. 

Yet many in Belfast are keenly aware that large numbers of city break consumers may have little awareness about what modern Belfast is like, and that those outside the island of Ireland typically would have to fly to reach the city. Overcoming these barriers is important, while ensuring that those visitors who do make it to the city for business or leisure, are encouraged to stay for as long as possible. Stunning coast and countryside beckons, while the city’s own neighbourhoods have an unquestionably unique story to tell too.

We approached the project by: 

  • Making a comparative analysis of global consumer, market and industry trends and using these to ask key local stakeholders how these trends had manifested in Belfast 
  • Carrying out multiple 1:1 interviews and focus groups with Visit Belfast’s key stakeholders and major funding organisations, to understand their strategic priorities and expectations for the coming years 
  • Liaising closely with Visit Belfast’s own senior management team to understand the practicalities of delivering on their strategy to date, and the issues that would have to be taken into account in the future strategy
  • Ensuring that the strategy aligned perfectly with the priorities set out in local economic development strategies and the city tourism strategy
  • Guiding Visit Belfast and local partners on the key elements of boosting neighbourhood tourism, in line with international benchmarks
  • Bringing together all headline and business-area KPIs, to evaluate which would be most effective in guiding the organisation and achieving real and lasting impacts for the city
  • Reporting our progress on a continuous basis to Visit Belfast’s Board, and gathering its input in order to refine the strategy’s development at each stage
Key element 01

Destination analysis to understand and illustrate the current policy and strategic context, and ensure the new strategy alignment with these.

Key element 02

Market context and consumer trends analysis to understand factors shaping visitor demand.

Key element 03

Consultations with major public and private partners with an interest in the city’s visitor economy, in order to establish key priorities and actions required in the new strategy. 

Key element 04

Benchmarking analysis of best practices in visitor servicing, marketing and communications, sustainability, cruise tourism and business events.

Key element 05

Frequent updates to the Board of Visit Belfast to gather feedback and refine the strategy further.


The strategy and business plan were approved unanimously by Visit Belfast’s Board on 22nd February 2024. The strategy is due to be approved by Belfast City Council on 9th March, after which implementation will begin in earnest by Visit Belfast.

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