Northern Ireland is quickly becoming one of the top tourism destinations in the world thanks to the MTV awards and the Titanic.
National Geographic Traveler magazine recently voted Belfast as one of the world's top destinations for 2012.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, over 140 international tour operators gathered in Belfast last Friday at an event promoting Northern Ireland's many attractions.
Many operators acknowledged that Belfast has changed significantly in the course of just 12 months, and now Northern Ireland, for a long time just a minor stop tagged on to the end of UK or Ireland breaks, is becoming a destination in its own right.
“The difference between visiting this year and last year is huge,” said Chris Hagan, from Superbreak in York.
He also added that the Titanic centennial to bring Northern Ireland to the attention of tourists.
“I think it started with the MTV awards; the whole atmosphere changed. The buzz about the Titanic in the media has been massive, you cannot pick up a paper or watch the news anywhere in the world without mention of it in the past few weeks," he said.
“We used to include Northern Ireland as part of our UK or Ireland tours, but now we are marketing the province as a short break destination alongside the likes of Paris or Prague.
“The Titanic building alone is a huge draw for tourists. As an attraction there is nothing else like it in the UK, it is superb and really makes you feel part of the story. It is a landmark that will bring people to Belfast, and then once they are here they can see what the rest of Northern Ireland has to offer.”
Said Heidi Burkhardt from Isle Inn Tours, which brings visitors from the United States to Ireland and Scotland: “We bring people who are interested in history and heritage and the tourism industry in Northern Ireland has really upped its game in terms of what it can deliver. Even outside of Belfast the accommodation and restaurant provision and visitor attractions are so much better.
“A lot of Americans are still sceptical about travelling up north when they come to Ireland, but with what some of the traders are offering now, it will be so much easier to bring them here.”
Susie McCullough, director of marketing and events with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, said: “Everybody has mentioned the buzz and the air of confidence in Northern Ireland. Those who have attended in the past have remarked on how there seems to be a change for the better.
“This event is not just about Belfast, there is also a huge interest in the Londonderry City of Culture events in 2013 and the opening of the new Giant’s Causeway visitor centre.
“We have been set the challenge to double tourism revenue by 2020 and when you see some of the connections which are being made between tour operators and traders at these events, it seems all the more achievable.”
Must-see off the beaten track spots around Ireland (PHOTOS)