Northern Ireland

World police and fire games under starter's orders

World Police & Fire Games
Image caption The games are billed as the third largest international multi-sport event in the world

As Northern Ireland prepares for an extra 25,000 visitors coming to next August's World Police and Fire games, the pressure is on to find them a bed.

Registration begins on Thursday and booking accommodation early is important.

The organisers say finding somewhere for everyone to stay remains "one of the key challenges for the games."

The games are billed as the third largest international multi-sport event in the world.

Ten thousand competitors and 15,000 visitors are expected to descend on Northern Ireland, competing for a limited amount of tourist accommodation.

Pop-up hotels

The date of the games - the first week in August - is already one of the busiest weeks in the tourist calendar. This year, hotel occupancy rates in Belfast peaked at almost 90% in the same month.

"So there is not a lot of headroom in there for another 25,000 visitors possibly coming here next year. There is bound to be pressures on the supply side with the world police and fire games coming. I have no doubt about that, " said Michael Williamson, from the consultancy firm ASM.

Mooring a liner on the River Lagan is one possibility that was discounted but the potential use of pop-up hotels is a short-term solution being examined.

"Pop up accommodation is effectively a pre-fabricated hotel that would arrive in Northern Ireland on the back of trucks and that would be assembled in a location for the duration of the games.

"I understand that some of those private sector organisations are in discussions with the tourist board around the legislative requirements to do that in Northern Ireland," said the games' chief executive John Tully.

'Short notice'

Student landlords, including those in Belfast's Holyland area, have been asked to consider making their properties available. They would have to pay to register with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and for advertising.

Holyland landlord Declan Boyle said while he would love to see Belfast's student land converted into a temporary athletes' village, he believes the organisers are cutting things fine.

Mr Boyle said: "Some landlords have been reluctant to go down that route. It is too bureaucratic. It is too labour intensive and the other main driver is it's getting close. August is not far away.

"Students are all going to be here until the end of June and then you have to try and transform things in between times. So it is quite short notice."

The Executive at Stormont is keen for the games to be seen as a success to prove Northern Ireland is capable of hosting an event of its size.

It has increased the amount of taxpayers' money underpinning the games from £6m to £6.9m which will come from the kitty of the Department of Culture and Leisure (DCAL).

Belfast City Council has pledged £400,000 in public funds.

Key challenge

Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann who sits on the DCAL committee at Stormont says he is aware of the concerns expressed over the availability of accommodation.

"Accommodation is going to become more of an issue as the games approach," he said.

"Many of these competitors bring their families with them. These groups want to stay close together for the atmosphere and may not want to be housed miles away from the heart of the action."

The organisers commissioned consultants Deloitte to carry out a study into the amount of accommodation available for the games. So will there be enough to go around?

Mr Tully said: "This is still one of the key challenges for the games.

"In doing the two things, in terms of securing the existing accommodation capacity and by using these innovative ways to expand the accommodation we think we can provide enough accommodation across Northern Ireland for the visitors."

Some teams have already been to Northern Ireland to book their accommodation, making sure they'll be ahead of the game.