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Belfast hosts Europe’s largest archaeology conference with more than 3,000 delegates

Posted By:
Visit Belfast

31st Aug 2023

Belfast will this month host Europe’s largest annual gathering of archaeologists when the city will welcome more than 3,000 delegates to Queen’s University and to a variety of venues across the city for four full days.

Belfast won the bid to host the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) annual conference in 2019 and it joins a stellar line-up of international cities who welcomed the group in recent years including Lisbon, Helsinki, Istanbul, Barcelona, Bern, and Budapest – the torch will be passed to Rome in 2024.

A major economic and educational coup for the city, the four-day, four-night event will generate around £3.4 million in a significant boost for the local economy, benefiting tourism, hospitality and transport sector and supporting thousands of jobs.

Queen’s University Belfast provides the main conference venue after a series of pre-conference excursions north and south of the border and a ‘Festival of Archaeology’ to celebrate the event organised by Queen’s University Belfast in collaboration with the Department of Communities’ Historic Environment Division and the Ulster Museum which invites the wider public to get involved.

A special opening ceremony and welcome reception will happen at ICC Belfast on Wednesday 30 August. Another major event – the annual party – takes place in Lavery’s in the city on Thursday 31 August. The conference runs until Saturday 2 September, concluding with the association’s annual dinner at Titanic Belfast after a closing reception at Ulster Museum. The conference organisation has been supported by Conference Partners International.

The EAA was founded after the fall of the Berlin Wall with the goal to dismantle a similar wall that divided Western and Eastern archaeological strands, isolated research and heritage management.

Based in Prague, the EAA represents members from nearly 70 countries of all continents, making it the second largest and one of the most important archaeological associations in the world. Addressing a wide range of cross-cutting themes involving response to the climate change endangering heritage, resilience or sustainability, the annual EAA conference is the organisation’s main annual event.

Through its Northern Ireland Ambassador Programme, Visit Belfast worked with Eileen Murphy, Professor of Archaeology, School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University Belfast, to successfully bid for the conference which received funding from Belfast City Council and Tourism Northern Ireland through its Belfast and Northern Ireland conference subvention scheme.

Gerry Lennon, Chief Executive of Visit Belfast, the destination marketing management organisation (DMMO) for the Belfast City Region, said:

“Belfast’s tourism recovery continues apace and the arrival of the European Association of Archaeologists conference to the city underlines the city’s award-winning ability to attract high calibre, internationally renowned organisations that delivers not only positive economic impacts but an unrivalled platform for local and global delegates to exchange expertise, drive innovation and champion best practice. I congratulate everyone involved in helping to secure the opportunity to host this prestigious event.”

Last year, Belfast was named Best Conference Destination for 2022 at the Conference & Incentive Travel (C&IT) Awards in London for the second year in a row in a reward for the city that continues to surpass the expectations of conference and event organisers for thousands of delegates every year. Visit Belfast is also shortlisted again this year.

Welcoming the imminent start of the EEA conference in Belfast, Professor Eileen Murphy from Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“With an increasing focus on archaeology and heritage and how we can learn from the past to help us both now and in our preparations for the future, I’m delighted that Belfast’s position as a leading, international academic centre of excellence in this field is at the centre of Europe’s largest annual gathering of almost 3,000 specialists in archaeology. Delegates can look forward to a busy academic programme and exceptional debate as well as enjoying the city’s wide range of unbeatable venues, attractions and warm, welcoming hospitality.

“As a university firmly within this year’s Top 100 of the world’s most authoritative rankings for archaeology and palaeoecology, as ranked by global higher education analyst QS, this year’s EAA conference is a major coup for Queen’s University Belfast, for the city, and for Northern Ireland.”

Major conference, association and business events play a pivotal role in developing and sustaining Belfast and Northern Ireland’s tourism economy by providing mid-week and year-round business that benefits event venues, hotels, restaurants, transport providers and attractions and this latest high-profile conference will support in driving Belfast’s appeal internationally, allowing the city to compete at a global level.

Tourism NI, Invest NI and Belfast City Council are key supporters and funders of business tourism into the city.

President of the EEA, Professor Eszter Bánffy, said:

“Despite any changes in political systems, EAA is based on an inclusive solidarity of common values that do not change with political decisions. This offers a firm background for bringing our Annual Meeting to Belfast, a modern city with a rich past.

The conference is yet another signal to hour our UK and Irish membership that has been an invaluably strong and entangled part of our association over the past three decades. We gratefully thank our hosts for giving us the chance to honour their entanglement in the community, across Europe and the globe.”

Professor Felipe Criado-Boado, EAA president (2015-2021), who oversaw Belfast’s winning bid for the conference in 2019, said:

“EAA is a civilian organization that brings together the many faces of archaeology in Eastern and Western Europe. EAA transcends any modern political formation. EAA has grown rapidly over the last 30 years from annual meetings and publications towards becoming a powerful body to support sustainability in heritage, equality in education and democracy in research, in Europe and beyond, with a vision for the future that always stems in understanding the past.”

Earlier this year, Visit Belfast revealed its plans are on track to deliver around £120 million to the local economy this year through its sales, marketing and visitor servicing activity, marking a fresh growth milestone in the organisation’s almost 25-year history.

Last year, Visit Belfast’s combined marketing, visitor servicing and business development activities delivered an above-target £111 million for the local economy, which included welcoming 60 new conferences, 131 cruise ships with 250,000 visitors and handling 578,000 visitor enquiries. This year the city is set to welcome around 80 major conferences and a record 170 ships will have visited by the end of October carrying 362,000 passengers and crew.