Belfast Telegraph

Business View: Sporting aces can deal our tourism trade a good hand

By John Mulgrew

Judging by the numbers, it seems Northern Ireland's growing thirst for all things cycling has yet to be fully quenched.

It appears the iconic pink jersey along with the pomp, colour and thrilling speed of the Giro d'Italia proved popular - with almost a quarter of a million people turning out to take in the 'grande partenza'.

And while we always have a habit of patting ourselves on the back for attracting events to these shores, it's hard to argue that the Giro was anything other than a success.

However, just 17,300 Giro visitors were from outside Northern Ireland - with the bulk coming from the Republic and the rest of the UK.

It was considerably below the target of drawing in some 42,000 people from 'out-of-state'. But coverage did hit the back pages of newspapers and television screens worldwide.

And it's that widespread media coverage that our government departments and Tourism Northern Ireland will hope will help shift tickets for the next big events in our calendar.

That's the Irish Open at Royal County Down - the first time the tournament will be played at the Newcastle links course in 75 years.

And of course, golf's grandest weekend - the Open - has also been pencilled into our sporting tourism schedule for 2019. But according to the latest figures it's been a mixed picture for Northern Ireland tourism.

While trip numbers rose by 8% to 3.44 million up to September 2014 - with a significant jump in those travelling from the US for holiday purposes - overall, Northern Ireland is still being buoyed by those travelling within our shores.

The number of those travelling from the Republic declined in the same period, with 13% fewer overnight trips to Northern Ireland. And it's coupled with an ever-weakening euro making the Republic an increasingly attractive place to spend your down-time.

The strength of sterling over the single currency has prompted concern among Northern Ireland's hospitality trade - with fears that flocks of tourists will head for the border, or avoid the region entirely as their spending power weakens here. But we have a few sporting and cultural aces up our sleeves in the coming months and years, including the lasting legacy of the Giro's Gran Fondo - coming our way in June.

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