Border towns boom time as southern shoppers flock to Northern Ireland
Cross-border shopping is at a six-year high with some Northern Ireland retailers reporting an annual sales increase of more than 60%, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Post-Brexit, business is booming for traders in Belfast, Newry, Enniskillen, Armagh, Strabane and Londonderry, while hotels, pubs and restaurants in border towns have also seen a significant surge in profits.
New data from IntertradeIreland also shows that between July and September - the full three months that followed the historic Brexit vote - there were more Republic-registered cars at shopping centres here since cross-border shopping peaked in the aftermath of the Irish property crash.
Figures obtained exclusively by the Belfast Telegraph from Translink also revealed a 20% hike in train ticket sales between Dublin and Belfast last month, with a "noticeable increase" in numbers in recent weeks.
The trend, which is being welcomed by retailers and the hospitality industry, is expected to continue in the run-up to Christmas as southern shoppers head north in search of bargains of between 20% and 25% off some products.
Michelle Greeves, manager of Belfast's flagship shopping centre Victoria Square, said about 10% of its current footfall is from the south.
"Last year we lost a lot of northern customers to the Republic because of the savings they could make - but this year it has flipped the other way," she said.
"During the July and August school holidays, when sterling dropped, we saw a lift and then again in mid-October when it dropped again.
"Southern shoppers are aware of the significant savings to be made and we forecast that will continue until Christmas"
Belfast's CastleCourt shopping centre manager Paul McMahon said there had been a modest increase in cross-border trade.
"As we approach the key Christmas period we expect this will rise. However, we do not expect the same volumes as reported in the border towns," he said.
IntertradeIreland, which monitors car park occupancy at shopping centres in Northern Ireland, found in the third-quarter of 2016 the presence of Republic-registered cars was at its highest since the last three months of 2009.
With nearly 57% of all cars recorded in the quarterly survey coming from the Republic, this shows a significant increase on those recorded between April and June when the figure was 44%.
The Quays manager Cahal Austin said last week alone saw a 50% surge in customers coming from the Republic to shop in the Newry shopping centre.
"It has been extremely busy and some retailers are up in excess of 60% sales-wise since last year," he said. "In Newry both pounds and euro are accepted and one trader told me their euro take was 460% up during the mid-term school holidays."
Buttercrane shopping centre manager Peter Murray said there has been "a 50 to 60% uplift in southern shoppers from this time last year".
"For the last few weekends about 30% of our patronage is from the south. It's not quite yet at 2008/09 levels, but it could get there in the run-up to Christmas," he said.
Chris Nelmes, who manages The Outlet in Banbridge, said there was "a positive vibe" that was driving up sales and shopper numbers from the south.
"There has been a significant increase in southern trade and we've seen large double-digit growth," he said.
The Republic's significantly higher excise duty on wines and spirits has made the choice to cross the border a relatively easy one. Savings on medicines, which are more expensive in the Republic, have also been popular with southern shoppers flocking north via car, bus and train.
A Translink spokeswoman said: "October was a very strong month for the Enterprise service with growth of over 20% in both directions. There was a noticeable increase in the number of people using the service for south to north travel in recent weeks."
Colin Neill from Hospitality Ulster said hotels, pubs and restaurants across the province are seeing "significant numbers" of southern visitors.
"We've seen a definite uplift in trade over the past few weeks, which is helping to offset the VAT difference between the north and south in the short term," he said.
Northern Ireland Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault said there has been a big influx of visitors from the south recently.
"Hotels in Northern Ireland have been very busy over the last six weeks and we expect that trend to continue," she said.
"All weekends hotel occupancy has been around 90% in Belfast and we think that will be the case right up until Christmas."