Belfast Telegraph

Giro d'Italia: World famous international bike race can make business a winner

With 140,000 people due in Belfast for the Giro d'Italia, John Mulgrew looks at how local business can be a race winner

By John Mulgrew

Tens of thousands are set to descend on the streets of Belfast waving flags once again this year. But this time it will be the green, white and red of the Italian tricolore lining the streets of the city, as it hosts the start of one of the world's biggest sporting events -- the Giro d'Italia.

The internationally renowned cycling race -- which will spend three days weaving its way from Belfast, through Armagh and on to Dublin during May -- will heap attention on the first city, as well as taking in the famous north coast.

And as 200 riders from 30 nations arrive -- burgeoning crews in tow -- many of Northern Ireland's firms, with their entrepreneurial spirit, have the job of feeding and entertaining them. The race is aiming to attract some 140,000 people -- with around a third coming from outside the region. It's a lot of mouths to feed.

And with that interest, Belfast's hospitality and cycling industries -- along with any others that get involved -- have a chance at cashing in on another event, helping to bolster the region's credentials on an international stage.

So, when the race leader dons his salmon pink jersey as he heads through the capital in search of glory, what exactly can firms -- many of which suffered a sizeable blow following months of protests -- do to get involved and boost trade.

Whether it's the gentle wobble of a panna cotta or the heady savoury umami aroma of fresh black truffle, restaurants in Belfast and beyond can get in on the act. Some ideas include promoting local, 'al fresco' dining, with a healthy Giro menu. The addition of new products, for example a bespoke ice cream flavour, could also help draw in the crowds, say the organisers. Cafes and bars can do the same, with Italian coffees and cocktails -- backed up with some self-promotion.

The big retailers stocking top brands, adventurous displays, creative couture and competitions would be another way of drawing in the crowds.

As far as getting the message out, company should make use of social media. Organisers have encouraged the use of the race start's hashtag #Girostart2014 for "maximum visibility".

According to the man who helped bring the Giro to Ireland, the boost to businesses "will be seen immediately".

"Professional cycling races have an immediate and lasting effect on many local businesses, such as the retail and hospitality sectors," said Darach McQuaid of Shadetree Sports.

"Massive numbers of foreign spectators will arrive here in May and fill hotel rooms and restaurants," he said.

In order to boost the brand identity of the Giro, businesses can also avail of the official 'Big Start' logo. Firms can get in touch with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board's marketing department to get involved.

Businesses can also boost their 'Giro credentials' with some Italian-inspired design, including dressing up in pink -- the Giro's official colour.

According to Mr McQuaid, numbers from previous Giro starts -- such as Denmark in 2012 -- exceeded all expectations. "We are confident Northern Ireland will be no different. This immediate boost will be seen immediately."

Niall Gibbons of Tourism Ireland said the Giro would provide a "fantastic opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland around the world".

It's a feeling echoed by Invest NI, which has said the race will also have a knock-on effect in future months and years.

Businesses can download the Giro 'toolkit' from nitb.com/ giro2014 or visit www.girostart 2014.com for more information on how to get involved.

What is the Giro d'Italia?

The Giro d'Italia is one of, if not the most, prestigious professional cycling stages in the world.

It joins the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana as the three 'Grand Tours' in the racing calendar.

This year, the event -- which is over 100 years old -- will be starting in Northern Ireland, over the course of three days.

The stages will take place between Friday, May 9, and Sunday, May 11.

Setting off from Belfast on Friday, the route will take in much of the city before finishing back at its centre.

It's also set to take in much of the north coastline, as it travel from Belfast to the Giant's Causeway and along Cushendall to Larne.

It was confirmed the event had appointed former winner Stephen Roche to market and promote Northern Ireland's tourism in the run-up.

For more information on getting involved visit www.girostart2014.com

The businesses getting involved

THE RETAILER: CHAIN REACTION CYCLES

As you'd expect, the world's biggest online cycling retailer, Belfast-based Chain Reaction Cycles, has a few ideas up its sleeves ahead of the big event.

"We have an event the week before for cyclists -- including the full Giro course, an intermediate, and one for beginners," said Chain Reaction's Damien Duggan.

"The company will also have a large marketing strategy, using our massive fan and customer base.

"At our flagship store at the Boucher Road in Belfast, we will have a number of activities on.

"That will include official Giro jerseys and bespoke offers to encourage cyclists and supporters to visit."

He said he hoped the huge event would "create a massive amount of awareness that maybe wasn't there before".

THE HOTEL/BAR: THE MERCHANT HOTEL/BEANNCHOR

One of Belfast's top hotels, The Merchant, along with its owner's raft of other bars and eateries has big plans for the Giro, from inspired sweets at Patisserie Mimi to an Italian wine dinner.

"In venues such as The Dirty Onion, we will offer a genuine Belfast welcome, where tourists can mix with locals and enjoy great local entertainment, food and a wide selection of Irish whiskeys every night of the week," said Petra Wolsey.

"In other venues, including The Merchant Hotel, The Cloth Ear, The National Grande Cafe and Patisserie Mimi, we will marry our home-grown hospitality offerings with the introduction of high- quality Italian influenced products and bespoke events, which will appeal to domestic consumers, as well as visitors."

The firm's flagship business -- the five-star Merchant Hotel -- is set to run an Italian wine dinner during the event

RESTAURANT: COPPI/IL PIRATA

Boasting two of Belfast's busiest eateries, named after two late Italian cyclists, it's little wonder why Tony O'Neill of Thornyhill restaurants is taking a keen interest in the Giro.

"There are a few ideas, and we are trying to use our Coppi truck to follow the riders around," he said.

"We also want to link in to some of the teams if possible.

"To put it out there. It's getting the link across -- between our food, Italy and cycling."

He is hoping for a solid bump in trade, with families and supporters visiting the restaurants.

"Engaging -- that's the big thing -- to engage with the team. I mean, we are named after two dead, famous Italian cyclists."

THE ICE CREAM MAKER: MORELLI'S ICE CREAM

It would difficult to write about one of Italy's foremost events in the sporting calender without mentioning Northern Ireland's own Italian purveyors of frozen custard, Morelli's Ice Cream.

Based in the north coast, the firm boasts a number of shops throughout Northern Ireland -- as well as two in Belfast.

"We are delighted that it's coming and it will be a great spectacle," said Daniela Morelli.

"We have a few ideas, including having a bespoke flavour for the event."

The firm hopes to attract interest from fans and tourists visiting Northern Ireland for the first time.

"We may run a competition, on Facebook and Twitter -- trying to engage with potential customers."

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