A LEADING tourism expert has urged traders not to squander the multi-million pound opportunity lost at the Irish Open when the Giro d'Italia comes to Northern Ireland.
Dr Peter Bolan, director of International Tourism Management studies at the University of Ulster, revealed that £3.5m in retail spend was lost during the prestigious 2012 golf tournament at Royal Portrush because shops didn't adapt to cope with increased footfall in the area.
Now, with one of the world's largest cycling events having its 'grande partenza' (or big start) in Northern Ireland next week, Mr Bolan said it would be a shame if this chance was also missed.
"Major scale events such as the Irish Open potentially contribute as much £10m directly into our economy and the retail slice of that can be as high as £3.5m," he said.
"Based on visitor numbers, my calculations suggest that £3.5m was largely lost in 2012 due to a lack of flexibility and willingness by local businesses to extend or alter opening hours, particularly in the evening when people were around and not watching the event.
"Most facilities were closed during the key times to capture the additional spend that could have arisen from having more people in the area."
Local retailers on the north Antrim coast who did extend their trading times during the Open two years ago reaped the benefits of a boost in sales.
Among them was Troggs Surf Shop owner Andy Hill, who said: "We stayed open late and we did very well so I'm really looking forward to the retail opportunities linked to the Giro d'Italia next week.
"It's a great chance for traders to take advantage of all the free publicity."
After the grand opening ceremony at Belfast City Hall next Thursday, there will be three days of action across Belfast, the Causeway Coast, Glens of Antrim and Armagh before the event winds up in Dublin. Dr Bolan added: "This could be a huge fortnight; we've got the Giro itself for three days, as well as various events for a day or two leading up to it, and then as soon as that's over, there's a week-long festival leading up to the North West 200.
"On a global basis, cycling is like golf because people are prepared to travel across the world to the larger events like the Giro," he said.
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association boss Glyn Roberts said businesses must take advantage of the influx of visitors.
"Retailers on or near the Giro route need to grab this tremendous opportunity with both hands," he said.
He added: "This sort of thing doesn't come along all that often so businesses must do all they can to capitalise on it, whether that means extending their opening times or doing something extra to attract these customers."
The Giro d'Italia promises to deliver a visitor bonanza. The first three stages of the race will be held here before the event moves back to its native Italy. Around 200 riders from more than 30 countries will be competing in the 'big start', which includes the first stage race from Titanic Belfast to a finish at Belfast City Hall. Activities run from May 3-11.