Belfast's continental market was most successful in UK
Shoppers from the Irish Republic helped make Belfast's Christmas Continental market the most successful in the United Kingdom, it was revealed today.
They also helped lift the retail gloom with a multi-million pound knock-on for shops in the city centre and for hotels.
Market Place Europe which operates the markets in key cities across the UK said trade in Belfast was the best by far.
Credit crunch defying shoppers poured into the market in the grounds of Belfast City Hall during the month before Christmas and trade was up between 30% and 40% on last year.
An estimated 750,000 shoppers hit the stalls - up 250,000 on 2007 - which had until then been the best of the five years the market has been in the city.
Traders who manned the 80 stalls described business as "phenomenal" and have already booked the market out for next year.
The economic impact on the rest of the city has yet to be quantified - Belfast City Centre Partnership will not be revealing details of pre-Christmas retail trading until next week.
But people travelling from outside Belfast don't visit just the market and go home, they shop all over the city centre.
Two years ago an impact assessment carried out by the Belfast City Council said the market generated an £18 million knock-on for resident traders - and that with less than half the number of people visiting the market as did last month.
Allan Hartwell of Market Place Europe said a main contributor to the upsurge in market shoppers in December was visitors from right across the Irish Republic taking advantage of the near parity between the pound and euro.
Many travelled across the border for the weekend, booking into hotels for Saturday night and making Sunday market trading the busiest ever.
Mr Hartwell said: "Belfast is definitely better placed than other UK cities to weather the credit crunch because of its proximity to the Irish market and this was shown in the run up to Christmas.
"People are not going to travel to England to shop but they are going to travel to Belfast and this is born out by the phenomenal figures reported by our traders. They were the best at the markets across the UK by far."
One of the few traders from Belfast to take a stall at the market - selling gourmet burgers - did 50% of his annual trade in the month at the market and is taking the next six months off.
Hotels saw the benefits of the cross-border shoppers. The Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau said: "All of the hotels have reported a very busy December leading up to Christmas and afterwards. They say there were a lot of southern accents."
Overnight visitors from the Republic were estimated to be up by some 20% over the period.
A survey released in Dublin today revealed the Irish were willing to spend more on a night in a hotel room than anyone else in Europe.
Meanwhile when the market and Christmas were over the pubs had their best New Year's Eve for five years.
"People know the next year is going to be tough so they decided to go out with a bang," said one publican.