Belfast Telegraph

All Ireland Fleadh and World Police and Fire Games lured thousands, but retail trade actually fell

BY JOANNE FLEMING

TWO major tourism events which saw thousands of visitors descend on Northern Ireland failed to provide a boost to retailers, according to new research.

Competitors and supporters from around the world arrived in Belfast for the 10-day World Police and Fire Games in mid-August.

The month also saw the All Ireland Fleadh Irish music and dancing festival come to Londonderry.

But it seems neither major event was able to deliver a much-needed shot in the arm for local traders.

Footfall on the province's high streets fell by 1.5% in August compared to the same month last year, according to figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium/Springboard.

The figures are also worse than the UK average – a 0.9% drop in footfall. The report for August comes as a particular disappointment for retailers, who enjoyed a seasonal 3% increase in footfall in July because of the good weather.

They had been hoping the World Police and Fire Games, which attracted competitors from across the globe, would continue the trend.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the hospitality industry may have been the main beneficiaries, with Belfast and Derry's pubs and restaurants experiencing a boost.

However, last month Northern Ireland was not the worst performing region of the UK.

That was Wales, where footfall was seen to drop by 2.7%.

Scotland reported footfall above the UK average, although it fell by 0.3%.

Only two areas in England reported footfall above the UK average – the North and Yorkshire (0.1%) and Greater London (-0.3%).

Overall, shopping centres fared less well than high streets and retail parks in August.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, called for "definitive action" from the Assembly to halt the decline locally.

"It's disappointing to see that shopper numbers are down again after showing an encouraging rise in July," he said.

"There is a need now for definitive action from the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure the health and growth of a sector that employs almost 10% of the Northern Ireland working population."

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said the UK drop in footfall was somewhat surprising given the continuing hot weather.

She said it was the most significant drop since March.

"In overall terms, however, the resultsindicate an increasing degree of stability in the performance of retail locations."

BACKGROUND

The 1.5% drop in footfall across Northern Ireland's stores in August will be seen as a blow to the local retail sector. Hopeful that the worst of the recession was over, there was cautious optimism when July's figures showed a 3% rise in shopper numbers after a steep drop the month before. Good weather and seasonal purchases had helped boost the high street. In June there had been a 6% fall in shoppers, considerably worse than the whole of the UK where the total was up by 0.1%.

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