Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's pubs enjoy busiest summer for five years

BY CLAIRE MCNEILLY

Sales went up by one fifth in pubs across the province following an influx of overseas visitors, experts have said.

The upturn comes as a huge relief after Northern Ireland's hospitality sector was floored by rioting and street violence during the Union flag protests, as well as a decrease in spending linked to the recession.

Hotels and guesthouses have, however, reported their busiest summer for five years, as visitor numbers swelled during July and August.

Business was also booming in restaurants, pubs and cafes and tills were once again ringing in shops after a lacklustre start to the year.

The economic turnaround was undoubtedly boosted by the weather, as this year had the warmest, sunniest and driest summer since 2006.

It also benefited from the positive global coverage of the G8 summit in Fermanagh, the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast and the Londonderry UK City of Culture festivities.

Mark Stewart, chairman of Pubs of Ulster, said the successful summer months signalled a "welcome boost".

Mr Stewart said: "The World Police and Fire Games and the recent Fleadh celebrations in Londonderry brought thousands of visitors to the province and during that period many pubs reported an increase in sales by up to 20%."

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium boss Aodhan Connolly said retailers fared much better during the summer.

"It was a real relief to see that shopper numbers were on the up in July and August after June's steep drop of 5.9%," said Mr Connolly.

Northern Ireland Hotels Federation president Janice Gault said occupancy rates had seen a marked increase due to overseas visitors. "Most hotels have said that July and August have been their strongest in five years and that has helped them claw back from a very slow start to the year," she said.

Belfast's Malone Lodge Hotel, which has 32 self-catering and B&B apartments, had a "brilliant summer" according to boss Gareth Macklin.

Alan Clarke, Northern Ireland Tourist Board chief executive, said the tourism industry had enjoyed hosting successful major events.

"From the opening of our new Titanic and Causeway visitor centres to the sell-out Irish Open golf tournament, this spearheaded a spectacular period of international exposure for Northern Ireland and I'm delighted this momentum is continuing," he said.

"This year Titanic Belfast has welcomed its one millionth visitor, the G8 was the most peaceful ever and the World Police and Fire Games were the friendliest ever games.

"Londonderry continues to fully embrace its mantle as the UK City of Culture, with the recent Fleadh epitomising community spirit."

FACTFILE

It was the hottest July on record with top temperatures hovering around the 30C mark in some places in Northern Ireland. Data from dairy company Dale Farm – famed for such family favourites as Polly Pineapple and Mr Frostie – showed that during the heatwave we were buying more than a million ice lollies a week.

 

Tourism strategy really paying dividends - DR LYN FAWCETT

Northern Ireland is experiencing a boom in pure holidaymaker tourism, in particular from "out of state" visitors, but natives of Northern Ireland also holidayed here due to the wonderful weather at the start of the summer coupled with continuing fears over the recession.

However, the real force for increasing tourism numbers and expenditure has been laid down over the past decade by the hard work of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) and the Regional Tourism Partnerships.

We would not be where we are today if it were not for the long term strategic plan which was developed in 2004 by the NITB.

The NITB developed this by implementing a long term strategic plan (Strategic Framework for Action) built upon a detailed analysis of our product, our competitors and our potential markets.

All this came to fruition in time for 2012 which gave us world exposure through the Irish Open golf and the Titanic Commemoration.

As John Hannibal Smith in the A-Team used to say: "I love it when a plan comes together".

* Dr Lyn Fawcett is senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Ulster

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