Don't let Phantom Friday turn city into ghost town
The term "Have a Good Weekend" is popular throughout the world of work and recreation, but the term has taken a new meaning in Belfast where the shortage of people at the start of the weekend has led to the phenomenon of "Phantom Friday".
This is because of the growing trend where people leave the city early on Friday – if they come in at all – and this is making Northern Ireland's capital powerhouse much emptier than it should be. This is due to a number of reasons. It is partly the result of the earlier Union flag protests when shoppers avoided the city centre in case of trouble.
Then there is also the understandable desire of many employees to start their weekend early and to move out of the city quickly when they finish work, and as soon as possible.
This has been common for some time, but it has been accentuated by recent security, social and other developments.
The trend is now apparent well before the marching season comes into full swing, and if people are reluctant to stay in the city now, what will it be like later on?
The problem of "Phantom Friday" is a further headache for traders who have already suffered badly in recent months from the after-effects of the flag protests.
The resultant "Backin' Belfast" campaign was successful in attracting people into the city centre but more now needs to be done to make sure people stay longer. Once people develop the habit of leaving Belfast earlier on Friday or not going in at all unless they have to, it may be difficult to change these patterns.
One way of doing so could be the provision of more shopping and entertainment attractions on Fridays, so that people will have an incentive to stay on and enjoy their city.
Belfast has suffered much in recent months, though its traders and citizens are resourceful and resilient. The last thing they need, however, is any further development of the "Phantom Friday" syndrome.