£35m: That's how much the Irish Open could be worth to Northern Ireland economy
The Irish Open golf championship could be worth more than £35m to the local economy.
But retail and tourism experts have told Northern Ireland traders to up their game — or miss out on a huge opportunity to cash in.
When Killarney hosted the prestigious tournament in 2010 and 2011, organisers claimed that €30m (£28m) was spent each year in the region as a result.
Economist John Simpson said that the north coast area — the same size as the Co Kerry town in population terms — could benefit from an even bigger cash injection as more visitors are expected to attend the event this year than in the previous two years
“Given the money generated by the championship in Killarney, the Irish Open could be worth £35m to the Northern Ireland economy,” said Mr Simpson.
“A golf festival or any other festival that brings in tens of thousands of people is potentially an enormous boost to an area, but that area must have attractive shops and other visitor attractions and they must make themselves available and easily found.
“Wandering visitors won’t necessarily find the best places to visit without some guidance.”
Dr Peter Bolan, director of International Tourism Management Studies at the University of Ulster, said visitors to the 1999 Open in Carnoustie pumped £13m into the local economy.
“Compared to other types of tourists, golf tourists spend significantly more on their holidays — typically two to three times as much,” Dr Bolan said.
“They have more money, but they also have higher expectations and they aren’t going to part with their money for the sake of buying something. It’s time for tourism and retail to think about whether they are able to meet the demands of discerning tourists.”
He added that research from KPMG in 2008 revealed that on average £881 was spent per person on a golfing holiday.
University of Ulster head of retail, Dr Karise Hutchinson said retailers need to give tourists good reasons to return.
“Killarney managed to secure the Irish Open two years in a row because they stepped up to the plate. We must do that too,” she said.
In 2010, 82,500 spectators were present in Killarney, with that figure rising to 86,500 last year.
Dr Bolan said the area has an ideal platform for marketing itself and highlighting what’s on offer.
“The golf tourism potential as a result of the Irish Open is enormous,” he said.