Suddenly we're all taking holidays at home again
Tourist industry reaps benefits of massive rise in 'staycations'
Sunshine is not guaranteed but a record number of people are enjoying a holiday at home in Northern Ireland.
Falling consumer spending as a result of the recession has given rise to the growing trend for 'staycations', with short city breaks or visits from locals on the increase and delivering a multi-million pound boost to the local economy.
Last year saw domestic holidays reach record levels with 1.29 million Northern Ireland residents enjoying a holiday at home - a year-on-year increase of 21%. The numbers are expected to be even higher this year.
This has been partly boosted by the 'Explore More' marketing campaign by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) to encourage people to take a break at home.
Ruth Burns, from NITB, believes that the convenience of holidaying at home and the value for money has increased Northern Ireland's attractiveness as a holiday destination.
"The ongoing economic climate means that, more than ever, value for money is a key factor in people deciding to holiday at home, and this is reflected in our new campaign with lots of amazing summer accommodation deals on our website," she said.
Janice Gault, Northern Ireland Hotels Federation chief executive, said while 'staycations' are in vogue, many people are still booking abroad.
"The domestic market has performed strongly, particularly short breaks, but people see holidaying at home as a secondary holiday or a quick getaway," she said. "I believe people are still taking holidays abroad."
The 'staycation' phenomenon has mainly boosted hotels in border areas of Northern Ireland, reflecting the fact that 75% of the population live in the greater Belfast area and people are wanting a break away from the city.
There are also clear benefits to the local economy with day trips by Northern Ireland residents generating £30m in the first four months of this year alone.
One holiday rental businessman described how his company is also benefiting from the rise in families choosing to holiday at home.
Keith Walls, who runs Causeway coast rentals with his wife, is expanding his business Northern Ireland-wide because of the huge demand for holidays at home.
The couple began by renting out their own property on the north Antrim coast three years ago and now manage 40 self-catering holiday homes on the scenic coast from Portrush to Cushendall.
"The biggest market for our properties is local," Keith said. "We do try to target people from the rest of Europe and America but I would say 70% of business is from Northern Ireland.
"There is a massive market from Belfast particularly during July and August when we are 100% fully booked.
"But even off-season there is a big demand for holidays at home. I think there is nowhere better to stay than the north coast, especially when the sun is shining," he added.
The Portstewart father-of-two said a number of factors came together to boost the 'staycation' in Northern Ireland.
"A lot of things happened in a row - the recession, of course and then the ash cloud seemed to spur things along," he said.
"The self-catering option always works out cheaper.
"At £500 a week for a family of six, including petrol costs, that doesn't add up to a big spend for a holiday."