NI high streets suffer quiet New Year's Eve as more people celebrate at home instead
Northern Ireland's high streets experienced a drop in visitors on the evening of New Year's Eve, suggesting the public chose to celebrate the dawn of 2018 in their own homes.
The figures from information company Springboard showed a 20.2% fall in footfall between 7pm and 12pm.
And there was also an 11.5% slump in visits to high streets across the province during the day. It's not clear if the figures have been adjusted to reflect shorter shop trading hours as New Year's Eve was a Sunday.
But Springboard said shoppers were out again by New Year's Day, with footfall rising by 12%.
Economist Andrew Webb of Webb Advisory said the figures suggested people were becoming more conscious of the increased costs of going out on New Year's Eve.
"Price hikes for entry, drinks, meals and taxis over the period and the pain of getting a taxi led to a switch in focus," he said.
Mr Webb said poor weather would also have kept people at home - even though the impact of Storm Dylan was milder than expected.
And he said that in Belfast, the lack of a big public event laid on by the council may also have diminished numbers.
Mr Webb added: "I would also suggest that the lack of a city centre New Year's Eve public event could be creating a perception of Belfast not being a location of choice for family/friends to gather to ring in the new year."
Many restaurants also chose to close on New Year's Eve but Andy Rea, the owner of Belfast restaurants including the Mourne Seafood Bar, said they stayed open.
"Our trade was steady though this year we didn't put on any additional entertainment for New Year's Eve," he said.
Michelle Greeves, the manager of Victoria Square shopping centre and chairperson of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, said she believed limited Sunday opening hours - from 1pm to 6pm - had an impact on daytime footfall on New Year's Eve. "As New Year's Eve fell on a Sunday this year, trading hours were restricted to just five hours - 1pm to 6pm.
"In my opinion, this is what has contributed to the fall in footfall figures. Many of our members are reporting strong sales both pre and post-Christmas, to date."
Colin Neill, the chief executive of Hospitality Ulster - an industry group representing bars and restaurants - said: "It can be difficult to read too much into these figures. What we can say is that it was a varied Christmas, with some premises reporting beverage sales up as much as 10% and others down by the same amount. Food sales remained broadly the same."
He said members outside Belfast were reporting a busier Christmas than those in the city.
"This could be due to the snow in early December, which hit Belfast worst,'' Mr Neill added. Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne said there were a range of factors at play, "not least the age range of those going out to clubs, bars and restaurants, those staying in and others visiting friends and family on New Year's Eve".
He added: "The long lead-in to Christmas probably did not help either. Most businesses closed on December 22 so it could be that spending power peaked earlier, leaving most of us short for New Year's Eve."