World Police and Fire Games: Big Belfast welcome sees bars and restaurants bag a £5m windfall
Northern Ireland's hospitality sector has benefited from an economic bonanza worth around £5m in just one week, thanks to the World Police and Fire Games (WPFG).
With up to 15,000 competitors and supporters from 70 countries taking up residence in the city, there was always going to be an upturn in trade.
The good weather provided a further impetus for retailers, restaurateurs and publicans, who have reported that the city was buzzing and the tills were ringing – prompting a 20% hike on year-on-year sales. Economist John Simpson estimated that the WPFG generated £5m in extra turnover for Belfast, including spending on accommodation.
"The immediate economic impact of the games was probably between £4-£5m but, in the longer term – when you take into account Government spend and sponsorship – that figure will rise to £25m," he said.
Amid the feel-good factor of the festivities, one bar in Belfast city centre almost ran out of beer, according to Pubs of Ulster boss Colin Neill. Hotels were also packed, with occupancy rates hitting high levels, as tourists flocked to what have been dubbed the world's friendliest games.
Alan Clarke, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, said the country had lived up to its image.
"The huge success of these games will create a tourism legacy that will last for years as it shone a light on Northern Ireland and our ability to stage world class events," he said.
Northern Ireland Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault said many visitors to the city had opted for extended stays.
"We've had a good summer so far with the prospect of good occupancy continuing throughout the rest of August and that's good news because, already, hotel occupancy is probably in the late 80s," she said, adding: "Events of this nature are going to position us on the world stage and that's what Northern Ireland needs."
Mr Neill said the entire hospitality sector was benefiting from the event.
"I'm aware of whole teams adopting some premises to the point that they ended up practically running out of beer," he said.
"At least that's what happened to Filthy McNasty's on the Dublin Road after the Americans adopted it. The Hudson Bar also told me it had done very well.
"The WPFG have benefited the city centre pubs most, as that's where most of the athletes have been basing themselves, and some have seen sales up by 20% if not more."
Mourne Seafood restaurant owner Bob McCoubrey said he had noticed an influx of tourists which gave his eatery "a lovely atmosphere and a great buzz".
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association boss Glyn Roberts said the games had presented a crucial opportunity for traders and cited a 15%-20% increase in shop sales.
The hospitality sector has had a dreadful start to 2013 due to the Union flag protests. In December 2012 Belfast City Council voted to fly the Union flag at City Hall on designated days only. A loyalist protest outside the building erupted into violence and there was also trouble in east Belfast. There followed weeks of public disorder which drove people away from the city centre at a cost over over £11m to the local economy.