Ir­ish Open prom­ises a spend­ing splurge of £19m for north coast

Shops and cafes keen to at­tract vis­i­tors away from course amid rule change

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY JOHN MULGREW

BUSI­NESSES are hop­ing that a change to the rules at the Ir­ish Open will help the tills ring louder this year, amid claims that up to £19m could be spent on North­ern Ire­land’s north coast this week.

Or­gan­is­ers are ex­pect­ing 90,000 vis­i­tors to the tour­na­ment, which tees off at Port­stew­art Golf Club on Thurs­day and con­tin­ues un­til Sun­day.

Some of the sport’s big­gest stars, in­clud­ing Rory Mcil­roy and Jon Rahm, are de­scend­ing on the small Co Lon­don­derry coastal town this week.

When the Ir­ish Open was held at the nearby Royal Portrush in 2012, traders had been plan­ning for weeks about how to cater for the del­uge of cus­tomers ex­pected into the town.

But a rule back then stopped vis­i­tors from be­ing read­mit­ted to the tour­na­ment if they left dur­ing the day.

That has now been changed, how­ever, so those vis­it­ing can leave the tour­na­ment and head in to town.

Tourism NI is pre­dict­ing 90,000 vis­i­tors over the week.

And economist John Simp­son said that could equate to “lo­cal spend­ing” of up to £19m.

That’s based on an av­er­age spend of around £100 per day, for a two day stay.

There will be re­stric­tions in place on some roads in and around Port­stew­art Golf Club, in­clud­ing Burn­side Road, Strand Road, and Prospect Road.

Donal Do­herty, the owner of Harry’s Shack — once named the top restau­rant in Ire­land — said that while he’s ex­pect­ing to see a down­turn in trade dur­ing the day, as his busi­ness sits just me­tres away from the Strand golf course on the beach, over­all, the pos­i­tive im­pact is “noth­ing short of ter­rific”.

“The thing for us, since day one, when we heard of the road clo­sures, we would have got ner­vous.

“Since it was an­nounced, al­most in­stantly, we saw a surge in higher num­bers of US and Bel­gian (golf vis­i­tors).

“Over the long haul, this will be noth­ing but spec­tac­u­lar for Port­stew­art. We will be lucky to be as busy as we would nor­mally be. You can’t get (parked) within half a kilo­me­tre of us.

“It’s so well or­gan­ised though, and I have to com­mend them for that.

“It’s noth­ing short of ter­rific. We have three of the top 15 golfers booked in here. The place looks fan­tas­tic. The things that were un­sightly have been ti­died up.”

Asked about his restau­rant suf­fer­ing a hit to its busi­ness dur­ing the day, Mr Do­herty said: “You just take it on the chin.

“We will be qui­eter in the day, but make up for it at night time. We are de­lighted.”

He said the award-win­ning restau­rant has also just in­vested £45,000 on an out­side bar to meet de­mand for the droves of vis­i­tors ex­pected each day once play fin­ishes in the late af­ter­noon.

Damien Morelli, di­rec­tor of ice-cream shop Morelli’s of Port­stew­art, is con­fi­dent busi­ness will be strong.

He says he “hasn’t heard any neg­a­tive com­ments” from busi­nesses at Port­stew­art’s prom­e­nade.

“They seem to have it very well-or­gan­ised,” he said.

Buses are set to ferry vis­i­tors to and from the course, with shops and cafes hop­ing for an in­crease in foot­fall.

Mr Morelli said: “(The buses) com­bined with the fact peo­ple are able to get in and out — we have seen an in­crease al­ready. It’s hard to know what to ex­pect, but it’s busy al­ready.

“The main road into the town isn’t re- ally af­fected, those to­wards the beach are closed. I think it will be a very busy week for us, and busier than nor­mal.”

John Mc­grillen, Tourism NI chief ex­ec­u­tive, said: “North­ern Ire­land is the home of world-class cour­ses, world-class play­ers, and world-class golf events, and that is the mes­sage we will be show­cas­ing all through this week and be­yond.

“Over 90,000 vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing 10,000 from out of state, are ex­pected at Port- ste­wart and the sur­round­ing ar­eas of the Cause­way Coastal Route.”

The lessons of Portrush have been learnt in Port­stew­art, ac­cord­ing to tour­na­ment di­rec­tor Michael Moss.

“Peo­ple want other things to do as well as watch­ing golf,” he told the Belfast Tele­graph last month.

“But this year spec­ta­tors will be en­cour­aged to go into Port­stew­art where there’s lots on and it’s hoped that a shut­tle bus can be ar­ranged.”

Economist An­drew Webb said the “eco­nomic im­pact could be sig­nif­i­cant if the event draws peo­ple to it that would have been else­where and only come for the golf, or lo­cals that have stayed here for the golf.

“So, we’ll be look­ing for ho­tel oc­cu­pancy lev­els go­ing up in the area, and pubs and res­tau­rants gain­ing. It wouldn’t be un­rea­son­able to think the im­pact will be sim­i­lar to the North West 200.”

How­ever, he said some ref­er­ences to the “global au­di­ence reach” are “questionable”.

Port­stew­art is host­ing the Ir­ish Open, with Rory Mcil­roy among those play­ing, while fans who leave the course will now be al­lowed back

Tourism NI chief ex­ec­u­tive John Mc­grillen

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