Couples come south to marry on the cheap
A weak euro has led to boom in UK and Northern visitors boosting hotels and restaurants, writes Jerome Reilly
UK and Northern Ireland tourists with sterling to spend are cashing in on bargain-basement prices in the Republic.
Now tourism chiefs have been urged to set aside "marketing scenery" and make the most of the currency difference, which means it is cheaper to sleep, eat and shop in the Republic.
Our weak currency has given a gilt-edged opportunity to hotels, restaurants, bars and retail shops - especially those trading in high-end merchandise which sterling customers can buy at a 25pc discount.
The hospitality industry is already reaping a dividend.
UK and northern couples are booking venues in the Republic to make big savings on their wedding receptions, according to Stephen McNally, president of the Irish Hotels Federation.
Most four and five-star hotels calculate the cost of weddings at an average €40 per plate. Hoteliers say that northern and UK couples can save about €8 a head.
That's a difference of nearly €1,500 on a wedding party of 180 guests.
The Easter bank holiday brought a big influx of northern visitors - especially to Dublin and northern sections of the Wild Atlantic Way, including Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo.
But other border areas with a strong tourist offering, like Carlingford in Louth, also had a bumper weekend.
"And there is also evidence of stronger North American interest this year because the dollar is also stacking up well against the euro," Mr McNally said. "It's been five tough years for the hotel trade, which was among the first sectors to come to terms with the chill winds of the downturn."
"We had to adapt quickly to the changed environment and even with the sterling/ euro differential, the industry is lean and very competitively priced given the quality of our hotel stock," he said.
He said that Dublin was now a very attractive location for short break - especially with improved connectivity to UK provincial cities.
"UK visitor numbers through Dublin Airport have increased. Improved relations between the two countries has certainly helped," Mr McNally said.
Adrian Cummins of Restaurants Association of Ireland told the Sunday Independent that weekend breaks by UK and northern visitors had been a godsend for the restaurant trade - especially in the capital.
"There is a high level of expectation that this will continue. People on weekend trips, sleep, eat, drink and shop. We are well placed to meet the demand. Easter was very strong and we have an excellent food offering in Ireland now.
"In recent times, an extra 1,000 restaurant seats have gone into Dublin's 'cultural quarter' around Camden Street. Certainly, we have noticed that there are far more visitors coming down from the north and from across the Irish Sea."
David Fitzsimons of Retail Excellence Ireland says that the tourism agencies should move quickly to recognise this new trend. "We are busy marketing the Wild Atlantic Way, but there has to be a move to get the message out there to the UK and Northern Ireland markets that they can save huge amounts of money shopping in the Republic. Let's forget the scenery for a while and begin marketing our retail offering," he said.
A recent joint survey carried out by REI and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association showed that most visitors to both Dublin (71pc) and Belfast (55pc) are staying for more than one night but less than a week, indicating a strong preference for short breaks here rather than longer holidays.
The average visitor to Dublin is spending €606 in the city during their stay. This ranges from €224 for visitors on a day trip, up to €3,020 for those staying more than two weeks.
Overall, visitors are spending most on accommodation (€467.15) followed by food and drink (€321.06). The average spend on shopping - North and the Republic combined - was about €120. In 2013, there were 6.64 million leisure visitors to the island of Ireland, so tourist shopping is worth potentially €796.8 million to retailers North and the Republic.