Bumper weekend to bring cash bonanza
Party-goers and families indulging in bank holiday celebrations are expected to bring a potential €1bn windfall to the economy.
Restaurants and hotels have been inundated with families and revellers making reservations for the weekend.
Off-licences and the grocery sector are also expected to see a major cash bonanza as people splurged to host parties and gatherings in their homes over the bank holiday.
This weekend marks the traditional opening of the tourist season with visitor numbers from abroad expected to rise steadily until Easter ahead of the peak summer season.
The weather is expected to play a major role in how significant the gains for Irish businesses will be over the course of the bank holiday.
However, restaurant owners still expect to see a €50m boost from people eating out. Economist Jim Power said the economy should see a €1bn boost if the weather is good, encouraging people to get out and about over the weekend.
He added bad weather would hamper this bonanza but his conservative estimate is that any worse-case scenario would still bring a €600m spending spree on food, drink, accommodation and additional spending.
"My conservative estimate is that two million people will get involved this weekend all around the country. With the GAA finals on, people watching the rugby, parades and other events on in every town that is a very conservative figure.
"I would expect each of those to spend at least €300 which would bring consumer spending past the €600m mark over the three days. This figure could rise to €1bn if the weather is good."
Mr Power said it would be a key weekend for the hospitality sector on the back of figures last week showing more tourists are visiting the country and, crucially, spending more money.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office show overseas revenues last year were up 6.5pc, or €292m, compared to the previous year. It means tourist industry figures are predicting record growth in 2018 for the industry.
"This is traditionally the beginning of the year in terms of tourism," said Mr Power.
"If you were looking for a hotel last week you would have struggled. Similarly, this is a key period for the car industry as this is when you start to see a jump in the number of hire drives."
However, leading industry figures fear the weather will pay a key role. The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) and employers' group Ibec have warned Met Eireann to manage weather warnings appropriately over the weekend.
RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins said: "I would safely say this weekend is worth an extra €50m to our members, because people are going out spending money for an extra day with the bank holiday falling on a weekend this year.
"St Patrick's Day adds to consumer sentiment but it is important we manage weather warnings coming from Met Eireann effectively. The snow recently during Storm Emma didn't affect every part of the country but had a massive impact on the economy everywhere because most places felt they had to shut down. This might be something we can improve on to help business owners. In the UK, they seem to be able to economically manage these weather events better than us."
Retail Ireland director Thomas Burke said this weekend would be an opportunity for members to make up for revenues lost to Storm Emma.
"We can expect a spike in sales in the grocery sector and off-licences with people getting together for the bank holiday," said Mr Burke.
Irish Hotels Federation president Michael Lennon said it was also a weekend to promote Ireland as a destination to the rest of the world.
"Once a year we have this chance to promote Ireland as a business and tourism destination to the whole world and remind them of Ireland's unique offering and characteristics," he said.