The Open set to give the north coast a potential multi million pound boost
IN the second day of our preview of the preparations for the Open Championship, Suzanne McGonagle looks at what impact golf's showpiece event will have on Portrush and further afield.
THE north coast is teeing up for a potential multi million pound dividend from the influx of tens of thousands of golfing fans attending The Open.
With the huge international sporting event expected to attract around 190,000 spectators from across the globe, around £80 million is expected to be added to the Northern Ireland economy.
The event, regarded as the most prestigious in the golfing calendar, will take place from July 14 to 21 at Royal Portrush.
The Co Antrim town is gearing up to host the tournament, which will be beamed to over 600 million households around 150 countries worldwide.
But it is anticipated that the economic benefits of the tournament will spread further than Portrush with golfing fans expected to visit venues across the region to stay, as well as keeping fed and watered.
- Special transport plans for golf fans travelling to The Open
- Visitors to Portrush will see results of major multi-million pound revamp
- Golf tourism delivers around £42 million to the Northern Ireland economy
Around 86,000 commercial bed nights in Portrush, Derry, Belfast and further afield have been booked throughout the week of the Championship.
Last years's event at Carnoustie boosted the Scottish economy by an estimated £120 million.
A study found the economic impact of the tournament was a boost of £69 million, in addition to £51 million in destination marketing activity from The Open being broadcast across the globe.
And hopes are high that Portrush and further across the north will reap similar rewards.
Among the local traders getting ready to welcome more customers through his doors is Norman Hillis, whose family-run business sells everything from clothes, gifts to souvenirs.
He said they expect their Irish giftware section to prove popular.
"We have an Irish craft shop upstairs of which 70 per cent of business is online, but I would reckon it will be busier in-store during The Open," he said.
"We have bought a lot more Aran stuff in, we would buy it from a company in Westport and we've bought in a lot more Avoca throws.
"While the men are out watching the golf and they've brought their good ladies with them, I'm hoping they will be spending a bit of money in the shops."
Mr Hillis said he believed the event will be a "great showcase for the entire area".
"This isn't really about this one week or not just about Portrush," he said.
"We want it to be a big, big success, we want people to come, see our stunning area - anywhere from the Glens to the Roe Valley is totally fantastic and I think they'll in love with it.
"It's anticipated that on the back of the TV pictures of The Open that many golfers will want to come to Portrush to play the historic course. It's going to have a worldwide audience and I think it's going to be a legacy for years and years to come."
However, there have been fears among some traders of the detrimental effect to business in the town in the run-up to the event and the week of the tournament.
"There's been a bit of negativity, the place was like a building site for months, which has been a bit of a nightmare," said Mr Hillis.
"But when it's all finished it will be marvellous.
"To the certain extent it's like the North West 200, it brings a load of people here - they're in guesthouses, hotels, buying petrol, meals - there's a lot of people who gain out of it.
"I have to say on the North West Saturday, we're sitting here, the street is like a ghost town, I don't mind that - somebody is making money, money goes round.
"The golf, there's also been a bit of negativity that people won't be allowed in and out of the event.
"But if you paid to go to a boxing match or you paid to go to a football match and you paid £60 or £80, are you seriously going to come down the town and buy a pair of socks off me?
"I just think though, maybe even in the evening if you have got a soaking, you might come down here.
"People have said this is a Portrush event, but it isn't - there will be people staying in Belfast, they can be up that road in an hour. It's going to bring £80 million to Northern Ireland - it's going to be quite something."
In recent months, many traders voiced concerns about the detrimental impact on the town.
Among the worries has been the impact the construction work has had as well as how traffic and travel disruption will effect their summer trade, in particular that a shortage of parking in the town could damage business.
Ana Corbett, who works in a local antiques and jewellery shop on Main Street, is among those not hopeful of an influx of business.
"I don't think we'll get any benefit from it," she said.
"One of our worst ever weeks was during the Irish Open in 2012 so I would expect it will be the same during The Open."
But Murray Bell from Causeway Coast Chamber of Commerce said he believes "The Open effect will spread far".
"Portrush has seen incredible investment over the last few years, from the completion of the railway to the infrastructure improvements and the increase in accommodation in the local area," he said.
"This most definitely will spread far and wide."