Donegal businesswoman Joanne Rodden drove for three hours on Friday morning through the dark, ice and snow just to get a haircut.
The 29-year-old Buncrana woman’s journey from the north-west to the north-east of Ireland is typical of the growing trend in “hairdressing tourism” on the island. With sterling weak against the euro, salons in Northern Ireland are reporting a surge in customers from south of the border in search of a cheaper haircut in Belfast, Derry or Newry.
“It would cost me up to €150 (£131) to get my hair restyled and dyed in Donegal, while it will be under £100 in Belfast. Even with the petrol, it’s still worthwhile coming over to Northern Ireland,” said Rodden, as she waited at Andrew Mulvenna’s salon in central Belfast.
“I enjoy coming up to Belfast and getting pampered for the day. I would say about half of my friends now choose to cross the border and get their hair done. Most of them drive to Derry for the day because it’s closer.”
Rodden runs a fashion store in Buncrana and admits that business has been hit by the exodus of shoppers from the Republic into Northern Ireland, where prices for everything from haircuts to cameras, wine to bath products are cheaper. Despite her own business suffering from the flight of shoppers to the north, she is unapologetic about going to another state to have her hair done.
“Although the weak pound is hurting my own business, I can understand why people in Donegal and throughout the Republic shop in the north. For southern business people, it’s bad but for southern consumers it’s great,” she said.
Salon owner Andrew Mulvenna said that since before Christmas there had been a 300% increase in customers from the Irish Republic. “With the euro/sterling exchange rate, people are finding it too attractive not to come up north. Since Christmas, the increase has been a surge and it isn’t just for our hairdressing services, but for some of our exclusive ranges.”
Mulvenna said “hairdresser tourists” were using the trips to shop for other bargains. Top-of-the-range Canon cameras can cost €540 (£472) in Dublin, while in northern towns such as Newry the same models are on sale for £390. A quick trip up north can make dramatic savings on the weekend drinks bill. A box of white wine in Dublin costs around €27 (£24), while in Belfast the price is £11.
Mulvenna said the bargain hunt has had a knock-on effect on Northern Ireland’s hairdressing trade. “They come up to do a bit of shopping and then end their day being pampered, getting their hair done and going home. You spot the southern customers in the credit card receipts and the amount of things that are being paid for in euros. I would say there has been a 300% increase in southern clients over the last two months,” said Mulvenna.
The hairdresser said that even before sterling fell against the euro, salon prices were up to 20% lower than most of the top salons in central Dublin. Exchange rates have pushed the price difference in the north’s favor by 30%. He said the southern influx was a “buffer” against the downturn.
Paul Stafford, who runs a hairdressing salon on Belfast’s Lisburn Road, said his business had also noticed a sharp upturn in customers from the Irish Republic.
“Although we have always had clients from Monaghan, Donegal and Sligo, we are now seeing even more people making the trip to Belfast from these areas and more people are traveling from even further afield, including Dublin,” he said. “The trend is obviously fueled by the strength of the euro, but people who would not normally have traveled to Belfast for a haircut are now doing so and realizing that the standard of hairdressing in Belfast is phenomenal.”