Traders, hoteliers and tourism bosses are gearing up for what is expected to be Brighton and Hove's busiest weekend of the year so far.

Soaring temperatures and the Easter bank holiday look set to attract thousands of visitors, bringing a welcome boost to the economy.

Many hotels are already fully booked, with others nearing full capacity.

Traders who have endured a slowdown in consumer confidence during the war in Iraq are hoping this weekend will mark the beginning of brighter times.

Peter Stocker, the secretary of the North Laine Traders' Association, said: "An influx of visitors is certainly needed at the moment.

"It has been a quiet time for many traders during the past few weeks. People seem to have other things on their mind, particularly the war in Iraq. It has been a long winter.

"When the sun shines in Brighton it has a huge effect on the number of people visiting.

"This weekend is really the beginning of the city's tourism season."

Jeff Draper, from The Lanes Traders' Association, added: "The more people shopping in the city, the merrier we will be.

"It has been a difficult few months but with the situation abroad looking more upbeat, there is a feel-good factor among consumers."

Hotels are expecting to welcome floods of guests.

Richard Baker, the president of Brighton and Hove Hotel's Association and manager at The Grand hotel, said: "We, like many hotels, will be very busy over the holiday."

Mr Baker welcomed the findings of a survey by credit card firm Morgan Stanley, which revealed two out of three people had chosen to remain in Britain rather than travel abroad this summer.

He said: "It is very encouraging. More people are interested in taking short breaks to places like Brighton than ever before."

The AA expects 18 million motorists to take to the roads over the holiday period, with the busiest time being from mid-afternoon tomorrow to the end of Good Friday.

The weather is expected to be sunny and warm until Saturday afternoon, with temperatures as high as 23C (72F).

A spokesman for the city council said: "Easter weekend looks likely to be extremely busy. Many hotels and guest houses are already full.

"We obviously hope the fine weather will last through the weekend. But the city is a year-round resort these days, with a tremendous variety of things for visitors to do and see."

Thursday April 17 2003