Published Monday, 21 October 2013
Protests during the winter months of 2012 affected Christmas trade. (© Pacemaker)
It comes amid concern among local traders that loyalist demonstrations against the decision by City Council will resume in the coming months.
Speaking at Stormont on Monday, Mr Ford said political leaders must take "collective responsibility" to urge protest organisers to call them off.
He said: "If there are further problems in the run-up to Christmas this year, it will be devastating for many businesses in Belfast city centre, and particularly for many services.
"It is possible that somebody may go back to a shop the next week if they are deterred from going to it one week, but they do not go back to the restaurant or pub the next week.
"It is clear that that has been very damaging. That is why we collectively have a responsibility to urge people to call off such protests and to ensure that we conduct our processes in this place or through the Haass talks."
Millions of pounds worth of trade was lost during the festive period as protests were held in the city centre and across Northern Ireland over changes to Belfast's flag-flying policy.
Police officers were injured during nights of violence which continued into the new year.
A small, peaceful protest is still held outside the gates of City Hall on Saturday afternoons against the decision to only fly the Union flag on designated days.
But warning against an increase in the size of demonstrations, SDLP MLA for South Belfast, Dr Alistair McDonnell said: "Such protests are a big threat, as they were last year, to trade and we all have a responsibility to do all that we can to reduce that threat to the retail trade."
Meanwhile US diplomat Richard Haass is scheduled to resume all-party talks aimed at finding a resolution to the flags issue, as well as parading and dealing with the past.
© UTV News