DUBLIN, Ireland – The number of tourists visiting Ireland rose 7.9% last year while Irish people took fewer trips abroad, new figures published by the Central Statistics Office show.
A total of 6.6 million visits to Ireland by overseas residents were recorded in 2011, an increase of 500,000 on the previous year.
The number of nights spent in Ireland by foreign travellers also rose by 6.1%, from 48 million in 2010 to 50.9 million last year. Hotel bed nights were up 13%, while nights spent with friends and relatives were down.
Although the CSO figures show the Irish tourism sector recovered from disruption wrought by the volcanic ash cloud in 2010, visitor numbers for 2011 were still lower than 2009 levels, when 6.9 million people came here.
Figures for last year were about 17% below 2007 levels, when tourism to Ireland was at its peak.
The strongest growth in numbers last year came from mainland Europe, with visits up 11.4%. Traffic from Britain was also up 4.4%, and North America by 8.1%. Visits from other developing markets increased 15.1%.
High-profile visits by Queen Elizabeth and US president Barack Obama to Ireland in May last year are thought to have contributed to the boost in visitors for the latter half of 2011.
Minister for Transport and Tourism Leo Varadkar said the figures confirmed Irish tourism was showing strong signs of recovery.
“We have seen how improved sentiment in key markets and improved value for money in Ireland, supported by targeted Government measures such as the VAT cut, can help drive growth in business,” Mr Varadkar said.
Despite a rise in the number of nights spent by foreign visitors in Ireland, revenue generated by tourism from overseas last year was just 0.7% more than in 2010, at €3.58 billion. Excluding fares, the total is €2.95 billion.
“We still have a lot to do to recover the business lost after 2007. People are still watching their spending,” the Minister said.
“We have to keep fighting for business by offering good value and giving people reasons to come here.”
Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said the tourism industry’s performance so far this year had been mixed, but anecdotal reports suggested further increases in holiday visitors to Ireland from abroad.
“Hotel occupancy is up on 2011, although the spread is uneven, with urban areas, particularly Dublin, faring better,” he said.
“Growth in visitor numbers will depend to a large extent on improved economic conditions and consumer confidence in our source markets.”
Visitors are leaving it until the last minute to book their holidays, Mr Gibbons added, meaning “there is still everything to play for into the autumn and for the remainder of the year”.
The Gathering 2013, launched by Mr Varadkar this month, aims to entice an additional 325,000 visitors to the Republic next year.
The CSO figures also show that Irish people made fewer overseas journeys in 2011, with the total number of trips falling 4.2 per cent on 2010 figures to 6.4 million.
The number of journeys taken by Irish people to visit friends and relatives abroad fell by 10.7%, while the number of leisure breaks taken fell by 2.3%.
Irish residents also spent less on overseas tourism and travel last year, with the total sum falling by 7.2% from €5.21 billion in 2010 to €4.84 billion in 2011. Including fares, the total is €5.47 billion.