Visitor numbers up by 7.4 per cent
Varadkar says the Gathering is having an impact
A sightseeing bus is seen behind a bike rack in Dublin. Tourism Ireland said today that up to one million US visitors may holiday in the Republic this year. Photograph: The Irish Times
Visitor numbers to this State increased by 7.4 per cent for the first three months of the year, producing the highest number of trips to Ireland in that period since 2009.
The Central Statistics Office noted that trip numbers were influenced by when Easter fell. This year Easter Sunday fell on the last day of March, which helped to boost numbers for the first quarter.
Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar welcomed the increase in visitor numbers and said it suggested the Gathering was having a real impact. “It’s very encouraging as we head into the main tourism season,” he said.
Between January and March some 1,251,700 trips were made to Ireland - 86,600 more than the same period last year. Trips by US and Canadian residents increased by almost 17 per cent to 168,800. Excluding the British, trips by European residents increased by 13 per cent to 444,000. There was a 1.4 per cent increase in trips by British residents - they totalled 570,200.
Tourism Ireland said these were the strongest first quarter results from the US since 2004 and the strongest ever first quarter from Australia and the developing markets such as India and China.
Chief executive Niall Gibbons said Ireland could be on course to achieve the highest ever number of tourists from the US and Canada.
“This year we believe that North America and mainland Europe hold the key to tourism growth. 2012 was one of the strongest years for visitors from the US to Ireland, after 2007,” he said.
He said Tourism Ireland aimed to welcome more than one million American visitors this year who would spend about $1 billion (€760 million).
Mr Gibbons said the British market continued to be “challenging” so the 1.4 per cent increase in visitor numbers was very welcome.
“Our aim is to grow British holiday makers by more than 20 per cent - an additional 200,000 holiday visitors per year - by 2016. And, consumer confidence is vital if we are to sustain tourism growth.”
But while more people travelled here, Irish residents have been cutting back on on overseas travel. There were 1,208,900 outbound trips by Irish residents between January and March - a 2.1 per cent decrease on the same time last year.